Brendan Rodgers intent on staying positive at Leicester despite the haters | Nick Ames

Brendan Rodgers was reflecting on the circularity of a managerial career that, but for a change of heart by Leicester City’s former owners, might have begun at the King Power Stadium when he landed upon one of the crueller criticisms of his style. Back in 2007 it was a toss-up between him and Gary Megson for the job but Milan Mandaric and his board eventually decided that, at 34 years old, the then-Chelsea reserve coach was marginally too big a risk in a cutthroat Championship.

“Twelve years later I’m enriched by all my experiences, good and bad, but I’ve always tried to remain committed in my life as a coach and always positive,” he said, holding court at the Midlands club that is now belatedly his home. “The word you sometimes get is ‘deluded’, they use, but for me I’ve always been very positive.”

It seemed a very specific choice of word, and minds immediately shot to the popular ‘Deluded Brendan’ Twitter account that has lampooned Rodgers’s perceived quixotism since his time at Liverpool. Was he referring to a particular usage? “No, no, I’m saying that in general life people will say that because you’re positive, you’re deluded.”

Yet there was nothing obviously air-headed about leaving Celtic, where a truly incorrigible dreamer might have stayed to keep records tumbling. Leicester’s league position tells nothing of a three-year period that has taken in unimaginable highs and tragic lows; it is a club that needs stability, a consistent identity, while aiming to scale the heights again and his choice to accept their offer was carefully calculated.

Brendan Rodgers reveals why he left Celtic for Leicester City – video

“If I was making the decision normally, with my heart, I’d never leave Celtic,” he said. “My life was great. I loved the city, I loved the people, I loved the club. I had a wonderful life. If you think of all those things, you’d never move.

“But I’m in a career where certain challenges will come up. And I felt that after nearly three years at Celtic, where we won seven trophies and created a mindset that was about winning, and did it in the way I would have liked, I had to make a decision. And, unfortunately, it was probably not the right timing. However, you have to make the decision.”

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Leicester face another of his former employers, Watford, on Sunday. This “feels the right club … as if I’ve been here longer” he said, and it was eye-opening to hear his perception of what, since the title win in 2016, has changed. “I think what’s happened here was all very natural,” he said. “You see it in sport, you see it in business. A lot of it is subconscious. You think of the journey this club was on, from being in League One to getting promoted, then staying up by the skin of your teeth. Then bang, you win the league.

“Then at the end of the season you go on a world tour, and it’s great, everyone’s lauding you because of what you’ve done. Then you travel to Hull and lose 2-1 in your first game [of the 2016-17 season]. After nine or 10 games everyone’s wondering: ‘what’s happening here?’ There’s a little bit of complacency; I don’t think it’s intentional. You don’t quite run the same; where you pressed for 10 metres, you’re now only pressing eight. It’s just gradual, but everyone still expects. But now it’s a chance to press the reset button; to come in with a clear vision, a more realistic look at where we’re at.”

On Wednesday, his first day at the club but supposedly one of rest for the squad, he kept his door open for meetings and saw Kasper Schmeichel, among others, take up the invitation. This group has, as Claudio Ranieri and Claude Puel found, a reputation for being particularly strong-willed but it is a dynamic Rodgers believes will serve him well.

“I will very much lead them,” he said. “What you tend to find with [this type of player] is that they are the players that actually really care about doing well. When something is not right they will have an opinion. I am so happy to have that type of player here because they are ambitious. They want it to work well. As long as you give them purpose and are clear on how you want to work then I think they will thrive on that.”

Celtic fans made their feelings towards Brendan Rodgers clear on Wednesday before the game at Hearts.

Celtic fans made their feelings towards Brendan Rodgers clear on Wednesday before the game at Hearts. Photograph: Stuart Wallace/BPI/Rex/Shutterstock

He enjoys communicating with a generation he accepts are “the most self-interested they have ever been”, believing their hunger to maximise their careers melds with his commitment to improving them. A group of lavish young talents including James Maddison, Wilfred Ndidi, Harvey Barnes and Ben Chilwell will be asked to play with a greater intensity than they displayed under Puel, although Rodgers knows the physicality that permits such an approach cannot be developed overnight. He hopes to show, too, that his own outlook has evolved since what was “a tough end for us” at Liverpool in 2015.

“You are always developing,” he said. “At Celtic it’s very unique. People won’t understand it unless you know it. You have to win every single game. That’s why if you’re playing PSG, Barcelona, Alloa or Partick Thistle you have to prepare like it’s a cup final. I’ve come into the Premier League now a better coach.”

A dozen years since that sliding-doors moment with Mandaric and Megson, he has the chance to channel that positivity into something unmistakable.


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