As Celtic crash and burn in Europe again, I don’t understand what Rodgers is doing there
BRENDAN Rodgers is 51 in January. So the promising, energetic, innovative and engaging young coach who emerged at Reading and Swansea and started the transformation of Liverpool in 2012 is now at what you might call managerial maturity.
What, then, is he doing spending valuable years back at Celtic?
I can feel the heavy landing of bile and hurt on my social media pages and in my email inbox already. And it is indeed important to say one thing at the outset. Celtic are a huge and important football club. They deserve a very good manager.
But Rodgers? I didn’t understand it when he went back there in the summer and as Celtic crash and burn in Europe once more, I understand it even less now.
He was Celtic manager once before, you remember. After Liverpool spat him out in 2015, he gathered himself and went to a place where he knew he would be operating under pressure but where he could learn valuable lessons about how to win.
It worked and when he returned to England with Leicester in 2019 he did so having lifted every single domestic trophy available to him in Scotland. Seven from seven in two-and-ahalf seasons.
So I pose the question again — why go back? What was there left to achieve and prove? Absolutely nothing.
A better record in the Champions League was a target but not necessarily realistic. No Scottish team have won a group game in the Champions League since 2017 and after Tuesday’s 6-0 humbling at Atletico Madrid, that pitiful statistic runs on.
On our Mail Sport podcast recently, I described the Scottish football scene as a ‘wasteland of poverty and mediocrity’. Chris Sutton — a serial winner at Celtic back in the day, when the financial gap between Scotland and the rest wasn’t so wide — took great offence. Yet Celtic cannot win a game in Europe and are eight points clear of Rangers in the Premiership and 13 points ahead of St Mirren in third. So there is the evidence and there is the mediocrity. It’s not the Scottish Premiership’s fault that it’s poor. It’s because TV companies don’t think a league with too few genuinely competitive matches each season is worth paying for.
Under its current deal with Sky, the league as a whole receives just £30million per season.
By comparison, each Premier League club receives more than £80m a year from a deal worth £1.6billion. Scottish football is poor, not just by comparison to the English game but also when placed against all the significant leagues across Europe.
So against this backdrop, what can Rodgers do? The Northern Irishman remains a coach of quality and personality, but he cannot work miracles and to take Celtic out of a Champions League group containing Atletico, Lazio and Feyenoord would have been a huge ask. The Dutch Eredivisie is not exactly in the rudest health, but even they take £90m a year from broadcasters, three times the Scottish top flight’s figure.
Rodgers (left) may have many reasons to be back in Scotland, both personal and professional. If he felt he needed some time away from the English game after a difficult end at Leicester, then that would be understandable. Emotional attachments to Celtic are important too.
From this view in the south, though, it looks as though he is marking time. I feel he has much more to offer than rewalking a path already well-trodden.
There has been some revisionism of his time at Liverpool. There are those who like to say it was Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling who almost took Liverpool to the league title in 2014 and that Rodgers was simply hanging on to their coat tails. What a load of nonsense.
After the mundanity of the Kenny Dalglish period, the shift between the Liverpool of then and the one subsequently accelerated beyond belief by Jurgen Klopp was initiated by Rodgers.
His ability to improve players and his courage to afford his teams tactical freedom and responsibility was always refreshing, and that survived and grew during his time at Leicester.
Rodgers won the FA Cup there and really should have taken Leicester into the Champions League. Twice they threatened and twice they fell away, but I would have fancied them to scare a few in Europe’s elite competition in a way Celtic cannot.
Nobody should take pleasure in what the Scottish Premiership has become. We should all wish it health and, somehow, prosperity.
But I still can’t for the life of me work out what Rodgers is doing back there.