Brendan Rodgers has brought the buzz back to Leicester City and ambitions are high. Ahead of his return to Chelsea, he reflects on his coaching journey, how the game has changed, the challenge of staying modern, and what he can really achieve with the Foxes.
Leicester’s goalless draw with Wolves on the opening weekend made for a low-key start but it has done nothing to shake Brendan Rodgers’ optimism. Only Manchester City and Liverpool have won more Premier League games since his arrival, and he has assembled a young squad of vast potential. Excitement is in the East Midlands air.
Having inherited the role of Leicester City chairman from his late father, Aiyawatt ‘Top’ Srivaddhanaprabha has renewed his family’s commitment to the club. A new training facility is imminent. Player investment continues with the statement signing of Youri Tielemans. But much of the mood change can be attributed to the appointment of Rodgers in February.
Suited up on a sweltering summer’s day at the club’s Belvoir Drive training ground, Rodgers is quick to address that controversial decision to leave title-bound Celtic mid-season and, in particular, the thinking behind it. “It is never easy leaving a great club like Celtic and it was always going to be difficult whenever I left,” he tells Sky Sports.
“The benefit of coming in when I did, which was the plan, is that I had the chance to see the players working under pressure last season. I had the chance to find out a bit more about them and then make the decisions in the summer. It worked out well because we finished the season in a good place and that gave us something to build on into this season.”
While most of the Premier League’s top teams spent their summer traipsing around the globe fulfilling their commercial commitments, Leicester’s pre-season was more pragmatic. Aside from a brief break in France, it was spent inside their own training ground. The only away trips were to Scunthorpe, Cheltenham, Cambridge, Rotherham and Stoke.
“We spoke about staying as close to home as we could so that we could get as much work in as we could,” explains Rodgers. “I have been involved in the commitments when you travel and there are a lot of commercial demands. For our first pre-season together, I felt it was very important that we lock ourselves down in the training facility as much as we could.”
That training ground work continues to set Rodgers apart from many of his peers. He is the quintessential coach – happiest when improving players – but his man-management skills are impressive too. Tielemans was determined to stay after working with him, despite interest from big clubs. Jamie Vardy was soon reassured and producing his best form.
Kasper Schmeichel summed it up well when he described Rodgers as a ‘modern leader’ but this is a coach who, despite being only 46, has been working for almost a quarter of a century now. In Scotland, he was up against Steven Gerrard, his old captain at Liverpool. On Sunday, he will face Frank Lampard, a player during Rodgers’ own days on the Chelsea staff.
How does he manage still to be seen as modern? “My principles remain very much the same, there is no compromise with that,” he says. “But I have had to evolve because the management of players now is totally different from what it was even a decade ago. There is more transparency in the world now. Everything needs to be out there.
“So you have to be open with the players. If you look at the great managers, they have always been able to embrace that and I have always felt that you need to work closely with the players. Of course, there always has to be a professional line and an edge that they need to feel, but I love working with players, helping them and improving them.