The coaching credentials of Brendan Rodgers are beyond question. But he needs to evolve as a manager to take Leicester City to the next level.
To say that Brendan Rodgers would have been a relieved man after beating Manchester United would be an understatement. Going into their final three Premier League games, his Leicester City side needed 7 points to guarantee Champions League qualification. Now, the equation is even better – four points in two games. Yet their remaining two fixtures are against Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, two teams very much in the thick of things for a top four finish. Chelsea are hot on Leicester’s tail while Spurs still have an outside chance of making the top four. But that matters little, for Rodgers and Leicester have their fate in their own hands.
A lot has changed at Leicester City since their fairytale run to the title in 2016. They went from a side newly promoted in the top flight to unlikely champions. They were also suddenly catapulted among Europe’s elite.
Yet it is telling that the 2016/17 season was their last appearance in the Champions League to date. They did admirably for a side of their means, yet the hunger for more hasn’t left the powers-that-be.
Indeed, one of the reasons Brendan Rodgers was brought in was because he is seen as the manager to take them back to the promise land.
He very nearly did it too, but for one fatal flaw that has undermined his career at the top level – the inability to close things out.
One of the defining memories of Rodgers’ time managing in England is Liverpool’s spectacular collapse towards the end of the 2013/14 Premier League season.
The league seemed destined for Anfield before Rodgers’ side blew it in spectacular fashion. A 2-0 loss to Chelsea – that included Steven Gerrard’s slip – was followed by a 3-3 draw to Crystal Palace that felt like a loss.
Liverpool never recovered from that double blow and Manchester City went on to be crowned champions.
Yet if people felt Rodgers’ time at Celtic changed that, he proved otherwise in 2019/20. Only six wins in their final 19 Premier League games saw them narrowly miss out on a Top 4 finish that was theirs for the taking.
Even this season has seen a blip, although not an alarming one. Their 4-2 drubbing at Newcastle United’s hands suddenly blew the Top 4 race wide open. For now though, Leicester remain in control.
But that shaking feeling in Roders’ inability to close the deal at the end of the season remains. And that, perhaps, is the biggest challenge in the hands of their manager.
His attacking style produces attractive football that is ruthless at best. But perhaps adopting a more pragmatic approach occasionally might improve results – and show a flexibility much-needed at the top level.
The number of former Leicester City players in top teams currently speaks volumes to their ability to scout and develop talent. N’Golo Kante (Chelsea) and Riyad Mahrez (Manchester City) were both key to their title win in 2016.
Then there’s Harry Maguire (Manchester United) and Ben Chilwell (Chelsea) who also cut their teeth at Leicester – and made the club a lot of money when they departed.
Yet being in charge of a selling club is not likely to keep Brendan Rodgers happy. Which means a top 4 finish this season is all the more necessary.
Play in the Champions League and the best talent look to join your club – and potentially stay there. Reach Europe’s elite for a cup of coffee and players will merely see the club as a stepping stone.
Leicester possess a cabal of potentially world-class players in their first team. The likes of Harvey Barnes, James Maddison, Youri Tielemans, Wilfried Ndidi and Caglar Soyuncu could slot into any top side in England. The key for Leicester to remain – and build on their project – will depend on keeping and developing these players.
Rodgers’ credentials as a coach are beyond question. But as manager, he now needs to take the next step – and take his club along with him too.