Leicester manager proves he is far from deluded after outsmarting his rival Tuchel
On the “Deluded Brendan” parody account on Twitter, with its 340,000 followers, the FA Cup final win represented a field day. One tweet showed a photograph of the Leicester City players throwing Brendan Rodgers in the air in celebration with the caption: “And on the 7th day ...”
There is no doubt that Rodgers divides opinion. Some, clearly, see him as deluded; a wonderful self-publicist, a wannabe deity, a footballing David Brent, with gimmicks involving envelopes, who genuinely believes that he is a visionary manager and who talks about neuro-linguistic programming and being on a “magic carpet ride of development”.
The other side is less brutal and more accurate. Maybe Rodgers talks a good game – or believes he does – but his teams play one also and that is what matters. Beating Chelsea, becoming the first British or Irish manager to win the FA Cup in 13 years, the first to win it with Leicester in their 137-year history, the first manager since Alex Ferguson to win the Scottish Cup and the FA Cup, proves that Rodgers most certainly is the elite coach he talks about being.
He has walked the walk. Winning a trophy in England takes him to the next level.
His body of work is impressive – from Swansea City, where he gained promotion to the Premier League, to Liverpool, where he nearly brought back the title, to Celtic, where he won it all, and now to Leicester who he has helped establish as the most credible club outside the “Big Six” to be in that elite group.
Defeating Chelsea at Wembley also meant that Rodgers had won all seven of the finals he had managed – from the Championship play-offs to two Scottish Cups and three Scottish League Cups with Celtic to now winning the FA Cup with Leicester.
Beyond that, in his 11th full season as a manager he is close to having already taken charge of 600 games and is still just 48.
His win percentage in the Premier League is over 48 – and only Ferguson can better that for a British or Irish manager over a significant number of matches. It is formidable.
But that is not the whole story. Rodgers is a good coach and a developer of young players.
He got the best out of Joe Allen at Swansea, Philippe Coutinho at Liverpool, Kieran Tierney at Celtic, Youri Tielemans at Leicester.
He started 19-year-old full-back Luke Thomas in the final. He has already developed 20-year-old Wesley Fofana, who was outstanding against Chelsea, into a highly coveted central defender.
He has shown that Leicester City did not waste their money on Kelechi Iheanacho. And he is still getting the best out of 34-year-old Jamie Vardy.
It begs the question: what next?
The immediate answer is tomorrow night.
Leicester face Chelsea again, away in the league. If they win, it secures them a top-four place and Champions League football . . . if they lose it raises the horrible prospect of dropping out, right at the end of the season, for the second campaign in a row.
Questions will be asked of Rodgers. But this needs perspective. Leicester are well run, well resourced but their wage bill – often regarded as the truest measure of where a team should end up – is less than half that of Liverpool and Manchester City and only the eighth highest in the league.
So even if questions are raised, they should not be. To be in that mix consistently for two seasons is tough enough.
The bigger question is what next for Rodgers?
The assumption is he will leave but he has strongly distanced himself from suggestions he would want to join Tottenham Hotspur this summer and it was interesting that he separated Tottenham and Arsenal out when he talked about clubs being “on a different level” to Leicester City in terms of their budgets and financial muscle.
It might be different if Manchester City, United or Chelsea eventually come calling but what if Rodgers stayed? What if he sees through his lucrative contract at Leicester – which includes hefty compensation should he be poached – that runs until the summer of 2025? It would be fascinating to see where he could take the club. It would be heartening also to have Leicester consistently breaking up the assumed hegemony of the self-appointed Big Six and the would-be European Super League rebels.
Leicester City’s story is an encouragement to everyone. It has been since they won the league title in 2015-’16. And so is Rodgers’ story.
He has made his way up from a playing career that ended through a genetic knee condition at 20, to working 6am shifts at a Waitrose warehouse, to youth-team coaching all the way. A coaching equivalent to Vardy’s rise.
And on Saturday he got to outwit Thomas Tuchel, who has been so assured since he took over at Chelsea but got his team selection and tactics so wrong against Leicester because he was worried about his opponents and worried about Rodgers’ approach.
It was not a classic game but it was a classic final capped by a wonderful goal from Tielemans, a world-class save from Kasper Schmeichel, VAR drama at the end when it looked like 37-year-old Wes Morgan, of all people, had scored an own goal, and celebrations that were so heart-warming and reminiscent of 2016 and also in front of 21,000 fans – the biggest gathering in the UK since Covid struck in March 2020.
Rodgers was at the heart of it all. Some will scoff at his reactions – fist-bumping Prince William and being thrown up in the air by his players – but this is a manager at the top of his game. And that is not a deluded comment.
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