“I think they [the West Ham board] should show some ambition, fly up to Glasgow, open a suitcase and say ‘how much Brendan?'” shouted one talkSPORT presenter on Monday. “Having made history at the weekend with Celtic, what more has Brendan Rodgers got to achieve up there?”
Not for the first time, Brendan Rodgers had been unwillingly thrust into the same conversation as David Moyes. It was in September 2015 when the prescient Jamie Carragher stated that the then-Liverpool manager was ‘in a similar position to Moyes during his spell at Old Trafford’. Within a month, Rodgers had followed in the footsteps of the new West Ham boss, the biggest job of his managerial career ending in abrupt, glorious and damaging failure.
Carragher was writing on the eve of Liverpool’s 3-1 defeat to Manchester United – the last domestic loss suffered by Rodgers. Four unbeaten games at the end of his Anfield tenure, combined with the slightly more impressive 100-year record-breaking feat of his current Celtic side, means Rodgers has avoided defeat in his last 67 games in domestic leagues and cups.
It is the sort of form that persuades Jamie Redknapp that the 44-year-old ‘could manage any of the clubs in the top six’. It is the sort of form that was rewarded with three trophies in his first season in Scotland. It is the sort of form that should take Celtic into post-Christmas European football for only the second time in six seasons. It is the sort of form that could eventually coax Rodgers out of Premier League purgatory.
“I had an incident when I left Liverpool,” the manager said last month. “Within a couple of weeks I went to Dubai and I lay in fear one night that I was having a heart attack.” The stresses of managing at, and subsequently departing, Anfield had taken not only a mental toll, but a physical one. Rodgers arrived on Merseyside as one of British coaching’s young leading lights in summer 2012, and his flame was extinguished within three years.
Celtic was a crucial part of the rehabilitation process. Managing his boyhood club offered a necessary stroke of an ego that was battered and bruised in England; this is a project with fewer deadlines and fewer interfering teachers.
But that is not to demean either his or his side’s wonderful achievements. It is easy to suggest that overseeing Celtic’s domestic dominance is to turn on autopilot, sit back and relax, yet Rodgers ripped up the foundations, laid his own and is now building towards unprecedented success. Ronny Deila was beaten four times in the Scottish Premiership in his final season, and lost in the semi-finals of both the Scottish Cup and Scottish League Cup. His successor has changed the playing style, improved performances and attitude and subsequently bettered a century-old British record unbeaten run.
To safeguard against complacency is difficult, particularly in such a lopsided league where victory is a weekly chore, not simply an expectation. Celtic were crowned Scottish champions in early April last season, yet scored 25 goals in their remaining eight fixtures. They became the first Scottish side to go unbeaten in a league season since 1899, the fourth to go unbeaten in a top-flight season in any European league since the start of the 20th century, and the first to record 106 points in a top-flight season in any European league in history. To diminish those achievements – Tony Cascarino suggested a 63-game unbeaten run “means nothing” earlier this week – is preposterous.
Yet there will always be an asterisk. Rodgers rules north of the border, but that can only do so much to restore his reputation outside of those confines. While the Premier League is not the be all and end all of football, it is clear that he has unfinished business when his Celtic journey reaches a natural conclusion.
There is no rush, and he will be eager to take Celtic as far as he can on the European stage too. But the Northern Irishman has time on his side; Eddie Howe and Marco Silva are the only two current permanent Premier League managers younger than Rodgers, who took charge of only his 400th game in the 4-0 win over St Johnstone on Saturday. His is a career only just reaching its halfway point, and he has already enjoyed the highest highs and endured the lowest lows.
Rodgers is in a unique situation whereby success in Scotland can only go so far to define his reputation. So he remains in suspension, a career cryogenically frozen, until he decides to end his self-imposed Premier League exile. West Ham was neither the right club nor the right moment, but he is deservedly part of the conversation again.
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