A draw for Forest put Leicester back to the bottom of the Premier League. For how much longer can Brendan Rodgers stand this level of heat?
In terms of news stories, the reports that Leicester City would have to stop birthday messages at The King Power Stadium because of the mischief of their own supporters were equal parts amusing and instructive. On the one hand, it was difficult not to smile and the news that people were trying to get requests through for people called ‘Zack Rodgers’ or ‘Brenda Nout’ demonstrated the gallows humour of fans unhappy at the direction their team has taken since the start of this season.
But on the other, such actions demonstrate just how unhappy the club’s fans are. The atmosphere for their Saturday lunchtime could best be described as ‘febrile’, but while the evident nervousness in the stands as Leicester played out an insipid goalless draw with Crystal Palace seemed to transfer itself to the players, the nervous energy singularly failed to do so.
The final result didn’t seem to do anybody a great deal of good. A goalless home draw against another team in the bottom half of the Premier League table felt like neither flesh nor foul, neither good enough to start to quieten the increasingly noisy voices calling for manager Brendan Rodgers to be relieved of his duties or bad enough for the owners of the club to feel that they had to draw a line in the sand and call time on his time with the club, and the upshot of it all is that he remains at the club, an increasingly zombified presence hanging on with a team which has singularly failed to build upon its only reasonably impressive result of the season so far.
Leicester supporters could be forgiven for believing that the Nottingham Forest game was more than just over two weeks ago. A 4-0 home win in a relegation six-pointer against local rivals felt like the potential turning of a new leaf, but the two games they’ve played since then have resulted in just a single point, just a single goal, and a return to the foot of the Premier League table. That the protests against Rodgers should have returned in the very next home game after this win says something in itself for how low his stock has fallen.
And there are more of these potential six-pointers to come, too. Four of Leicester’s five remaining Premier League matches before the World Cup break come against Leeds, Wolves, Everton and West Ham, teams that are themselves within three points of the relegation positions n a congested bottom half of the table.
It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that a failure to improve over the course of these games will leave Leicester adrift at the bottom of the table and looking at the gap to safety starting to become unbridgeable. They’re already four points adrift of safety, and that margin will almost certainly be greater should they not improve to some extent over the weeks between now and the middle of November.
Leicester’s owners have some form for replacing a manager quickly should things start to turn sour. In February they replaced Claudio Ranieri as manager just nine months after he led the club to the Premier League title. At the time, they were a point above the relegation places, with 13 games of the season left to play. This decision was criticised at the time, but the benefit of hindsight has vindicated it. They recovered to finish in 12th place that season, and haven’t finished below halfway in the Premier League since and won the FA Cup in 2020.
But while the owners of the club retain a huge amount of goodwill among supporters – there won’t be any birthday requests for ‘Zak Le Bord’ or similar – the goodwill that Rodgers earned with that 2020 FA Cup win already seems to have completely evaporated, and this season’s Premier League record makes it easy to see why.
With ten games under their belt – more than a quarter of the season, already – they have just five points. So far this century the average number of points required to finished above 18th place in the table has been 35 to 36, meaning the upswing in form required to survive the drop already needs to be fairly dramatic, and will only become all the more the longer this trough lasts.
Part of the issue facing Leicester is that sacking Rodgers would be expensive. It was reported at the start of September that it may cost the club as much as £10m to sack him, a compensation clause when he signed his six-year contract with the club in 2019. Of course, the counter-argument to this is obvious. Leicester probably wouldn’t think twice about paying £10m to bring in a new player, and the cost of relegation from the Premier League would be considerably higher.
This doesn’t make such a decision straightforward. Paying off the departing manager is only part of the cost. Rodgers’ backroom staff would be likely to leave with him and then, of course, there’s the cost of bringing in someone else and their backroom staff. And the state of the next manager betting for the job makes it clear that few know which way this is going to go. Sean Dyche is the favourite to replace him, but below him are Mauricio Pochettino, Rafael Benitez and Marcelo Bielsa.
These are four very different types of manager, with the one thing that they all have in common being that they are all between jobs. Dyche may be considered the ‘fire-fighting’ appointment, having built his reputation on having kept Burnley away from the relegation places and arguably punching above their weight in the Premier League.
Pochettino will be linked with every potential Premier League job but is likely to be expensive. Benitez and Bielsa are both in their sixties and were both offloaded by their clubs last season because they were skirting too close to the relegation places for comfort. Neither of them could be considered particularly forward-looking on account of their age, if nothing else.
So it may prove expensive, the list of potential replacements is a little muddled and, of course, there are few guarantees that replacing the manager will actually improve the team’s fortunes on the pitch. With all of this in mind, the reasoning behind the club not rushing headlong into this particular sack race starts to look a little more clear.
When there was an international break in September, it was anticipated that there might be an early season rush of managerial sackings, but this didn’t happen and, although changes have been made at several clubs since then, it still feels as though the middle of November is when wholesale changes might be made. And if Leicester don’t have some more points on the board by that point, it surely becomes an inevitability that a change will have to be made.
Brendan Rodgers has clung on so far, but the heat under him is fast reaching a point at which his position will become completely untenable. Many Leicester supporters clearly believe it already has.