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clever fox Often a figure of ridicule, Brendan Rodgers has become Ireland's answer to Pep Guardiola


Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers congratulates his players after the victory over Crystal Palace

Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers congratulates his players after the victory over Crystal Palace

Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers congratulates his players after the victory over Crystal Palace

BRENDAN Rodgers has known life as the flailing punchline to a gag about the man unaware that he is in imminent danger of drowning in the oceanic depths of his self-regard.

At times during his Liverpool incarnation, Rodgers appeared so gratified by the sound of his own voice, so cringingly spellbound by what he seemed to imagine were his unprecedented levels of cerebral insight, that merciless comparisons with Alan Partridge followed.

There were occasions when the Ulsterman became the sporting incarnation of Steve Coogan’s hapless Radio Norwich character: A public figure lacking the self-awareness to recognise that the joke was on him.

Jamie Carragher, whose final year at Anfield coincided with Rodgers’s first, recalls the coach being mocked for labouring under the illusion that he had “invented” football.

This lampooning found best expression in a memorably excruciating moment in the documentary Being Liverpool where Rodgers produces three envelopes and tells his bemused squad that inside each is a name of a player he predicted would let the club down that season.

As an attempt at psychological gravitas, it backfired like a wheezing car with a busted fuel pump.

Throw in the Ron Atkinson tribute-band sun-tan and the stories about his 102-house property portfolio and it became tempting to reduce this son of Carnlough to caricature.


Leicester City's Youri Tielemans and Caglar Soyuncu (right) celebrate victory over Crystal Palace

Leicester City's Youri Tielemans and Caglar Soyuncu (right) celebrate victory over Crystal Palace

Leicester City's Youri Tielemans and Caglar Soyuncu (right) celebrate victory over Crystal Palace

Except for one significant saving grace: A body of work that, by the time he is done, could just see Rodgers remembered as Ireland’s greatest manager.

From Swansea to Liverpool, at Celtic and, now at Leicester, there is a common thread running through his career of high achievement.

Rodgers makes teams better: He is innovative, fearless and his teams are easy on the eye.

Yes, the end days at Anfield unravelled chaotically. The booing after an incoherent cup tie performance against fourth-tier Carlisle might as well have been the bugler sounding The Last Post for his time in front of The Kop.

But then, if we are happy to omit Pep Guardiola, what young manager has not endured growing pains?

Were it not for one ill-timed Steven Gerrard slip, it might have been Rodgers (then just 41), rather than Jurgen Klopp, ending Liverpool’s decades in the domestic shadowlands.

Perhaps, as some have claimed, he rode a Luis Suarez wave of brilliance to that 2013/14 title challenge, the one that propelled the crimson Mersey tide – even after Gerrard’s untimely tumble against Chelsea – to within two points of engulfing Manchester City.

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But what title winning manager has not been ferried, to some extent, on the shirt-tails of his supernovas? As Ferguson was with Cantona, Keane, Ronaldo and Rooney; Wenger, with Henry, Bergkamp and Vieira; Klopp, himself, owed an immense debt of gratitude to Salah, Van Dijk, Mane and Henderson.

Turn the thesis around and it can be argued that Rodgers handed the flame-throwing Suarez the tactical canvass to deliver the luminous best of his brilliant Uruguayan self.

What is undeniable is that the wafer-thin margin between Liverpool and City was closer than previous runners-up, Rafa Benitez (four points behind United in ‘08/09) or Gerard Houllier (seven adrift of Arsenal in ‘01/02), came to taking the club back to the lost mountain top.

At Swansea, he was a coach patently ahead of his time, adopting Barcelona’s bible as his guiding light long before his English peers were seduced by the Guardiola gospel.

On his watch, they became the first Welsh team to compete in the Premier League, finishing 11th in 2011/12, a mere five points adrift of the Liverpool side he would shortly join.


Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers with Jamie Vardy

Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers with Jamie Vardy

Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers with Jamie Vardy

If his time in Glasgow started with a catastrophic loss to Gibraltar’s Lincoln Red Imps, and if it came with the asterisk of coinciding with Rangers’ slow emergence from their age of darkness, it still yielded seven trophies in less than three years and the first ever “Double Treble” (a treble in consecutive seasons).

Statistically, if never spiritually, he outdid Jock Stein in winning his first four domestic competitions, while compiling an unbeaten run in the Scottish game that stretched to 69 games. His class of 2017 finished with a record-shattering 106 points and the first unbeaten season since 1899.

Yet, it is the growing authority of his time at Leicester which signals all that Rodgers might yet become.

His team relentlessly overachieves, leaving four of the supposed Super Leaguers trailing in his Premier League wake while also advancing to the FA Cup final. Critically, he himself is visibly growing as a leader and a man.

There is an emotional intelligence that was not always easy to locate in the Anfield incarnation. Older, more comfortable in his own skin, it is as if he feels less need to announce his achievements from the rooftops.

Leicester’s late winner against Crystal Palace on Monday all but secures the Champions League berth, agonisingly missed when his exhausted team hit the wall head-on in last season’s final laps.

The club sit 16 points ahead of Arsenal, nine clear of Spurs, eight in front of Liverpool and are four better than Champions League semi-finalists Chelsea.

All of this, despite the Foxes talisman, Jamie Vardy, scoring just twice in his 21 games since Christmas and though the manger was without key players, James Maddison, Harvey Barnes and Caglar Soyuncu for sizeable periods.

Rodgers has enjoyed stellar 2020/21 results against the biggest names in management. One three-game sample-try reveals him taking down Guardiola, Klopp, and Jose Mourinho on a 10-2 aggregate score.

There was an FA Cup demotion of Manchester United, a two-goal victory over Chelsea that shouldered Frank Lampard toward the exit door.

Leicester have beaten all six of the self-styled Super League teams at some stage this season, an authentically stunning achievement.

September's tactical checkmate over City’s Catalan grandmaster, a 5-2 victory at the Etihad that represented the first time in 686 games as a manager Pep had conceded five, carried the Irishman to another level.

But, unlike he might have done a few years earlier, Rodgers chose not to unwrap the self-praise megaphone, he offered no smug one-liners.

There was no inclination to deliver a post-match verdict that amounted to an attempted billboard advertisement of his belief in his own genius. Just a grown-up assessment from a Premier League coach of growing poise and authority.

It seems inevitable that one of those wealthier clubs – notably the struggling North London pair, Spurs and Arsenal – will find his curriculum vitae irresistible as they seek a figure who can conjure the performances that match their inflated breakaway league sense of self.

As a measure of the changing times, a modern take on that unfortunate incident from Being Liverpool would reveal how attitudes to the 48-year-old have radically altered.

If Rodgers was asked to produce an envelope containing the name of the manager with the fastest growing reputation in the English game, few would be inclined to snigger if, after surveying the field, he chose to scribble down his own signature.

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