Brendan Rodgers was damaged goods when Celtic lured him north of the border in May 2016. For all the furore about him being the man to rebuild and revive Scottish football, there was only one reason he was in Glasgow: his reputation had hit a low. He may have played it down and instead talked up the rich history of Celtic Football Club, but 12–18 months previously, he would not have envisaged himself having to swap Anfield and away trips to Old Trafford and the Emirates Stadium for Parkhead and visits to Fir Park and Tynecastle.
And with the 5-0 weekend win at the latter ground having sealed a sixth league title on the spin for the club, Rodgers’ rehabilitation is effectively complete. Granted, there remains the Scottish Cup to fight for with a semi-final against Rangers on the horizon, but the Irishman has achieved his aim and rebuilt his reputation to the point that Premier League clubs will surely consider him a viable option this summer.
Rodgers was always onto a winner with Celtic. Even with bitter rivals Rangers returning to the top tier after a spectacular fall from grace, there was little he could do wrong. Replacing Ronny Deila in the dugout instantly boosted the mood in the stands, the vast budget in comparison to all their rivals allowed for some smart transfer business and the overall quality of players inherited was, again, superior to all rivals. Even though anything other than success would have been a stunning failure, he has gone about his job superbly, with the League Cup and Premiership secured and a fantastic unbeaten domestic record behind him, which means that even a winless Champions League group stage campaign has been forgotten – their four-team pool included Barcelona, Manchester City and Borussia Monchengladbach and it was an achievement to get there via the qualifiers, after all.
It’s not just the quantifiable that has been so noteworthy, though. Rodgers has revived an ailing talent in the shape of Scott Sinclair to the point that he’s among Scottish football’s elite players, no mean feat as the former Swansea man could have fallen down the ‘Joey Barton path’ at Rangers and not taken the challenge in front of him seriously. Stuart Armstrong, too, has looked a brand new player, while Erik Svaitchenko and Scott Brown have also cemented themselves as two of the best players in their positions in the Premiership. Perhaps most striking is his work with 20-year-old Moussa Dembele, who has emerged as one of European football’s hottest prospects on the back of a staggering 32-goal haul in all competitions and has even, according to reports, attracted an offer from Chelsea worth up to £100,000-per-week. Rodgers’ unique selling point during the first phase of his English management career was his ability to nurture emerging talent, so it’s to his credit that’s he’s once again shown his worth, especially as his latter days at Liverpool were marked for going back on his own ideas.
Celtic fans, and supporters of the wider game, won’t really want to hear it, but there’s only one outcome now for Rodgers: moving away from Scotland. It may indeed be the case that he stays another campaign, but with Premier League teams – as well as some from further afield – sure to have made note of his efforts, the chance might come up sooner rather than later. In management, when you’re hot, you’re hot, so if a side like West Ham, for example, knock at his door, what’s the likelihood of the 44-year-old being able to say ‘thanks, but no thanks’?
The Hammers are in intriguing option and one that may actually become available. With Slaven Bilic having lost one of the three games he has left to save his Irons career this weekend at Hull, it’s looking more and more likely that there will be a new man in the dugout at the London Stadium for 2017/18. The Croatian has been given the dreaded ‘vote of confidence’ by club officials, after all.
It’s by no means a guarantee that West Ham will want Rodgers, but there’s a certain level of logic to the Ulsterman heading to the east end of the capital. The club, for all they are mocked by rivals supporters, demand a certain style of football and for all the talk of the ‘West Ham way’ and what it actually is, Rodgers could bring the attacking, attractive approach that is sure to get fans on board and somewhat neutralise the toxic atmosphere that has been brewing in the stands. He’s a smart manager with genuine tactical nous – he took Liverpool as close as they’ve ever come to a Premier League title in 2013/14 and got the very best out of Luis Suarez along the way – so there’s every chance he could make use of the players in the Hammers set-up. The job may well appeal to him, too, as the claret and blue-clad outfit have cash to spend and ambitions of challenging for European qualification.
Away from West Ham, even Stoke, if they get fed up with Mark Hughes, West Brom, if they want to move away from Tony Pulis and his ‘Pulis-ball’ style or even fallen champions Leicester are potential options.
Rodgers is a man revived and Scotland’s top tier may just be too small for him. Celtic have enjoyed a stellar season and may yet end it with the tag of being unbeaten across the domestic campaign with a trophy-treble, but even the most ardent of Hoops fans must be aware that the clock is ticking on a relationship that both needed.