Brendan Rodgers has seen his stock slowly rise since he left Liverpool.
Over two years ago, when the Irishman was sacked and Jurgen Klopp was brought in to replace him at Anfield, Rodgers was considered something of a laughing stock.
His David Brent style of speech, a sort of new-age management speak which comes out as smarmy, greasy or self-aggrandising grated with fans who don’t think of the game in the same way. Perhaps it was the fact that his team was losing, but it looked as though the pressure was getting to him more than anything – Rodgers was seemingly at breaking point when he left Liverpool. He was a man for whom nothing was going right.
That was a shame, because that one season when Liverpool were a Steven Gerrard stud-length away from winning their first ever Premier League title, Rodgers’ side was a joy to behold. They were bold and they were attacking, but most importantly, they were lethal. This year’s Klopp version is, at times, just as thrilling to watch, but they don’t have the prolificacy as the 2013/14 vintage.
Luis Suarez is probably the reason for that. The fact that Rodgers had a young and hungry Raheem Sterling and a mostly-fit Daniel Sturridge to call upon alongside the Uruguayan certainly helped, too. It was a side filled with wonderful players, rather than one where the manager made all the difference, but the two often go hand-in-hand.
At Celtic now, he has rebuilt himself, and he’s done it in a way that makes him employable towards the upper echelons of football management.
As an unbeaten domestic treble-winner, Rodgers has now won titles and managed a team of players who are at the top of their game. They are, perhaps not top players, but they certainly are the top of their bracket. And that has just the same pressure involved: you have to win.
You can say, for example, that Celtic could win the league without a manager, or certainly without a good one. But that’s not the level that Rodgers has set for himself or his team: they’re not just there to win the league, they’re there to win everything and never get beat. They’ve done that so far in domestic competition.
They’ve also made themselves mainstays of the Champions League group stage, and have ensured they’ll be playing European football after Christmas for the first time in a long while. And there’s certainly pressure in that high standard for a team who were used to doing the bare minimum under Ronny Deila.
There is a mentality of winning, but also of winning in a certain way. He has given his players the freedom to take the game to the likes of Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich, despite suffering heavy defeats.
The difference, though, is that last season, they finished bottom of a Champions League group because they couldn’t win against Borussia Monchengladbach. This time, they’ve finished above Anderlecht to secure a Europa League knock-out place. Next season, perhaps they’ll be able to go one better, having had a year of more practice at taking the game to more opponents and perhaps even a much kinder group stage draw.
If that happens, why shouldn’t Rodgers be given a chance at a high level in England? And because of that, the path he’s taken should now be one for others to follow, too.
Everyone wants to manage in the Premier League. The prestige is great and the money even better. It’s the place to be for the cream of the crop. But that means it’s a crowded marketplace. It means some managers plying their trade in the low reaches of the Premier League or young managers in the Championship might want to look elsewhere for experience first.
Take Sean Dyche for example. He is a man who has already proved that he can keep Burnley in the Premier League and overcome some severe obstacles like the sale of his best two players last summer, Andre Gray and Michael Keane. He’s even lost England goalkeeper Tom Heaton to a long-term injury. And yet, his side has actually become even better.
But what Dyche hasn’t proved is something that he can’t actually prove at Burnley – or any Premier League club outside of the top six – is that he is a manager who can manage a team with the pressure to win a trophy, or that he can do something with a side who aren’t going to play two solid banks of four.
Some might say he hasn’t been given the chance. That’s true. But so far, he’s not grabbed it, either. In order to do that, he might think about taking the Rodgers path outside of England to a lesser league, but one where you can impose a pressure on yourself. That’s not just a pressure to win trophies in a league where it’s easier to do so, but a pressure of excellence. To excel to an extent where you genuinely couldn’t do a better job.
Indeed, Celtic may well be looking for a manager at the end of the season if Rodgers’ stock keeps rising. Even if the Irishman stays because he’s having fun and building something, there are plenty of other teams in Europe who’d have similar profiles. And if a manager like Dyche or Eddie Howe were smart, they should consider a job like that. Clubs like Ajax, PSV, Benfica or Porto are playing in leagues where it’s possible to win trophies and build a squad in the Champions League. That’s an experience you can’t get at a side like Burnley, even if you do the perfect managerial job.
The reason is because those managers haven’t been given top jobs is not because there is a bias against British and Irish coaches, but because they haven’t proved themselves at the right level. They can manage well in England’s lower reaches, sure, but they haven’t gone beyond that to show that they can manage a top team – or at least a team who are top of their own bracket, and one that has the burden of having to win week after week.
There’s an art to winning trophies at any level. You have to make sure you don’t choke, to get over the line. And in order to gain that experience, you have to be at a club where it’s possible to do so. In the Premier League, it isn’t if you’re not part of the top six these days.
But what Brendan Rodgers is also proving is that there’s another path you can take to gain that experience. It’s up to others to follow.