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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 March 2019

Brendan Rodgers can prove his ability by galvanising a youthful and talented Leicester City squad

Former Celtic and Liverpool manager arrives at the King Power Stadium with a fine reputation for guiding youth, and he has something to prove on his return to the Premier League

Brendan Rodgers, centre, was with Leicester City chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, right, to watch the 2-1 win over Brighton on Tuesday. Reuters
Brendan Rodgers, centre, was with Leicester City chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, right, to watch the 2-1 win over Brighton on Tuesday. Reuters

Most managerial appointments tend to be a reaction to the last. Brendan Rodgers’ attractiveness includes the obvious: he is not Claude Puel.

Leicester City’s new manager is not his predecessor. His enthusiasm offers an antidote to a charisma vacuum.

Rodgers’ rhetoric can be excessive and some of his most exaggerated comments lend themselves to mockery, but that ebullient approach may be welcomed. Puel lacked the persuasive powers to win over either the players or the supporters at both Southampton and Leicester.

And yet, if that ties into one view of Rodgers – articles containing his most memorable quotes abound on the internet, partly because some of those utterings remain so cringe-worthy – the footballing differences help explain his appointment.

If Craig Shakespeare had been Leicester’s continuity choice, Puel was the supposed evolutionary, charged with developing Leicester’s style of play.

Yet such attempts felt incoherent. Leicester’s last wins under the Frenchman came against Chelsea, Manchester City and Everton, laudable triumphs forged by counter-attacking with a minority of possession; necessary methods in those games, but throwback ones in others.

Yet their results at home when they had the highest shares of the ball were wretched. Their passing lacked penetration; their domination was too sterile.

Rodgers’ ambitious blueprint and his capacity for creativity ought to change that. Puel left the lowest scorers in the top 12 which, given the talent in Leicester’s ranks, was an inadequate return.

There is an understandable focus on Rodgers the manager, but a career coach’s record on the training ground explains his appeal. Chelsea’s former youth-team manager has a track record of working with the young. He has improved the emerging, from Joe Allen and Ben Davies at Swansea City to Raheem Sterling, Philippe Coutinho and Jordan Henderson at Liverpool, and Moussa Dembele and Kieran Tierney at Celtic.

Raheem Sterling, left, is one of a number of young players to improve while players under Brendan Rodgers. Reuters
Raheem Sterling, left, is one of a number of young players to improve while players under Brendan Rodgers. Reuters

That has particular relevance for Leicester. While much of their recruitment since winning the title has been misguided, they have nonetheless accumulated one of the finest groups of up-and-coming players in England.

Mike Stowell, briefly the caretaker, noted that Demarai Gray had to represent the old against the young in a training-ground game. Gray is 22. So are James Maddison, Wilfred Ndidi, Ben Chilwell, Kelechi Iheanacho and Caglar Soyuncu. Hamza Choudhury, Harvey Barnes and Youri Tielemans are 21, along with Filip Benkovic, who played for Rodgers at Celtic. There is plenty of potential there.

Rodgers’ recruitment record for Liverpool was mixed, but he has not been hired to buy. He inherited an ageing Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher at Anfield, and used his ingenuity to rejuvenate his captain.

Now he faces the question of what to do with the remnants of Leicester’s greatest generation, in Jamie Vardy, Kasper Schmeichel and a declining Wes Morgan, but the veterans will be outnumbered.

If youth should provide Leicester’s future, it may offer an identity. The sense is that they have been in search of one. They were defined by the most improbable of titles, but that raised the question of what comes next.

This had the air of another wasted year, defined by the underwhelming Puel, with the worst-case scenario that it ends with the loss of Harry Maguire and Chilwell. The Frenchman left a team who could be the best of the rest in 12th. That is underachievement, especially when coupled with unimpressive Cup exits.

Jamie Vardy is part of Leicester City's older generation that Brendan Rodgers will be working with. Reuters
Jamie Vardy is part of Leicester City's older generation that Brendan Rodgers will be working with. Reuters

Rodgers has a contract until 2022, though only one Leicester manager since Martin O’Neill has lasted three years. Should he show some longevity, perhaps he will win over some doubters. He feels remembered for his mediocre final 14 months at Anfield and afforded too little credit for the previous season’s surge to second place.

If, as with Leicester’s subsequent title win, there was a freak element to Liverpool’s progress, it also illustrated Rodgers’ coaching prowess, his galvanising powers and his facility for original tactical thought, even if he does need someone to filter out his less inspired ideas.

Yet since then, he was snubbed for Francesco Guidolin when Swansea almost reappointed him in 2016. The thought is that he would have taken the Southampton job last summer; instead they gave Mark Hughes a lucrative contract. Each erred by overlooking him.

In contrast, Leicester have recognised he represents an upgrade on Puel. They have appointed a manager with the ability, if not always the judgement, to take charge of one of the elite.

If his departure is demoralising for Celtic, the chance of a historic treble treble not incentive enough to keep Rodgers, it may show the extent to which Leicester offers an opportunity. It is now up to Rodgers to grasp it.

Updated: February 28, 2019 08:00 AM

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