Brendan Rodgers—one of the hottest young names in management just a couple of years ago thanks to his exploits leading a ragtag Liverpool group to the precipice of the Premier League title—selected the next destination on his coaching career this past Friday. At Celtic. In Scotland. Not exactly following the glorious trajectory he once seemed to be arcing toward.
Celtic isn’t necessarily a bad job for Rodgers to take, and for the club, it’s absolutely a coup. Best case scenario, Rodgers rehabs his image at what is legitimately a big club (though in a rather small pond) with a few league trophies he should be able to win with his eyes closed (even with Rangers’ return to the top flight), maybe claw out some impressive performances in the Champions League, and on the back of the results and the attractive, attacking playing style he’s known for, get his name back in the mix for a position at a top club in England or Spain or wherever.
Meanwhile, Celtic get a young, ambitious, probably overqualified manager who’s desperate to prove himself once to take the reins for at least a couple years. If Rodgers wasn’t hearing offers he liked after getting canned at Liverpool in October, it probably means he has his sights set pretty high, which in turn means it’ll probably take him a few years rebuilding his rep to get there. Celtic get a really good coach who will either bring great success and get plucked up in three or four years’ time by a big EPL club while leaving behind a solid foundation, or he’ll suck and get fired and it will have been worth the attempt.
Thus, while this all does make sense both for Celtic and for Rodgers, it’s understandable that Rodgers might still feel some kind of way about the big backwards step this job symbolizes. It’s also understandable that he wouldn’t necessarily want to communicate this feeling to the fans of his new club, but also that he wouldn’t not want to point out that, bruised reputation or not, he’s still Brendan Rodgers and could’ve probably gotten a better job elsewhere.
If you look carefully, you can see the fault lines here—between Rodgers feeling like he’s too good for Celtic but also that Celtic is a good job for him to take right now—in his statements at his presentation ceremony earlier today. Let’s see if we can parse some of what he literally said for what he was really saying. From the Guardian:
“People might say this is a step down but they don’t know this club,” Rodgers said. “I have come into a huge club here.”
Translation: “People—not me, okay; it’s other people—definitely see this as a step down for me, but if you really look, it’s actually not that massive of one.”
“Don’t get me wrong, I have had a number of guys who have said: ‘Don’t go. Why would you go?’ But this is Celtic and it’s different.”
Translation: “Let’s not kid ourselves: I could’ve gone somewhere bigger. But when I sized up all my options, Celtic offered some surprising pluses that will help me get even better jobs in the future than the ones I was in the running for now.”
“It is a challenge, of course. It is a different market, a different budget but this can be a wonderful opportunity to come and help the players. If I can help the game in Scotland then great, but this is about helping Celtic.”
Translation: “Look, I’m not saying we’re necessarily going to walk the league—though, to be clear, with my credentials and tactical acumen, they’ll probably be talking about how revolutionary my time in Scotland was the way Guardiola is spoken about in Germany. It will be hard work, but when it’s time for me to regain my rightful place at an actual big club, I’ll leave Celtic better than I inherited it.”
“It is a different football level here but the challenge of getting to the Champions League and dominating Scottish football really excites me.”
Translation: “Like I said, there are surprising pluses to this job. Here, I’ll get to absolutely crush our Scottish opposition, winning multiple trophies every year, as well as get some worthwhile European experience, to boot.”
“When I left Liverpool, I could have been in a Premier League job the next day. On the Monday, I got a call from a club but I wanted to have time out from the intensity of managing big clubs and the pressures that come with it. It was always clear that I wanted to go back in the summer.”
Translation: “Seriously, you guys are lucky to have me. If I wanted I could’ve taken over a low-tier Premier League team, but to be frank I was burned out and wanted to assess my options at the end of the season, when more high-quality jobs opened up, instead of biting at the first thing put in front of my face just to be back at it.”
“With Swansea, it was a case of me telling Huw Jenkins in January that I wouldn’t be able to go back to work but in the summer I would be. We had a few conversations and a lot of it was linked to the new ownership. That new ownership isn’t ready to go through yet.”
Translation: “I could’ve gone back to Swansea, too, where I made my name originally, but I wanted that break. And anyway, I would’ve needed a fat contract and promises about spending big on new players to match my ambitions and the prospective new club owners who could’ve funded my project weren’t ready to sign on the dotted line yet.”
“I could have waited and maybe got another job in the Premier League, but I hope to be managing for another 20-odd years. The chance to manage Celtic might not come again, which is why I felt I wanted to talk and then be here today.”
Translation: “And sure, maybe a Stoke or a Watford or a Southampton job would’ve opened up eventually, something closer to what people expect of me. But the chance of failure is pretty high at one of those even under the best of circumstances, so why not do a stint racking up titles in Scotland instead? I’m young, and those other jobs will still be there later.”
“Time is the big thing you want as a manager, but ultimately you don’t get that. You’ve got to win games and you’ve got to perform. At this moment in time, I’ve got no thoughts of Celtic being a stepping stone and moving back into the Premier League. I don’t want to work in the Premier League for 20 years, hence the reason I came up here.
“This is a wonderful country. It has some top class coaches and managers. You are working in a totally different market at a totally different level. For me, it is a challenge. However long the challenge is, I will be here. You don’t know what the future holds. For me, to come here and manage and be successful – it’s certainly not going to be for a year, that’s for sure.”
Translation: “Yes, Celtic are a stepping stone for me. Obviously. But at least I’ll be doing something different, not trudging around in England’s midtable while hoping something better comes along. It’s a fun challenge, managing this big little club in this little league. So don’t worry, I’ll be here for a while. Like, at least two seasons.”
A real match made in heaven, this is. We’ll ready up the Life of Rodgers tag for you, Brendan.