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Daniel Levy’s Imaginary (Managerial) Shortlist: Brendan Rodgers

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Nagelsmann is done, and it’s time to start looking at other candidates. Up first — the OTHER guy we probably won’t get.

To: daniel.levy@tottenhamhotspur.com
From: cartilagefree@gmail.com

Subject: Let us help you! (Manager search)

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The Basics

Name: Brendan Rodgers
Age: 48
Team: Leicester City
Nationality: Northern Irish
Cumulative ELO rating: 1813

The Specifics

Trophies:

EFL Championship (Swansea City, 2011); Scottish Cup (Celtic, 2017, 2018); Scottish League Cup (Celtic, 2017, 2018); Scottish Premiership (Celtic, 2017, 2018)

Brendan Rodgers, once a protogé of Jose Mourinho (really!), stormed on the scene back around 2010 while helping Swansea City become the first Welsh team to promote to the Premier League. He leveraged good performances with the Swans into a short tenure with then-struggling Liverpool. The Reds never quite put it together under Rodgers, and his reputation (forged via the 2012 Being: Liverpool documentary series) of being a bit of a weirdo eventually saw him canned in October of 2015. He was appointed as Celtic manager for the 2016-17 and achieved instant success, winning a “double-triple” of domestic honors in the Scottish Premiership. He left Celtic for the open Leicester City job in February of 2019, replacing Claude Puel. Leicester are currently third in the Premier League this season.

Tactics:

Rodgers teams don’t employ a high press, but instead tend to set up in a medium block, with compact defending and selective pressing as needed. At Leicester this season Rodgers has mostly set out with a 3-4-2-1 formation meant to enhance attacking wingback play (Timothy Castagne and James Justin this season, but also Ricardo Pereira and Ben Chilwell last year and Kieran Tierney during his Celtic days). However, he’s not averse to mixing things up when tactics or injuries demand it. Rodgers’ central defenders have tended to be comfortable with the ball at their feet, and a mix of low-cost young players and established veterans. One of the hallmarks of a Rodgers team is that they tend to be difficult to break down while still able to hit back quickly through offensively minded wingbacks.

Rodgers’ teams are also fluid offensively, emphasizing creativity in attacking midfield (Harvey Barnes, James Maddison) and a single, dominant striker (Jamie Vardy at Leicester, Moussa Dembele at Celtic) to latch on to chances created. They can break down a bunkered defense, but also work to win the ball back higher up the pitch and selectively spring counterattacks from deeper positions when the opportunity provides.

Strengths:

Rodgers has absolutely benefitted from Leicester’s outstanding scouting and recruitment, but his current system has also played to their strengths since he took charge in 2019. He’s adept at maximizing talent and ability out of his defenders, and his system is structured so that they (hopefully) aren’t under a constant threat. Rodgers sides are also well drilled with a coherent structure, and he is very adept at developing younger players.

At least on the offensive side of the ball the pieces are in place at Tottenham for Rodgers to execute his preferred tactics — it’s not hard to see how he could get the best from players such as Harry Kane, Son Heung-Min, Dele, Giovani Lo Celso, and Tanguy Ndombele. Defensively it’d be a bit more challenging, but Rodgers has done more with less in the past, and Sergio Reguilon would be outstanding in a Rodgers side.

Weaknesses:

Did I mention he’s a bit of a weirdo? He’s a bit of a weirdo. He has a strong personality and reportedly an enormous ego that didn’t really work at Liverpool. It’s a positive when he’s asked to instill a sense of belief in his players, but it can go catastrophically poorly with the wrong mix of personalities in the dressing room or if they decide not to buy what he’s selling.

The other point of concern is that Rodgers is used to having a robust scouting system in place to identify targets for him. Take that away from him, as would be the case at Spurs, and his track record with transfers becomes significantly worse. At both Celtic and Liverpool, his transfer targets missed way more than they hit. At Liverpool, he actively feuded with the “transfer committee” (established because he refused to work with a Director of Football) and badmouthed them after he left the club. He’d have even less at his disposal at Spurs — he’ll basically be working with Levy and Steve Hitchen, neither of whom have been as adept in that area as the setup at Leicester, and would likely demand a lot of control.

The Verdict

Likeliness of being hired

Unlikely. Not only is Leicester almost certainly poised to qualify for the Champions League next season, he’s still under a long term contract with the Foxes and would be expensive to pry away. He would likely demand a significant bump in wages if he were to consider making a move to north London, and the question remains as to why he would want to, when he has pretty much everything he wants or needs at the moment where he is. However, if Daniel Levy manages to turn his head, all bets are off — he has shown no compunction to leave for greener pastures in the past.

Grade if Hired: B

Rodgers ticks many of the right boxes, but going from one manager with a huge ego and the ability to alienate players to another manager in the same mold (but with better tactics) gives me pause. This also feels like as much of a moonshot as Julian Nagelsmann did for all the reasons explained above. Leicester have a system in place that allows Rodgers to thrive, but those structures don’t exist in the same way at Spurs, and with a rebuild coming it’s a little iffy whether he could manage that successfully on his own. It’d be an expensive gamble with a very high upside, but still a gamble.