Rodgers’ vision trumps destiny

When something disgraceful has taken place that is also entirely predictable and even understandable, we are invariably left with only one way to sum things up.

That’s football.

This week, it was former Rangers man Neil McCann, in his role as a pundit on Sky Sports, doing the calculations and arriving at the only reasonable bottom line.

“I suppose that’s football.”

McCann was talking about the banner held up by Celtic fans during the midweek win over Hearts. Their farewell to the manager who had won them two trebles.

It read: “You traded immortality for mediocrity. Never a Celt. Always a Fraud.”

All part and parcel of the heartbreak, the hysteria, the rage of the jilted, the betrayal, the ambition, and the bullshit of football.

Take it all away and you’d be left with something that isn’t football.

We know, on some level, that it is all fake. We are operating in a world where Neymar receives an annual bonus of $375,000 for waving to PSG fans. It is a world made for men like Brendan Rodgers, who can make us believe in something. Made for a man who lives by the credo: “The quality of your life is the quality of your communication.”

Since his arrival at Celtic, Brendan told them everything they wanted to hear.

This is different. This is family, this is blood, this is Patsy Gallagher, Jimmy Johnstone, Danny McGrain, It’s more than a job and it’s more than a club.

He talked about his dream job as a lifelong fan, about “the fusion between the players, the management, and the supporters” being “Celtic’s Holy Trinity”, presumably fielding himself in the playmaker role of God.

They lapped it all up and then he was drawn away by the shiny allure of Premier League mid-table, 12 games before he was due to make it nine domestic trophies out of nine. Having talked so persuasively of nostalgia and destiny and glory, he cashed it in for two months back in the glare of the Best League in the World, shredding any lingering esteem his club clung to about their place in the world. And torching the fragile dignity of the Scottish league.

That’s football.

For a day or two, these things feel like a turning point in football’s long relationship with bullshit. The kind of thing that could give bullshit a bad name, that could bring bullshit down altogether, for everyone. Surely football would wake up the next morning, and vow never to be sucked in to the same extent again.

And yet Brendan Rodgers’ own compulsion to bullshit is so strong, that on his very first day at Leicester, he told them he would give his life for the club — not the most tasteful opening gambit given the recent history in his new surroundings. 

But he also talked about getting the supporters and players working together, so perhaps he can reform the Holy Trinity to inspire the race for seventh.

Because after three wins in a row, they will lap it up too. That’s football.

Brendan will get on with reiterating his brand values. He will become a ‘football architect’ once more. And the Foxes will ‘defend forward’, and ‘rest on the ball’, and there may even be ‘death by football’.

That was the chief difficulty being stuck up in Scotland. The world just wasn’t listening. It didn’t even really catch on that he labelled Celtic’s unbeaten team The Infrangibles. Otherwise there would surely be a tribute band by now.

So Brendan probably has a lot of that kind of stuff to get off his chest. And perhaps it’s just what Leicester need. To give themselves over to the famous ‘One Club One Vision’ dossier that Rodgers believes will work at any club where the vision is his.

Can Leicester escape the bitter aftermath of their fairytale in whatever narrative Brendan has devised to prove this one isn’t less than a job?

And could Rodgers be at a better club to vindicate the prioritisation of his own career over someone else’s destiny?

The rancour and restlessness of Leicester’s fairytale years will forever stand as a case study for managers and players wondering if they should quit while ahead, putting N’Golo Kante up there with Steve Jobs and the fella who invented the Post-it note among the great case study heroes who got the big calls right.

But a study of Celtic’s colourful history of banner creation might also have factored into Rodgers’ thinking.

‘Empty jerseys, empty hearts, empty dreams, empty stands’, read one, three years ago. ‘You’ve embarrassed yourselves. The Celtic jersey has shrunk to fit inferior players,’ another.

They had lost the Scottish Cup semi-final on penalties to Rangers and Rodgers’ predecessor Ronnie Delia promised to go once he had completed the formalities of collecting his second title in two attempts that summer.

Maybe that established the value of what Rodgers has foregone this May.

He’d have known his immortality would be fragile and he would be keenly aware too of the price of two more months in exile, in terms of brand depreciation.

In Michael Calvin’s book Living on the Volcano , Rodgers explains that he sees himself less as a manager and more “a welfare officer”. He talks about building a player’s CORE principles, but it’s also clear the man who is fluent in Spanish and Italian speaks well the language professional footballers understand best.

On a flipchart he had scribbled some numbers. 17X12=204. Rodgers explained it was for a lecture he had just given an 18-year-old player.

“You will play until you’re 35 years of age, right? You’ve got 204 pay packets left in your life as a player. At the end of this month, that’s 203. Once this is done, this is done. Maximise yourself. Remember, this is your life. Don’t wait on it. Create it.”

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