The sky is darkening in Glasgow. Subtle clouds are overhead and rain is threatening. Autumn has brought an unfamiliar breeze of insecurity to Glasgow Celtic. It’s not just the arrival of Steven Gerrard across town. The evergreen (and white) boys of summer for once have genuine reasons for concern; losing out on Champions League qualification, inactivity in the transfer market and the sale of the talented Moussa Dembélé have put Celtic on the back foot.
Steven Gerrard’s first foray into management is unlikely to topple Brendan Rodgers’ side in the near future but Gerrard will know that the figurative goalposts are significantly wider at Ibrox than at Parkhead. Bridging the gap to Celtic would be a certain points victory for the Liverpudlian and his improving Rangers.
After incredible success, Rodgers cannot afford to lose ground to a revived Rangers. For the first time in years, Rodgers will be looking over his shoulder, perhaps even speculatively beyond Hadrian’s Wall as he approaches the season ahead.
Rodgers has enjoyed a wholly successful era in Glasgow. Rodgers and Celtic have been the perfect match; a ‘big club’ that subscribes to the all-involved managerial archetype, a role that is becoming more and more rare in the modern game. Rodgers could rightly claim to be the preeminent British manager of his generation. Managing Celtic has allowed Rodgers to hone his craft, experiment tactically and to return to the entertaining and fast paced football his teams played at Swansea and Liverpool.
Following his departure from Liverpool in 2015, Brendan Rodgers knew that his next career move would be a statement of intent. Positions became available at Aston Villa, Swansea and Newcastle that season, but Rodgers had come within a hair’s grasp of ending Liverpool’s championship drought. He had championship calibre. Rodgers’ next move would likely forever define his standing in the game.
The move to Celtic – beating out the likes of Neil Lennon, Roy Keane and Paul Lambert – was more than a normal appointment. It was a strategic, and a sidestep at that; opting to delay the playing of an important card.
Celtic were unlikely to be Brendan Rodgers’ ‘forever club’ and heading north put a temporary freeze on his career trajectory. In taking over at Parkhead, Rodgers confirmed his status as a manager of big clubs, albeit in a small league with sparse competition. It was a move carrying little risk with Rodgers unlikely to not bring success to Celtic.
The question remains though: should Rodgers one day return to the Premier League, will he continue from his 2014 standing as a manager of title contenders, or will he take over Aston Villa, Swansea or Newcastle and contend himself as a midtable (or worse) manager?
While the level of competition presenting itself in Scotland might skew statistics, Rodgers has made the best of his situation. Rodgers has expertly developed the Celtic squad without significant investment and Kieran Tierney is one of the top young prospects in Britain. Celtic have played entertaining football, finishing the 2016-2017 unbeaten while winning a domestic treble and completing a ‘double treble’ in 2017-2018.
The jubilee was not to last long. When Celtic crashed out of the Champions League in mid-August, Rodgers was quick to assert blame at the lack of investment from the owners.
It’s not rocket science. You have to always guard against becoming complacent and the way you do that is by adding to the squad. There’s players that we’ve kept, but obviously getting other players in.
To be fair to Rodgers, he is not what anyone would call a ‘chequebook manager’. Rodgers has always been a manager who has prided himself in his work on the training field, but even the best coaching in the modern game requires augmentation, especially considering the loss of Dembélé to Lyon.
Glasgow Celtic has been a managerial sidestep for Rodgers but his position in future job markets becomes weakened should his Celtic side not continue to dominate their domestic competition.
While Martin O’Neill parlayed his stewardship of Celtic into the Aston Villa job in 2006, the gap between the Premier League and Scottish Premier League has widened in the years since. Similarly, even though Chris Coleman’s popularity was buoyed leading Wales in the 2016 European Championships, he was sacked from his next role at Sunderland with the club languishing bottom of the Championship. Roy Keane might very well have been a contender for the Republic of Ireland manager’s job in the future, had recent events not unravelled.
As recently as August, Rodgers pledged his immediate future to Celtic. While Rodgers will relish the chance to put one over on his former captain in Glasgow in the forthcoming season, he knows that he will be judged more harshly than his opposite number. Rodgers will soon become a victim of his own success in Glasgow, where all seasons shall be judged against the previous.
Rodgers’ ultimate status in the pantheon of top-level British managers remains yet to be decided. He would be an outstanding appointment for many clubs. He has put together an outstanding CV in the past decade, but he is unfortunate that elite, title contending Premier League clubs have become highly sceptical of homegrown managers. Rodgers is currently in an enviable position at Glasgow Celtic, but that will not last forever.
Should a Premier League team with European ambitions come calling, Brendan just might be tempted to listen and take the plunge.