Peak Fitba Watch | Brendan Rodgers Special

“Watford is a great club and I made a mistake leaving there when I did. I had been there for seven months and we’d enjoyed a really good second part to the season. It looked like we were ready to build on that and move forward, so the supporters weren’t overly happy when I left, and rightly so […] but I felt that the quicker route to get to the Premier League was when I was offered the chance to go to Reading, because they had just lost in the Championship play-offs to Burnley, who had subsequently got promoted.”

A quote from Brendan Rodgers’ autobiography that I just skimmed over the first time I read it. It was back in the honeymoon period, where Brendan could do no wrong and I was reading through his book for the nuggets of information that proved he was the second coming of Christ. I drank the Brendan kool-aid and that paragraph showing his unrepentant ambition and disregard for integrity and loyalty didn’t fit into my narrative. And in any case, it would be different with us; we were his one true love. He told us so time and again.

“Now I was going to manage my team, the club I have always supported. It took me 43 years to get here […]I had a nice little moment, just staring at the kit, and that’s the feeling Celtic gives you.”

What else were Celtic fans to think but: we have appointed a highly impressive manager that wants nothing more than to guide us to 10 in a row and to improve us in every aspect. Rodgers was constantly making love to us with his words. It was unrelenting.

“This is my fifth job as a manager, but I just get it more, having always been a supporter of the club. I know, too, through relatives and my upbringing, what it actually means and everything that supporters go through to see the team, whether that’s at Celtic Park or anywhere else we play, be that in Scotland or in Europe.”

Rodgers was also able to back up his claims by mentioning Celtic from the past. He seemed to have an encyclopedic knowledge of Celtic from the 80s onwards. He spoke of his admiration for Tommy Burns: “of course, I also loved Tommy because he was a left-footer but you also felt, as a Celtic supporter, that he was just one of us.”

In recent days a lot of Rodgers’ assertions have been questioned (though we have been told by someone that spoke to McGrain a few days ago that THAT story is actually true) and the consensus now is that he was just telling us the things that we wanted to hear. By extension then, is Rodgers a calculating sociopath that essentially studied our past to pull out some nuggets like McGarvey scoring a header and Chris Morris taking over from Danny McGrain? Are we to believe that Rodgers initiated some kind of study on Celtic from the day he was born to the day he was appointed so that he could fool everyone into thinking he was some kind of superfan? I don’t buy it.

What I do think is that he was a Celtic fan, but not a Celtic fan in the way most of us think. His working week is not shaped by whatever performance our team put in at the weekend. Rodgers is far too ambitious to care that much. He is a Celtic fan in the way that Scott Arfield is a Celtic fan, i.e. until someone pays him not to be. Brendan Rodgers, it seems, is a fan of two things: himself and the English Premier League.

He clearly has burning ambition. And this ambition is the thing that has defined every action he has made in life. In his book he speaks of his family’s poverty and the fact that his dad sometimes had to beg at petrol stations for free fuel to get the family home. His background has resulted in a laser focus on ensuring progression whether that be professional or financial.

“I’d gone over to Reading first of all, and on my first trip there, the manager at the time, Ian Branfoot, took a real shine to me. He actually wanted me to sign after that trial, but I told him that I was going on trial to Manchester United. I didn’t want to turn down that opportunity, and the United scout at the time, Eddie Coulter, was keen to get me over.” From his first moment in English football Rodgers wanted to climb quickly. For a young kid this is understandable, but this drive to move up as quickly as possible is a neurosis that continued to define Rodgers.

When he discovered he would not be able to have a playing career because of injury Rodgers moved in to coaching at Reading. He progressed to Chelsea and then took up the manager’s job at Watford. Then, as explained in his first quote above, , he jumped ship back to Reading after only 7 months in charge,, thinking they would have a better chance at taking him to the EPL. Six months later, with Reading one spot above the relegation zone, Rodgers was sacked: his disloyalty paving the way to dole queue.

This time off gave him the chance to hone his David Brent style: “Towards the end of the 2009/10 season, I heard on the grapevine that Swansea City’s manager, Paulo Sousa, was possibly going to go to Leicester City. So what I did was prepare a letter so that, if Paulo did go, I could get that to Huw Jenkins, the Swansea chairman, the very next day so that it would be one of the very first letters he would read. So when Paulo left at the start of July 2010, I had the letter couriered down by special delivery to Huw at the club, and I know that, afterwards, when I did get the job, he’d been impressed by that because it was one of the first letters he received.”

He got the job that would lead to him recreating a fantasy he had had when unemployed and watching the Playoff Final: “God, that must be a great place to be. Ninety-thousand people and you’ve just won at Wembley and you’re now into the Premier League.” And then when he got the chance: “I stood at Wembley in the middle of 90,000 people, in the pouring rain, knowing that, very soon, I was going to become a Premier League manager.”

Such a weird way to say it: I was going to be a Premier League manager, not we were going to be a Premier League team. Even stranger on his time at Swansea: “Eventually, through common sense and a clear direction and identity of how they wanted their team to play, they got to the Premier League, and so had I.” His attitude towards the English Premier League is almost festishistic. 

Two years at Swansea and three months after signing a new 3 ½  year deal, Rodgers signed on as Liverpool manager and his dreams were finally being realised: he was getting to the top of the pile in, what he calls, “the most competitive league in the world” and “the benchmark”.

His downfall at Liverpool, and the mockery that came with his David Brentism and the Being Liverpool documentary, was a blow that permanently scarred his ego, so much so that he has clearly dialled in his nonsense and he spent a chunk of his book basically calling the TV show a stitch up. My thesis is that every decision Rodgers has made since that day has been designed with the intention of getting back to his holyland: the upper echelons of the EPL.

And the thing that pisses me off is that it was clear to see. But I didn’t see it. Looking back on so many of his comments about Celtic they are completely drenched with his ego: “I stood at Hampden, looked around and saw people so happy, and to have given them that feeling, along with the team and the support staff… there are so many words to describe it, but it gives you nothing but pride at the end of it all.”

When discussing the possibility of doing a treble Rodgers didn’t just want to talk about how amazing it would be and what an achievement it was for any team, he wanted to ensure that it was regarded in the correct context, that he was in a special club: “‘For me to join those two men (Stein and O’Neill), who are revered for their work at Celtic, and knowing all the other great managers who’d been at the club over the years and who hadn’t been able to do that, would be special and, of course, there were moments when I sensed the magnitude of what that might be.” I’m not like the other ‘great’ managers. I’m like Stein and O’Neill.

Even in defeat his ego was there for all to see [on the loss to Red Imps]: “There were a lot of comments thrown about after that game about it being an embarrassment, but I wasn’t embarrassed by the players because I’m always with the players.” The fact that he regarded the ‘embarrassment’ as being focussed on the players and not also on the management team, speaks volumes.

His ego and ambition are rocket-fuelled and things began to change for him at Celtic when he could see that his style of football and Celtic’s budget were never going to marry well enough for him to progress us in Europe. He was personally taking beating after beating every time his Celtic team tried to enforce ‘the way they work’ on a class European team.

Despite the fact that Celtic’s wages in relation to their revenue have been pretty consistent for the last 15 years, Rodgers seemed surprised that he wasn’t able to buy what was required. He had a bloated squad, but not a good enough first team to match his ambitions. ‘We’ became ‘the club’. The end was nigh.

He went deeper than O’Neill or Lennon when it came to metaphorical badge kissing and it begs the question: what was the point in the faux Celtic love?  My opinion is that he knew that by positioning himself in such a way he would get the full backing of the fans and thus have leverage when it came to negotiating with the board, whether that be trying to get funds or trying to get himself paid. It also ensured that there was a strong connection between himself, the fans and the players. Essentially, it paid him to suck up to Celtic fans: it made his life easier.

Rodgers is a master manipulator who, when it comes to football, is usually the most intelligent man in the room. He speaks of empathy and emotional intelligence, but his real interest in those areas is using them to mould the thinking of whoever it is he is dealing with, whether that’s trying to get a job, trying to get favourable views from pundits, playing the fans like a fiddle or getting his players on board.

“What you find is that the most successful people have very high levels of EQ, and that gets underestimated in footballers. As well as tapping into that, it’s about finding different ways of giving different messages to the players, which is part of the job of a manager.”

When word came from Leicester City that they were interested in him, all thoughts of emotional intelligence went out the window for Rodgers. He didn’t need to care what we thought anymore, he was ghosting.

It was the equivalent of getting married to your sweetheart, daily telling her how much you love her, dropping off flowers at her work, discussing kids’ names together and then going to pump the woman across the road right in front of the living room window. If you wanted to rattle Martha over the road, that’s fine. Just don’t talk so much shite to us for 2 ½ years..

I initially reread Rodgers’ autobiography because I wanted to mine it for silly quotes, accidental Partridge and David Brentisms. But what I found was that Rodgers has always been a calculating, disloyal, egocentric, EPL-obsessed rat. It’s going to be funny to see him try to scurry up the EPL ladder as quickly as he can.

Brendan: The Top Quotes

 “I’ve always said that you can live without water for many days, but you can’t live for a second without hope.”

“Could we occupy the sides with numbers?” (Getting political away to Hapoel Be’er Sheva)

“My biggest mentor is myself because I’ve had to study, so that’s been my biggest influence.”

“My way of working is on a sliding scale between structure and improvisation, so that will be the nature of our work.”

“It is great for the public here at Sunderland to see us. They must have been wondering what this team everyone is talking about are all about and now they have seen. We were wonderful” (After a 2-0 loss.)

“I started coaching for one reason and that was to make a difference for people, not just as footballers but as human beings.”

“Eventually they went with Gary Megson.” (When he first tried to get the Leicester City job in 2008)

 “You train dogs, I like to educate players.”

“I think there’s three players who will let us down this year — the cause, the fight, everything – and I have written them down already in these three envelopes. Make sure you are not in one of the envelopes.”

“Moussa sang a French song which no-one understood, but he got up and did it, and he was fine. I remember I took Darren O’Dea on loan from Celtic to Reading, and Darren was an amazing singer. He could have sung in Westlife if he’d wanted to.” (Summer 2017.)

 “When I look back at my notes from that game, there is also a reference I made later, which I wrote in Spanish. ‘Lo Hicemos!! (We did it!!), which was my reflection and summary of what was a great performance on the day. I actually write some of my session plans in Spanish. It’s just an instinctive thing, it’s nothing pre-planned. Sometimes, I’ll automatically start writing a session plan in Spanish. So I’ll just have to complete it that way, or midway through writing a session out, I’ll sometimes go into Spanish.”

”I use a quote with the players,“Per aspera ad astra”, which is Latin for ‘through adversity to the stars’.”

“I love to run on the streets around here. I love seeing the people going about their business. These are our people. I love running late in the afternoon, when the doors are open and the dinners are on, and you can smell the mince cooking…”

“Would it be Adam Rooney or Jayden Stockley up front, or would they play both?” (I’m unsure why I find this funny.)

“I loved Anton Rogan when he played for Celtic. I called my own son ‘Anton’ after Anton Rogan.”

“I will leave no stone unturned in my quest – and that quest will be relentless.”

 “I always say a squad is like a good meal – I’m not a great cook but a good meal takes a wee bit of time, but also to offer a good meal you need good ingredients.”

“All I’ll ever do is all I’ve ever done in any job, and that’s promise to fight for my life for the people of the city.”

 “Six months earlier, they could never have done that because there wasn’t the patience of understanding.” (Rodgers takes full credit for THAT goal v St. Johnstone.)

“We play with 11 men, other teams play with 10 men and a goalkeeper.”

“He said: ‘I just wanted to say thank you for coming up to Scottish football. I’m a Rangers supporter but you are a breath of fresh air up here’.”

 “Being a supporter also gives you that extra determination because I know that feeling when Celtic supporters head home after the game, and particularly when they go back to Ireland on the boats or fly home. I know what they’ll be talking about. I know what the conversations are, so that gives you the extra motivation and level of commitment.”

Well, Brendan, no need for me to call you a rat bastard then: you already know.

Graeme is a Celtic fan living in Bayern. He was the original bum on seat 1, row S, section 113 and stayed there for 11 seasons. He now contents himself with Celtic TV. He was one half of History Bhoys Abroad and has a background in journalism. Tom Rogic completes him. He can be found on twitter under @PodestrianG

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