Celtic was a stepping stone back to the Premier League for Brendan Rodgers
Celtic are a big club, but they were also a stepping stone for Rodgers.
Brendan Rodgers is back in English football. The Northern Irishman has left Celtic to become Leicester City's new manager.
The former Liverpool coach returns to England after a highly successful spell in Scotland. He won two domestic trebles and seven trophies in total. Under Rodgers, Celtic played the positive football he promised to deliver upon being appointed in May 2016.
He didn't taste defeat in domestic competition in his first season and the relationship seemed to work perfectly for both parties. Rodgers won the titles he felt befitting of his talents, rehabilitating his reputation after a damaging final season with Liverpool.
Celtic got a top-level coach and cemented their dominance of Scottish football, lifting the gloom after the nothing-years of Ronny Deila when they limply meandered their way to trophies but achieved little else.
Rodgers was always going to leave. All Celtic supporters knew that. The economics of football meant that, despite Celtic's support, success and history, their best talent will always end up in a richer marketplace. Their manager, like players such as Virgil van Dijk, Victor Wanyama and Stuart Armstrong, has taken the step from Celtic to a mid-table Premier League side.
However, on the surface, the timing seems strange.
Celtic fans chanted about Rodgers leading them to 10-league titles in a row. He was never going to stick around for that long, but they will be wondering why he didn't at least stay to see the Glasgow club win their eighth league title in a row.
Why give that up to take charge of the team in 12th place in the Premier League? Former Celtic striker Chris Sutton said that Leicester are "playing for absolutely nothing. They're not going to get relegated, not going to get into Europe."
Why swap winning trophies for a mid-table Premier League side, who will never match their greatest glory of winning the league three years ago? Surely he should have waited for another opportunity and leave in the summer?
Was Celtic not supposed to be Rodgers' "dream job?" Maybe it was, but this decision is devoid of any sentiment.
“Quite frankly, it stinks” https://t.co/bdCBawM4T7
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) February 26, 2019
When Andre Villas-Boas was sacked as Chelsea manager in 2012, Rodgers was asked if he was interested in replacing the Portuguese coach at Stamford Bridge.
Rodgers was earning accolades for his work with Swansea City, who were playing a possession-based style of football rarely seen from newly-promoted Premier League sides. He spent his formative coaching years at Chelsea, so the link to the vacant manager's post was an obvious one.
However, he bluntly dismissed the suggestion and his reasoning offers insight into why he has left Celtic for Leicester.
"If any of our fans are wondering about me and Chelsea, they need not panic," he said.
"I am trying to build my career and not destroy it."
And therein lies the answer to why Rodgers has swapped Celtic for Leicester. It wasn't really because the Celtic board didn't back him on transfers over the last year. Rodgers is building a career and this is just another step on his path.
Rodgers has built and re-built that career since starting in management with Watford in 2008.
He was a figure of fun for some when he was sacked by Liverpool in October 2015, regularly compared to David Brent and infamous for his propensity to praise the "character" of his players.
Less than 18-months before being dismissed by Liverpool, Rodgers was being widely praised as the club launched an unlikely, thrilling but ultimately doomed title challenge. If Steven Gerrard had not slipped against Chelsea, or if Simon Mignolet had have been 30 yards further up the pitch or if any number of small margins had gone his way, Rodgers would have been a Premier League-winning manager.
He, more than most, knows that the margins are small and opportunities must be seized.
Good luck to Brendan Rodgers in his new dream job...
— Chris Sutton (@chris_sutton73) February 26, 2019
"My father was a really nice man but the one thing he would probably say if he was alive is that he probably waited for too many things," Rodgers said in 2017 giving an insight into the forces that drive him.
"Even if he did a job, he didn't like asking for the money. He was always waiting for the good nature of people to bring him things and I always remember thinking as a youngster that I was never going to be like that.
"I always thought that if I was going to be successful, I was going to have to go and get it myself.
"I learned growing up and saw too many struggles they had when they relied on other people, and from then I was determined that whatever happened in my life, I was going to create it."
Celtic may have been Rodgers' "dream job", as he called it on several occasions, including last summer when he was tentatively linked with replacing Arsene Wenger at Arsenal. However, the decision to leave is a cold, pragmatic one.
If you were to be cynical, you could say Rodgers' time with Celtic was about career rehabilitation. It boosted the narrative around his career to join the club he supported as a child and lead them to domestic glory. All the while, his stock rose down south in the Premier League.
Rodgers knows that two good seasons with Leicester could put him in contention for a job with a top-six team. If that is not his reasoning for taking the job now, it would be very surprising.
Celtic was the dream job, but Leicester and the Premier League is the reality for where Rodgers sees his career going.