‘Heady days for Rodgers and Leicester’

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May 17, 2021
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    Brendan Rodgers, Leicester City, Chelsea, FA Cup, WembleyBrendan Rodgers follows Claudio Ranieri in leading Leicester to a major domestic honour

    Brendan Rodgers basked in the glory of his status as the first Leicester City manager to win the FA Cup, thrown high in the air by his celebrating players before an emotional embrace with chairman Aiyawatt 'Khun Top' Srivaddhanaprabha.

    It was a moving moment. The son of the former owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, Khun Top had become chairman after his father died in a helicopter crash at King Power Stadium in October 2018. Here, he joined Rodgers before celebrating with Leicester's players, lifting the FA Cup they had won for the first time after beating Chelsea at Wembley.

    This was a scene of unity between manager, players, owner and celebrating Foxes fans who were among 21,000 inside Wembley as part of the biggest domestic sporting crowd since football resumed last June.

    Premier League winners in 2016, fifth last season, in the top four with two games left this time around, and now FA Cup winners: Leicester's success confirms they deserve to be ranked among England's leading six clubs – despite what those who pursued the ill-fated European Super League might think. The manner in which they are run and managed means they have every chance of staying there.

    The lengthy conversation between Khun Top and Rodgers will have been laced heavily with mutual gratitude. The partnership has enabled the manager to embellish an impressive CV with his first trophy in England.

    • Leicester helicopter crash: A tragedy that stunned football – told by those who were there

    Here, at least, Rodgers had been something of a nearly man. His Liverpool side stumbled with the Premier League finishing line in sight in 2014 then suffered bitter FA Cup semi-final disappointment against heavy underdogs Aston Villa in April 2015. His Anfield reign, which had held so much promise, ran out of steam.

    Rodgers resurfaced at Celtic after he was sacked by Liverpool and was an unqualified success, winning all seven domestic trophies available to him in two and a half years at Parkhead, breaking a 100-year-old British record with a 69-game unbeaten run in the process.

    There was some surprise in Scotland when Rodgers left for Leicester in February 2019, the boyhood Celtic fan lured away by the ambition of potential success back in the Premier League.

    He almost took Leicester into the Champions League in his first full season, only to miss out on the final day with a home defeat by Manchester United. But fifth place was, in reality, an impressive return spoiled by a late slump in form.

    • Match report: Chelsea 0-1 Leicester
    • Relive Leicester's dramatic FA Cup final victory over Chelsea

    The scenes at Wembley, and the sheer joy on his face as he took his place in Leicester's history, vindicated any risk in Rodgers' decision to leave a club where he was regarded as a hero – at least until the day he departed.

    It is highly patronising given his unblemished record at Celtic, but there will still be some who would not have been convinced about Rodgers' quality until he won silverware in England.

    There can be no questions any more.

    He is a high-class operator who has taken the bitter blows of dismissal at Liverpool, rebuilt his reputation at Celtic and is now among the best in the Premier League once more.

    If Rodgers made a smart choice, joining a club with stable ambitious ownership and a record of sound recruitment, then so did Leicester. They are the perfect match and in fine shape for more success at the top end of the Premier League.

    Rodgers has stamped his style all over this side – they are pleasing on the eye at their best, with an intense pressing and passing game sharpened by the enduring threat of Jamie Vardy but also by the creation of Youri Tielemans, the magnificent match-winner at Wembley.

    This was not Leicester at their best but they got the job done. Victory was built on sound, determined defence, with Rodgers showing his pragmatic side by introducing 37-year-old Wes Morgan, captain of the 2016 title-winning side, who has barely figured in recent months.

    Morgan was brought on for the final minutes to combat the aerial threat of Olivier Giroud – and was then at the centre of the final's most contentious moment. In a last-minute tangle of bodies with former colleague Ben Chilwell, Caglar Soyuncu's clearance ricocheted off Morgan and into the net – only for VAR to rule the Chelsea defender was offside by the finest of margins in the build-up.

    Rodgers celebrated the reprieve as if it were a Leicester goal – albeit not quite as flamboyantly as his Jose Mourinho-style run down the touchline with his finger in the air in response to Tielemans' wonder strike. That VAR ruling was effectively the moment his team won the FA Cup for the first time.

    Once again, Rodgers proved tactically astute and flexible. The addition of such a major trophy only adds to his reputation as a manager and coach now in the upper echelons.

    He will be coveted by other clubs. You can be sure he would top Tottenham's list of potential successors to Mourinho if he showed the slightest interest. But he is at a superbly run club built on solid foundations with expertise in all areas that will give him time and space to do his work.

    Football has an endless capacity to surprise but what sound reasons are there for Rodgers to leave and join Tottenham?

    Rodgers looked like a man who had everything as he held the FA Cup aloft.

    In reality, there may be more to come for Leicester's manager.

    These are heady days for Rodgers – and his club.

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    May 17, 2021
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