FEW men in football divide opinion quite like Brendan Rodgers.
Some say ‘genius’, others say ‘fraud’. Some say ‘lovely bloke’, others say ‘David Brent merchant’.
Personally, I tend towards the positive. But whatever your opinion, his 3½ years as Leicester manager have been remarkable.
And if, as seems likely, Saturday’s 6-2 thrashing at Tottenham turns out to be Rodgers’ final match in charge of the Foxes, this should sadden anyone wishing to see the Premier League’s ‘Big Six’ seriously challenged.
Because it will say much about the league’s glass ceiling, about the finite nature of realistic ambition, and it will also expose the limitations of English boasts about possessing the most competitive league on Earth.
With back-to-back fifth-place finishes and an FA Cup triumph in 2021, Rodgers has been the most consistently successful manager of a non-elite club for a generation.
Of course, there was Leicester’s ridiculous title win under Claudio Ranieri in 2016 — an achievement which looks even crazier still in hindsight.
And if you’re thinking of sniffing at Leicester’s FA Cup win, consider Rodgers’ team are one of only three non-elite sides to have won the trophy in 27 years.
It is easy to argue — as Rodgers does — that Leicester’s fall from grace is largely due to the financial problems of the club’s Thai owners, duty-free merchants, badly hit by the pandemic.
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While this is true to an extent, Leicester lost only Kasper Schmeichel and Wesley Fofana this summer.
And while they are certainly missing both players, the starting line-ups sent out against Spurs and Brighton — 11 goals conceded in the most recent two games of a six-match losing run — still looked pretty strong.
The wider issue is that when a club bashes its head on that glass ceiling for any length of time, without achieving the major breakthrough of Champions League football, everyone starts getting frustrated, bored and restless.
Once you stop moving upwards, you inevitably start plunging downwards — see also West Ham and Wolves, who have both staged serious recent bids for Champions League football, but currently sit in the bottom four, with just three goals and four points from seven games.
The interest of owners can start to wane, star players want out, and managers can no longer live up to the inflated expectations of supporters – who, quite understandably, want to dream big, because following football is supposed to be enjoyable escapism.
Leicester looked nailed on for the top four in 2020 and 2021 yet on both occasions they suffered late collapses to fall narrowly short.
The second time, missing out to Chelsea by just a point, having beaten the same team to win the Cup for the first time in their history.
Attractive to watch, based on smart recruitment and good coaching, rather than vast spending, they became a benchmark for England’s non-elite.
And their manager spoke frequently about his mission to ‘disrupt’ the established order.
David Moyes, who led Everton to fourth 17 years ago, has said the same during the last two seasons, when West Ham finished sixth and seventh and reached a Europa League semi-final.
It is too early to write off West Ham’s season yet, but it will take an almighty effort to qualify for Europe again.
And failure to do so would inevitably lead to louder questioning about the future of the Hammers’ best player, Declan Rice.
TIMES ARE CHANGING
West Ham are not yet where Leicester are — with a bubble which has comprehensively burst — but they fear the same scenario.
Gary Lineker’s claim, on Match of the Day, that his club ‘will not go down’ sounded over-confident.
The Foxes are already five points adrift of safety, they cannot defend corners for toffee, there are no obvious relegation ‘certs’ this season, and — with the admirable exception of James Maddison — most of their best players look shot of confidence.
However much credit Rodgers has in the bank, few would argue with chairman ‘Top’ Srivaddhanaprabha opting for a change of manager.
Rodgers will receive a sizeable pay-off and find another decent job soon enough.
But his departure will be a sad moment for those who dare to dream, at Leicester and elsewhere.
DERBY STATS SO DUBIOUS
THERE are a whole glut of stats concerning records in London derbies.
For example, Harry Kane equalling Thierry Henry’s record of 43 goals in Premier League London derbies, or Fulham — until recently — going almost eight years without winning one in the top flight.
But this assumes that all matches between two London clubs are actually considered derbies.
Yet a derby has to mean something more than most fixtures.
And so, of the 21 different pairings of London clubs in the Premier League this season, only seven should actually be labelled real derbies.
These are Arsenal v Tottenham, Tottenham v Chelsea, Arsenal v Chelsea, West Ham v Tottenham, West Ham v Chelsea, Fulham v Chelsea and Fulham v Brentford.
Playing Crystal Palace means nothing special to any other top-flight London club.
Palace v Brighton is a derby — but it’s not a London derby.
Perhaps we could set up a ‘dubious derbies panel’ to debate the merits of West Ham v Arsenal.
But, as it stands, those ‘derby’ stats mean nothing to anyone who understands London football.
IT’S TWO BAD FOR GARETH
ONLY two months away from the World Cup and England boss Gareth Southgate now has two potential crisis positions.
At left-back, where neither Ben Chilwell nor Luke Shaw are starting regularly.
And in central midfield, where Kalvin Phillips has had shoulder surgery leaving Declan Rice, Jude Bellingham, James Ward-Prowse and the currently injured Jordan Henderson as his only options.
One more injury there and England are seriously short.
WHEN Nottingham Forest played Tottenham last month, Steve Cook handled on the goal-line, denying Harry Kane the chance to head home from six inches, but somehow avoided a sending-off.
Against Fulham on Friday, Cook — as the final defender — brought down Willian, but again escaped with a yellow card.
Forest lost both games so there was no great controversy but soon Cook’s apparent immunity from red cards might become an issue.
FED THE GOAT
ROGER FEDERER may not have quite as many Grand Slam singles titles (20) as either Rafa Nadal (22) or Novak Djokovic (21).
But if you devise a figure-skating-style scoring system – combining technical merit and artistic impression – then the graceful Swiss retires as the GOAT of tennis.
And while Federer did get pretentious with his monogrammed playing gear during his ‘Great Gatsby’ phase, he stands alongside Muhammad Ali and Pele among the finest sportsmen the world has ever seen.
A SAD day on Saturday, when Preston North End’s ‘binary’ sequence of results finally came to an end with a 2-0 home defeat to Sheffield United.
Before that, Ryan Lowe’s great entertainers had the following string of scorelines in the Championship — 0-0, 0-0, 1-0, 0-0, 0-0, 0-0, 1-0, 0-1, 1-1.
The locals won’t have been entertained so royally since Tom Finney was in his pomp.
BLAST FROM THE PAST
IT felt just like old times at Brentford on Sunday — Arsenal top of the league and a bloke called Vieira scoring.
And you only realise quite how old those times were when you also work out that Arsenal’s 15-year-old debutant Ethan Nwaneri was not born when Patrick Vieira left the Gunners in 2005, or when the Emirates opened a year later.