Among the many serious headlines that have covered Celtic’s search for a new manager, one stood out for its lighter tone.
“Celtic fans spy Brendan Rodgers bargain inside club shop”, it read. In a corner of the Parkhead club’s online store, one heavily discounted piece of Brendan Rodgers’ memorabilia remained.
The book, entitled The Road to Paradise, detailed the Northern Irishman’s’ life and career up until he enjoyed trophy success at the club during his stint as manager. Who would have guessed that there were chapters still to be written in the story of Rodgers and Celtic?
Against the odds, the 50-year-old has taken the road to Paradise again. The history books show that his coaching expertise brought a period of unprecedented success to the club, and he left with a record that showed: seven domestic trophies contested, seven domestic trophies won.
First time around, he received a hero’s welcome as thousands of fans packed into Celtic Park to celebrate his signing. This time, things are a little more complex.
As soon as Rodgers’ name was mentioned as a successor to Ange Postecoglou, the immediate reaction from supporters was along the line of “Good coach, but…”. That ‘but’ points at Rodgers’ exit and how it left a sour taste in the mouths of many supporters.
When he arrived in 2016, there was a widespread assumption that the former Liverpool boss was aiming to rebuild his reputation ahead of a return to the English top-flight at some point.
Regardless of that, as he won trophy after trophy in Glasgow, and professed his love for Celtic on more than one occasion, many thought that if the call did come from one of England’s elite, then it would at least prompt sleepless nights and an agonising decision.
Instead, Rodgers’ midnight flit to Leicester was swift and looked to be emotionless, with his decision to take staff with him and leave the club instantly rudderless as they chased a treble treble an additional blow that exacerbated the pain and anger felt by some fans.
Among the many challenges that will face the new Celtic manager, repairing the relationship with disgruntled supporters will be one of the most important, and one of the toughest.
When former Celtic striker Harald Brattbakk was asked recently about that difficulty, the Norwegian spoke of a “wound that had to be healed” between club and manager. But Brattbakk also made the point that success heals everything.
A winning Celtic team will put any other issue in the shadows quickly, and the Northern Irishman is a proven winner. Reminding the support that the man dubbed ‘Rodgers the rat’ by some fans was also Rodgers the undefeated in the ‘Invincibles’ season and Rodgers the champion who won everything there was to win in Scotland.
In 2016, Rodgers was invited to the club as a replacement for Ronny Deila, who had been a popular figure but one whose team had failed to live up to expectations.
Succeeding Ange Postecoglou is a vastly different task and only serves to heighten the interest in how Rodgers will fare.
Postecoglou’s record in his time in Glasgow may not quite live up to Rodgers’ first two seasons at Celtic on paper, but the speed of transformation, the style of play and the Australian’s no-nonsense approach saw him enjoy adulation from the stands at Celtic Park. When he followed that same route south he handled it differently and his exit was viewed with sadness but no rancour.
While Rodgers will know he can’t possibly match the Australian in the popularity stakes, he will still be delighted with what Postecoglou has left him to work with.
The Treble-winning squad is high on confidence and looks well placed to make a competitive defence of their silverware even without taking into account any summer additions. The squad has a mixture of experience and youth, and there is room for growth in many other players that a skilled coach like Rodgers will look forward to unlocking.
Seven years ago, the Northern Irishman had a bruising start to his reign with a first-leg loss to Lincoln Red Imps in Champions League qualifying before a nervy win over Astana and a gruelling win over Hapoel Be’er Sheva to reach the elite stage. In 2023, Celtic’s place at the top table of European football is already assured and the challenges the group stage draw will bring are to be considered further down the line.
That place among the continent’s best also provides a level of financial comfort for Celtic and Rodgers will expect a chunk of that to add further quality and put his own mark on the squad.
The anticipation of marquee signings being added to a successful squad, and of Rodgers picking up where he left off and delivering winning football may be enough to quiet those who still hold anger from his exit.
The depth of feeling about the high-profile coach may be offset by acceptance that Celtic have recruited from the top level and embraced the opportunity to progress even after the blow of losing an impressive leader.
The Age of Ange is over at Celtic Park. Rodgers’ Return promises an intriguing story and a significant new chapter for manager and club.