The crisis baton passes to Leicester City and Brendan Rodgers

LEICESTER CITY’s latest defeat,  at Tottenham Hotspur by six goals to two, underlines the crisis that is unfolding at the club. It also highlights the plight of their manager, Brendan Rodgers, who will be only too aware that he has a big hole to quickly dig himself out of. In the Premier League, there is always a “crisis club” and this season, the baton has passed from Manchester United to Liverpool to Chelsea to Leicester City. The moment a club dips into the crisis zone, they are rarely left alone to work themselves out.

The media, the owners and the fans start to analyse the situation and the answer is invariably a demand for drastic action. It is difficult for any club chairman not to do anything and it usually ends in the manager getting the sack, either by “mutual consent” or “in the interests of the club”. The future of Brendan Rodgers is now the most talked-about topic in the city of Leicester, aside from the death of Queen Elizabeth.

Leicester’s situation is not good, the results speak for themselves, played seven, lost six, one point, 22 goals conceded. Admittedly, they have had three very difficult away trips and in their seven games, four have been against the “big six”. But from the corresponding fixtures last season, Leicester picked up 10 points, so a decline has clearly taken place – in 2022, Leicester’s win rate in the Premier is 25%, in 2021, it was 45%.

This is arguably the biggest crisis of Rodgers’ career, his statistics are actually very healthy, with an overall career win rate of 52%. It is doubtful that Leicester would get a better coach in terms of his track record. He led Leicester to the FA Cup in 2021, beating one of his former employers, Chelsea, in the final.

The current position is such that a section of Leicester’s support turned against Rodgers and are calling for his dismissal. These days, it doesn’t take much for the dial to drift into the red, even if you did win the only FA Cup in the club’s history. Rodgers, as he said in his post-match interview, knows the score.

Rodgers has spoken of a chaotic summer at the King Power, with the club investigated by UEFA concerning Financial Fair Play and understandably cautious around transfer market activity. Fortunately, they escaped any sanctions from the governing body.

Leicester did lose two key players in Kasper Schmeichel (to Nice) and Wesley Fofana (Chelsea), which yielded a considerable amount of cash. Although pressure must be growing, Rodgers said before the game with Spurs that he has good backing from his board. “They have been very supportive, but I am not daft. I understand football but their support probably shows the level of work we’ve done here and the work behind the scenes.”

Leicester have a reputation for being well run and people consider they have very committed and reasonable owners. In 2020-21, the most recent financials released, the club generated £ 226 million in revenues, a 51% increase on 2019-20, but 85% of income is spent on wages. The club has more than £ 230 million of net debt, with over £ 200 million owed to the owners. Leicester made a profit of £ 44 million on player trading, an important part of their business model. Leicester is a club that does sell its top players from time to time and they do have talent that other clubs would willingly acquire for large sums of money. James Maddison is one such player and there was considerable interest from Newcastle United, among others, in the summer window. If they need to raise money to strengthen in the new year, a big fee could be received for the England international.

Reports suggest that Rodgers appears to have been dissatisfied with the club’s recruitment system. Since the last window ended, Leicester have hired a new head of recruitment, Martyn Glover, but the full benefit of his arrival won’t truly be felt until 2023. He has also spoken out about the need for fans to encourage players as the anxiety generated from the stands can affect the team. His comments were not appreciated by some of Leicester’s supporters and “Rodgers out” banners started to appear among the crowd.

Such is the short-termism of football, and that doesn’t just include boards and owners but also supporters of most clubs, the temptation will be to replace Rodgers. The days when chairmen take a chance that things will turnaround seem to have gone. However, will Leicester City actually get someone better and is nobody given the benefit of the doubt anymore?

Screwing up the pyramid: Brian Glover, Ron Yeats and a lesson in coaching

BRITAIN is a nation of football experts. Watch any game at, say, Anfield, Griffin Park or Stamford Bridge and there will be 35,000 football managers in the crowd. It has always been the same, but in recent times, the talent pool has got bigger due to computer games such as FIFA and Football Manager, all of which convince the addict that they can manage a real football team. People have actually applied for jobs on the basis that they have been extremely successful at playing FIFA. This is where reality and fantasy become very blurred at the edges. “But I won the Champions League five years in a row,” claimed one candidate, who was not, despite his credentials, Alfredo Di Stefano.

Most football fans don’t understand tactics – some can’t even get their heads around the offside law (actually, quite a lot don’t get the offside law). One quick way to gain some insights into the tactical world is to read Jonathan Wilson’s  superb Inverting the Pyramid, another is to whip out the Subbuteo board and start pushing little men around the green baize – and no, we’re not talking about Spain’s lack of physical presence.

Many of us have assumed that if you put on a tracksuit, slip a whistle around your neck and start doing a few physical jerks (wrong again, we’re not talking about Wimbledon’s crazy gang), that you can start to coach a football team. It’s hardly surprising, really, given that you may have grown up seeing images of Walter Winterbottom, Ron Greenwood and Alf Ramsey, all resembling vicars or small-town bank managers in tracksuits, conducting training sessions. Give the boy a tracksuit and I will show you the man!

I’ve had my moment of coaching and it was a disaster. I came to the conclusion that progressive tactics were just not suitable for under-11 year-olds. I came away disillusioned, muttering that, “It works at Ajax…”. I was going to unleash a fresh dynamic in youth football – a heady mixture of total football, Arthur Rowe’s “Push and Run” and a little hint of Italian catenaccio.

The team I was “assisting” had just come off a bad season. Bottom of the table, played 12, lost 12. Goals for 6, goals against 110. There was plenty of upside. The players’ parents had unceremoniously sacked the manager after several of the youngsters were left in tears after a 23-0 defeat in the final game.

I appointed a BBC (Bibs, Balls and Cones) man to assist me. He was from Liverpool, so I assumed he knew a bit about winning (he wouldn’t have got the job a decade later). I was looking for the spirit of the “boot room” from Toxteth Terry, as I called him. Our first pre-season team talk proved the point. Tez, my pet name for him, took the lead: “Look lads, some people say football is a matter of life and death, but it’s more important than that.” The reaction in the dressing room was bizarre. “Does that mean we will die playing football,” asked one kid. “Son, you will die for the shirt,” replied Tez, clutching the badge and kissing it.

Another kid started crying and ran out of the dressing room. Seconds later, his father burst into the room asking what was going on. “We should tone it down, Tez,” I said. “They’re not ready for this.” Tez was bemused. “I just asked one of them if they knew who Bill Shankly was and they had no idea. Where have these kids been?”.

Our first training session highlighted the problems. During the game, the players would all follow each other, drifting from one side of the pitch to the other. It reminded me of watching sheep on Rutland Water. Passing was non-existent, the ball just got kicked long, everyone followed it and then stood and watched when possession was lost. The opposition picked it up, ran downfield and then in a nine-on-one with the goalkeeper (the smallest lad on the pitch), they would score.

“I know what we have to do, Tez,” I said. “What’s that, gaffer?”.
“We need to teach these kids to pass the ball.”

Such perception led me to send Tez after 12 Cs (Cones). He came back with a dozen  that had been “procured” from a motorway maintenance truck. Our next training session would shape the future of the Hambridge Way Dynamos and also of my entire coaching career. “This next hour will change our lives, lads.”

Tez laid the cones out in a 4-4-2 formation across one half of the pitch. The lads lined-up likewise on the other half. I stood on the halfway line in my green tracksuit, whistle round my neck on a bootstring, and stopwatch in my hand. I later found out that the lads’ nickname for me was, “The green blob”.

I explained that they had to pass the ball to each other and travel up pitch, passing between the cones. Every time the ball hit a cone, the game would restart from the halfway line. It was 15 minutes each way. “Well lads, you are not going to lose this one,” shouted Tez. “Ah, the legendary wit of the Kop,” I thought.

The game kicked off. For the next five minutes, the sound of leather on plastic (cones) filled the air of the school playing field. The players could not get much beyond the centre circle. At half-time it was 0-0, the Cones were playing a blinder. The lads were dispirited. “Look, you’re not losing,” I said. “It could be worse….they are well organized and they keep their shape, you have to combat that.” When I looked at the pitch, Tez was changing ends, laying the cones out in a 4-3-3 formation. “The cones are getting ambitious, they’ve soaked up the pressure and we’ll have to watch them on the break,” shouted Tez, who had stuck a Liverpool scarf on the Cones’ centre half. “It’s Ron bloody Yeats, gaffer.”

Yeats continued to perform well in the heart of the newly named FC Cones, which could well have been a Bulgarian second division side. But in the last minute, our tall centre forward, Callum, received the ball behind Yeats and shot home to win the game. The lads went berserk jumping all over the scorer and then kicking Yeats in frustration. “Aye, he was a dirty bastard, was Yeats,” grinned Tez.

I was elated – there’s a little of Brian Glover from the film Kes in all of us – and caught up in the moment. As we walked off the pitch, Tez put his arm round my shoulder. “Great win, boss,” he said. “It was a relief,” I responded. “But what are we going to do when the opposition are not plastic and static?.”

We didn’t have time to consider that. In the car park, two parents were watching the game.

“That was pathetic,” said a disgruntled father.
“They showed a lot of character,” I responded.
“That was crackers, making those youngsters play against cones.”
“It taught them something.”
“Yes, to avoid mad managers…you’re like Malcolm Allison, he was bonkers, too.”
“I’ve never  spent £ 250,000 on a teenager.”
“You won’t get the chance to spend 25 pence, you’re sacked.”
“Not even a Chairman’s vote of confidence?…come on Tez,  these people are not going to appreciate progressive football.”

And that ended my coaching career. But with a 100% record. Played one, won one.  And a clean sheet. Championship teams are not built in a day…unless you play computer games, of course.

** Some of this is true…some of it isn’t