Fourteen years on, I still can’t make up my mind as to whether or not Brendan Rodgers is a good football manager.
I’m not the only one. At one stage last season, the Co Antrim man was being linked with the vacant Manchester United job while at the same time becoming the bookies’ favourite to be the next Premier League boss sacked.
At the moment, I’m erring on the side of ‘good’.
He got Swansea promoted, took Liverpool to within a whisker of their first title in decades, guided Celtic to an unprecedented ‘Treble Treble’ (completed by compatriot Neil Lennon) and has overseen two top-five finishes, an FA Cup, Community Shield and European Semi-Final at Leicester.
But boy has Brendan spent a lot of money along the way.
During his three and a bit years at Anfield, the Carnlough native persuaded his employers to shell out nearly £300m on 33 new players, only three of which – Philippe Coutinho, Bobby Firmino and Daniel Sturridge – were any good.
To be fair, he was often hamstrung by the club’s infamous ‘transfer committee’, and recouped over two-thirds of the outlay through selling 38 of the playing staff that were surplus to his requirements.
But Liverpool were still nearly £100m down on his dealings, and who did they get for that massive investment?
Step forward Fabio Borini, Alberto Moreno, Dejan Lovren, Mario Balotelli, Luis Alberto, Simon Mignolet, Christian Benteke, Lazar Markovic and Iago Aspas, all of whom will comfortably fit into any Scouser’s list of the worst signings in the Merseyside club’s history.
Still, Liverpool won a dozen Premier League games on the bounce during that thrilling, memorable 2013-14 season when they ultimately finished runners-up to Man City.
They might even have drawn that calamitous home match with Chelsea had Aspas not taken the worst corner kick in football history when Liverpool were pressing for an equaliser in injury time.
Rodgers found career redemption at Celtic Park, his new team comfortably dominating the domestic scene in Scotland. But it was another costly exercise.
Indeed, Celtic’s annual wage bill, prior to Rodgers decamping to Leicester, was £59m; not a fortune in English terms, but twice as much as nearest rivals Rangers, Aberdeen and Hearts combined.
As a ‘Premier League manager in exile’, Rodgers ran the Bhoys like an elite European club, with high maintenance management, coaching, medical, performance, sports science, academy and facility costs.
Unfortunately for the former Ballymena United player’s paymasters, they made little impression in European competition and, yet again, an awful lot of muppets were brought in.
Of the 19 Rodgers signed, only a handful could be regarded as successful; I’m thinking Moussa Dembélé, Scott Sinclair, Patrick Roberts, Odsonne Édouard and Scott Bain.
The less said about Dorus de Vries, Eboué Kouassi, Kundai Benyu, Cristian Gamboa, Jonny Hayes, Charly Musonda, Marvin Compper and Jack Hendry the better.
Again, to be fair, Rodgers tried valiantly to sign Hibs midfielder John McGinn – a boyhood Celtic fan who went on to become a £50m-rated star for Aston Villa – but, even at £2m in 2018, the Parkhead board perhaps felt that they’d backed their ambitious, big-spending boss enough.
Rodgers would walk away from Celtic Park a few months later, and now Leicester fans are wondering if history will repeat itself.
Despite calling for what he called a “healthy shake-up” (i.e. six new players) at the club this summer, Leicester have yet to do any meaningful business in the transfer window.
And Rodgers – who, on an eye-watering £10m a year, is earning even more than Erik ten Hag at United, Thomas Tuchel at Chelsea and Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta – has found himself stymied by the Foxes’ obsession with balancing the books.
Previous spending sprees have followed big name players leaving on huge transfer fees; N’Golo Kante to Chelsea after the 2016 fairytale title win under Claudio Ranieri, Danny Drinkwater going in the same direction the following season, Riyad Mahrez to Man City after that and, of course, the £80m sale of Harry Maguire to United which financed Rodgers’ first spending spree at Filbert Way.
But last summer that particular well ran dry, and Rodgers embarked on a what would be a net spend of £50m – the highest in the Midlands club’s history.
Unfortunately, that money was invested on unremarkable players such as Boubakary Soumare, Jannik Vestergaard and Ryan Bertrand, all of whom the club would happily unload in this window should anyone actually wanted them.
But Leicester are even struggling to attract interest in arguably their most valuable asset, Youri Tielemans (asking price, a bargain £30m) who, along with Wesley Fofana, James Justin and Timothy Castagne, are good examples of the quality Rodgers has brought to the club.
Belgian international Tielemans, who has turned down the offer of a new contract, may yet find someone willing to spend decent money on him; Arsenal are said to be interested.
With Leicester’s current wages-to-turnover ratio worryingly high, Financial Fair Play worries and the squad bloated with too many bog-standard players, the club’s priority is offloading the deadwood.
That hasn’t stopped Rodgers enquiring after the likes of Chelsea defender Levi Colwill, PSV winger Noni Madueke and Celtic midfielder Matt O’Riley.
To fund a move for that, the manager may have to do the unthinkable and consider offers for crowd favourites James Maddison, Kelechi Iheanacho and Castagne, who has attracted interest from Atletico Madrid.
Ten Leicester players are now in the final year of their contracts, including Northern Ireland international Jonny Evans and club captain Kasper Schmeichel.
You can’t help thinking that the Foxes are now paying the price for those successive seasons under Rodgers when they slipped out of the highly lucrative Champions League placings on the final day.
That FA Cup win over Chelsea was only last year and the club reached a European Semi-Final last season but, with the tap now turned off, Leicester may well have plateaued and are even in danger of slipping into mid-table mediocrity, while paying top-six wages.
Now, for the first time, the Foxes may well be wondering if they can afford a manager who is the fourth highest paid in the Premier League, behind Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Antonio Conte.
At the same time, and even on that eight-figure salary, Rodgers may himself be getting itchy feet.
Remember, he was with Swansea for just two years and with Celtic less than three.
He has now been with Leicester for roughly the same length of time he spent at Liverpool.
And let’s not forget that the man speaks fluent Spanish and has already admitted to fancying a continental job at some stage in his career.
“It is something I would consider,” he told Sky Sports a few years back, adding: “It doesn’t matter where you go, whatever country it is, you have to be in with a chance of winning.”
That “chance of winning” at the King Power Stadium appears to be ebbing away.