Right now, Brendan Rodgers is the pinnacle of Northern Ireland coaching and management.
I know he didn’t do his coaching badges through the Irish FA but for coaches from our country, with what he is doing at Leicester City and before that, he is the one they should all be looking to, studying and trying to learn from.
He is a man who is always wanting to move forward and to test himself. The way he talks, he seeks to improve and come up with something new and fresh. As a coach and in the coaching world, you have to be like that though not everyone is.
There are some out there who, when they obtain their coaching badges, it is like getting their driving licence whereby they think ‘I’m a coach’ and they don’t keep learning, moving forward, picking up new things, being self-aware, analysing themselves and making improvements to themselves, their coaching, management, staff and players.
That’s what Brendan does. He improves himself and people around him.
By the way, he’s not only the pinnacle for Northern Irish coaches, he’s become the person that British coaches aspire to.
Think about it. At all the giant clubs in the English Premier League, there are non-British managers and yet our man from Carnlough is in there mixing it with them and has done for a couple of seasons.
Last term, the top two British coaches — in terms of the Premier League table — were Rodgers and David Moyes. It will be interesting watching their Leicester and West Ham teams go head-to-head tomorrow night.
I’ve found Brendan to be a top guy, approachable and open. That comes across in how he manages and how his players play for him. Working with Director of Football Jon Rudkin, Leicester seem to be able to sell one and bring in three so they get the recruitment right.
I was at Leicester as a player from 2006 to 2008 and I have to say since I left the club, the difference to what it is now is night and day.
The Srivaddhanaprabha family came in and took over and what they have done in the last decade has been incredible. Of course the Foxes stunned everyone by winning the Premier League with Claudio Ranieri as manager and now, under Brendan, they are consistently shining and putting trophies on the table, like the FA Cup last season. The Champions League will be in their sights this year.
When Rodgers left Celtic for Leicester, he received a lot of criticism from Celtic fans but what more could he do at Parkhead? He won trophy after trophy and, at that point in time, Leicester suited him in terms of the club and their vision and where they wanted to go. That was obviously in Brendan’s plan too.
I’m not saying Leicester are a bigger club than Celtic but the challenge and opportunity was bigger to go and build and be part of a club with the aspiration to break into England’s top four.
I live in Leicestershire and I can tell you the Foxes are a big football club. The fan base is massive in the area and very well supported, so he didn’t leave a big club to go to a small one.
Do I see him at King Power Stadium forever? No. I would be guessing but, after Leicester, I could see Brendan leaving the Premier League and going to coach in La Liga. He speaks fluent Spanish. That’s where I see his next step.
I know he is a busy man but I would suggest an idea for the Irish Football Association would be to make contact with Brendan to see if he could do anything to help the Association or to help coach education here by speaking on the A Licence or Pro Licence programmes.
One thing you find with people from Northern Ireland in football is that when you ask them to help, they usually do — so why not ask Brendan?
In midweek, Championship side Loughgall announced a new partnership with English Championship outfit Huddersfield. That’s forward thinking. I also feel there’s been thinking outside the box to form a relationship like that which I’m all for.
We have a couple of under-age internationals at Huddersfield so there is a good link there already with Northern Ireland and what Loughgall and Loughgall Youth are now doing is brilliant.
Something that really interested me was that, as part of this development, Huddersfield will send over coaches to coach at Loughgall Youth which is fantastic. That isn’t just going to help the players, it is going to develop the coaches at Loughgall because these guys will come in from a full-time background with a lot of experience behind them.
Another aspect is that young players will go the other way to see what Academy life is like in England. I was also taken by the possibility that loan players could come from Huddersfield and play for Loughgall.
You can see that this relationship is going to help both clubs. Finding loans — especially the right loans — for young players in England is a very, very difficult thing to do. With the relationship that will build, Huddersfield will trust that their players will be going into a good environment and it will take them out of their comfort zone which can help them improve.
I would think that at Huddersfield Academy, there would be predominantly players who live within an hour’s drive of the club. The core group will be local lads and for a young 17 or 18-year-old to come over to Northern Ireland into a different environment can help them grow.
It’s a little bit like what they do at the IFA Academy under Andy Waterworth, where kids become used to being away from home.
There are so many benefits from a partnership like this between Loughgall Youth and Huddersfield.
From what I’ve heard, Loughgall, with Dean Smith as manager, is a club moving in the right direction and have aspirations to win promotion to the Premiership while, even before the link-up with an established English club, Loughgall Youth had put structures in place to push on.
This new relationship is great for the Lakeview Park club, the people in the area and the young footballers in the area. I hope it will be a huge success and I’m sure it will be.