For perhaps the first time in his Leicester City career, questions are being asked about whether Brendan Rodgers is the man to take them forward. Even within the context of their lack of transfer activity and massive injury crisis, to see Leicester rooted to the bottom of the table is shocking, and certainly not the trajectory the club seemed to be travelling upon since Rodgers arrived.
His immediate success at the club came from his tactical influence. He shifted Leicester away from the reactive, counter-attacking 4-4-2 they were wedded to since their title triumph in 2015/16 and became a more proactive, possession-based team. As he often does, Rodgers made a malleable yet consistent tactical setup which could be adapted based on the opposition, making the Foxes a genuine threat to both other mid-table and lower league sides as well as the Big Six.
Much of his success came from assembling a cohesive core that carried them to two Europa league finishes in the Premier League and an FA Cup. Kasper Schmeichel provided security and experience in goal, with Jonny Evans providing a composed, more passive complement to the fiery and aggressive Caglar Soyuncu in central defence.
Ricardo Pereira and Ben Chilwell were dynamic, versatile fullbacks and a midfield trio of Wilfred Ndidi, James Maddison, and Youri Tielamans became among the most complete in the entire division. Jamie Vardy continued to lead the line, while the likes of Kelechi Ihenacho and Harvey Barnes continued to impress in attack as well.
Assembling such a core of players, who seemed to possess just the right amount of youth and experience, within Rodgers’ tactical schemes proved a potent formula for success. As certain players fell away due to injury or were purchased by rival teams, Leicester’s recruitment generally provided an excellent structure to support the Northern Irishman through those challenges.
Timothy Castagne, James Justin, Ademola Lookman, and Wesley Fofana represented intelligent signings which maintained the level of the team. The academy also produced the likes of Luke Thomas and Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, further expanding Rodgers’ options in the squad. Every department of the club seemed to be working well.
Yet to maintain such levels of widespread development and success across a club is virtually impossible. That’s especially the case for Leicester, who despite all their undoubted improvement under Rodgers, narrowly missed out on Champions League football in two consecutive seasons. It’s difficult to point to one starting point, one event that preceded their calamitous downfall, but Rodgers’ shortcomings are certainly the most visible source of decline within the team.
As Grace Robertson has pointed out, Rodgers often improves teams quickly with his tactical novelty, and his approach to arresting periods of poor form is always to search for new strategic solutions about how the team can alter their approach to achieve better results. There are only so many tactical solutions a coach can find, though, before he runs out, the players lose faith in that approach or both.
Furthermore, the constant chopping and changing of system or style can stunt player development and cohesion within the squad. The likes of Maddison, Barnes, and Ndidi seem to be virtually the same players they were at the start of the tenure, with the same weaknesses.
The value of a young squad is the potential they have, the ability of players to develop strengths and close gaps in their game and raise the overall capacity of the club. To say Rodgers squandered that talent would be a vast overstatement, yet to say he’s made the most of it is difficult to argue at present.
Yet Leicester also depended on making smart signings in the market, and their recruitment has been poorer of late. Cengiz Under (on loan), Boubakary Soumare, Dennis Praet, and Jannik Vestergaard all represent poor acquisitions who have made little to no impact on the team while smart purchases such as Lookman or Patson Daka have either left or failed to be utilized by Rodgers as much as they arguably should have been. As the core of the team that won the FA Cup has been sold or fallen away due to age decline and injuries, Rodgers has not been adequately supplied with the calibre of talent to fill the void.
Yet the problem for Leicester is that this is the inherent risk of a club in their position. All managers have shortcomings. All recruitment is risky. The traditional top six teams are, due to their financial power, able to mask their mistakes in the transfer market or the shortcomings of a coach because they can afford to. A club like Leicester simply cannot.
They are already running major losses, and to sustain that is impossible for them, meaning their power in the market is financially reduced. That, in turn, makes it harder to acquire a top-quality coach and achieve the kind of results that could bring more revenue and crucially give the club long-term success in the upper echelons of the league.
Their plight is that of all the teams outside the elite coterie of the Premier League. Soon, they will likely be forced to sack Rodgers and make short-term appointments to improve results and sustain some type of financial power.
Players will be sold, and the team will have to embark upon another cycle just to reach where they were before, let alone build upon it. Perhaps they’ll find another coach of the calibre of Rodgers and make better recruitment decisions, but the chances are slim.
The extent of Leicester’s demise is a worrying sign of the inequality within the Premier League, and shows just how hard it is for clubs to make good upon their ambition and consistently challenge the top teams in England.