So, here we are again. Another manager cut loose and hung out to dry, another manager parachuted in to steady the ship. It’s become an all-too-familiar routine for the Foxes.
Ever since the dizzying heights of that historic, improbable title-winning season, Leicester’s adjustment to life as ‘former champions’ has been far from plain-sailing. With the spectre of history floating not too far off in distance, a climate of expectation – and the strain and pressure that comes with it – has taken root at the King Power.
Before, Leicester had been the perennial underdogs, just another side caught on the never-ending slide between the Premier League and Championship. Now, the club’s gaze has been turned upwards, towards the lure and grandeur of European football. An ambitious goal, yes, but not an unobtainable one.
And is there any real shame in setting such targets? For the talent is certainly there. This is a squad well-endowed with youthful potential (coupled with the experience and know-how of a few wiser, older heads). Under Claude Puel – to his credit – fans were shown teasing glimpses of the promise that resides within the Leicester ranks. From Hamza Choudhury’s dynamic and disruptive midfield presence, to Ben Chilwell’s marauding ventures down the flank, it was often the club’s younger players who caught the eye in those rare moments of ebullience.
Take the rousing Boxing Day victory over Manchester City. Here, the Foxes played with purpose and intent. There was structure, as they absorbed and blunted City’s attack; there was urgency, as they deployed that quintessential style of counter-attacking football which became so synonymous with the club during the 2015/16 season; and there was spirit, rewarded in the form of Ricardo Pereira’s thunderous late winner – a moment that appeared to dispel the rain clouds and bring hope to the months ahead.
This was a match in which Leicester’s identity as a team fleetingly came into vision. It finally felt within reaching distance, as if after months of toil and struggle the penny had dropped for Puel’s players. This sense of crystallisation was reinforced by the victory at Stamford Bridge four days prior, where Leicester’s desire and patience had paid rich dividends.
But it was the Foxes’ inability to recreate such displays against the Premier League’s lesser sides – as seen in defeats against Cardiff, Southampton and Crystal Palace – which pointed to deeper flaws, and reaffirmed the club’s general lack of direction under Puel.
The tactical shortcomings that surfaced in these losses were inevitably wrapped up in Puel’s relationship with his squad. Jamie Vardy’s admission in December that the Frenchman’s style of play didn’t suit him was just the tip of the iceberg. The frustration that came with attempting to conform to his conservative approach – and the drawn-out, dry training sessions he deployed – saw an irreparable rift open up.
This disconnect ensured that Puel, despite his record of blooding young players, proved ultimately incapable of tapping into the resources at his disposal.
Getting the most out of Leicester’s young guns, then, is Rodgers’ top priority – something he has already made clear. In the wake of the 2-1 over Brighton, the 46-year-old got straight to the point as he made his presence felt in the Leicester changing room. “He spoke and the lads were in awe listening to him,” caretaker manager Mike Stowell said on Tuesday night. “He said ‘I’ve only left to come here for one reason and that’s to work with this group of players’. That speaks volumes for this young group of players.”
In his unveiling, too, Rodgers singled out the club’s promising bright stars. “It’s a young squad, a very dynamic squad, it’s got huge potential and you’ve got some of the players with good experience also,” he said. “It feels great. I know I’m joining a fantastic club that has grown so quickly over these last few years.”
Fans will have heard such words before, of course, but there’s no denying that this is indeed a youthful and ambitious squad crying out for a more personal and assured touch than previously provided. Players such as Harry Maguire, Ricardo Pereira, James Maddison, Wilfred Ndidi, Ben Chilwell, Demarai Gray and Harvey Barnes – all of whom are aged 25 and under – can offer so much more, but they need the right mentor and guidance to reach their full potential and propel Leicester to new heights.
The incomprehensible glory of that season is firmly behind the Foxes. A new chapter beckons for the club. And with the pieces of the puzzle more or less there, Leicester now need the right man to put them together and form the sort of picture which will get fans smiling again. Rodgers will certainly feel he’s up to the task. Time, then, to deliver.