Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers has emerged as Manchester United's preferred replacement for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, if and when the Norwegian is sacked.
Solskjaer remains under incredible pressure at Old Trafford, not least because the three games he was given to turn things around after a humiliating defeat to Liverpool included a disappointing performance against Atalanta and another embarrassing loss against Manchester City.
Solskjaer, who should forever remain a club legend for his achievements as a player, has done all he can. He served a purpose when he was appointed manager, initially on a temporary basis at the end of 2018, and has developed a better squad than the one he inherited.
The danger is that the longer Solskjaer remains in charge, the risk of undoing that work increases.
Rodgers would be a huge asset for the club. Despite his Liverpool history, which is now well in the past as a result of incredibly successful jobs at Celtic and Leicester, 90min understands that the 48-year-old is ready to say ‘yes’ should United ask him to take over.
What Rodgers can do is take United to the next level and he has enormous experience and football knowledge to draw upon. By his age, most might only have a decade or less of managerial experience – but he has been managing since he was 35 and coaching for a lot longer.
Rodgers is a career coach, a path forged by the sad early end to his playing days through injury. He began as a youth coach in the early 1990s with Reading, where he had been a young professional prior to his forced early retirement, and was academy director at the club by the time he was poached by Jose Mourinho to head Chelsea’s youth setup a decade later.
In those years, Rodgers combined coaching at Reading with part-time work and studying football. He is noted for having spent a lot of time travelling around Spain in particular to increase his wealth of coaching knowledge, even learning Spanish during that time as well.
His career hasn’t been constant highs, but setbacks are as important for building character and experience as successes. His first job at Watford had gone okay at best after a rocky start, yet after being poaching by former club Reading in 2009 he was out of a job within six months.
Rodgers found success at Swansea when he built on the foundations laid by Roberto Martinez in south Wales, securing promotion and establishing the club in the Premier League. That led to Liverpool appointing him, where success and disappointment came in equal measure.
The former Northern Ireland schoolboy international was much criticised at the time, even when a distinctly average Liverpool side were close to winning the Premier League in 2013/14.
Cynics suggested he and the club were dragged to the brink of silverware by Luis Suarez, yet his reputation as a man manager and his success at Leicester in particular since, would suggest it was Rodgers who was ultimately responsible for the Merseysiders almost breaking their league title drought several years earlier than they eventually did.
Very poor recruitment from Liverpool’s notorious transfer committee following the sale of Suarez sold Rodgers short thereafter, and he was always fighting a losing battle.
But he re-established his reputation at Celtic, leading the club to an unprecedented level of dominance. Even without Rangers to challenge them in the league, Celtic won domestic cups more consistently than ever under Rodgers’ guidance.
And then onto Leicester, where he has turned the Foxes from shock once-in-a-lifetime Premier League champions into serial European qualifiers. The fact they have twice been disappointed to miss out on the Champions League shows the standard he brought to the club. The Foxes are also one of only three non-elite clubs to win the FA Cup this century.
What Manchester United need is a proven tactician and man manager who is a good fit for the club’s overarching philosophies and values. He would be a continuation of the good work already done, unlike Antonio Conte, as an example, would have been before he joined Tottenham.
So many times under Solskjaer, United have looked completely lost tactically. Because the innate quality of the players isn’t in question; this is potentially a really good squad already, they just need a manager who can plan a game strategy and motivate the players to understand and execute it.
Rodgers can do that because he made the likes of Swansea and Leicester into teams better than the sum of their individual parts through his tactics and systems. He also does it with a loyalty to technical and attractive football – it is no wonder Manchester City had an eye on him when Pep Guardiola’s future wasn’t secure beyond last season.
Meanwhile, Steven Gerrard is among those to have publicly praised Rodgers’ man management. The ex-Liverpool captain even labelled him the best he had worked with in that respect.
On top of that, Rodgers’ track record for developing young players fits like a glove for United. He worked with a 17-year-old Raheem Sterling at Liverpool, made Joe Allen a decent top-flight midfielder at Swansea and has brought the best out of several homegrown youngsters at Leicester like Harvey Barnes. Several of his former Celtic charges are also now playing at a higher level, including Kieran Tierney and Odsonne Edouard.
Rodgers ticks all the major boxes that United need from a new manager. He would be an outstanding choice, but the club needs to have the conviction to make the change.