Brendan Rodgers

Brendan Rodgers: From Carnlough To Leicester

Pastel-painted brickwork, rolling green hills and a harbour lined with multicoloured sailboats will all have been familiar sights during Brendan Rodgers’ vibrant childhood in Carnlough, Northern Ireland.
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While chatting to an earlier edition of LCFCQ, around half-a-dozen weeks into his tenure as Leicester City manager, it is clear to see from where the 47-year-old’s values as a man and a manager have originated – his upbringing in County Antrim was a simple one, full of joy. 

A small coastal village situated in the north-east of Northern Ireland, Carnlough had everything Rodgers needed as an adventure and sport-loving youngster, with family and community at the heart of it all. 

It is there, in humble beginnings, where he trod the first steps along the path towards a career as one of the most respected managers in Europe.

“Carnlough gave me everything as a young person growing up there,” Rodgers reminisces. “It’s a very tight community, very close and everyone looked out for each other. I have lots of family and friends around the area, so you always felt very protected.

“My childhood growing up was a very happy one. I was involved in sport and also enjoyed being with my friends. I loved sport and I played basketball at school. I was very much an outdoors type. You were kicked out the door in the morning and that was it, you don’t come back in until your dinner later on! I loved adventure and being out there. 

“Of course, I’m similar myself now. I love adventure and I love to travel. I love to see different parts of the world. I think when I was growing up, when you live in a small village, the rest of the world seemed a long way away. 

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Brendan Rodgers
Brendan Rodgers

The Club's warmth has struck Rodgers since he joined Leicester last February.

“But I enjoy travel and enjoy going to different countries and experiencing new cultures. I try to take a little bit from the culture that I’m in. Carnlough is a lovely part of the world.”

The eldest of five boys, Brendan explained why the warmth and support of his late parents, Christina and Malachy, and his brothers’ natural competitiveness provided the foundations for him to achieve his goals in the world of professional football – which, of course, is a fiercely competitive environment itself.

“When you’re one of five brothers, in particular the oldest, you always try to prove a point!” he jests. “We were always competitive in most of the things that we did. Being the oldest brother, I look at it now as an adult, and I find that my mum and dad, bless them, did amazing. 

“As brothers, we’re all very close proximity in age, or certainly the first three of us. My family, we didn’t have a lot of money, but I always felt rich in love and security. You certainly had to learn to eat your food quick, or else it would disappear!

“My mother and father had a great set of values, they were very hard-working and very honest. They cared for us.” 

My mother and father had a great set of values, they were very hard-working and very honest. They cared for us.

Brendan Rodgers LCFCQ

Rodgers’ footballing interests had to change when his career as a professional was cut short at the age of 20 due to injury. However, his attentions turned to coaching, with his first role coming at Chelsea in 2004, working under José Mourinho. 

From there, he built a reputation as highly talented coach, later working with Chelsea’s reserve team in the capital before enjoying several successful managerial jobs including Watford, Swansea City and Liverpool, and most recently a trophy-laden spell at Celtic. 

“Every young player who plays at a decent level and leaves home at an early age – I left home at 16 – wants to become a professional player,” says Rodgers of his pathway into the sport.

“For a very short period of time I was, but that path was cut short. I had to find a different pathway, and the second-best thing to playing is coaching. 

“I did a coaching course back in Reading and I love the idea of helping people and making them better, improving them while improving myself. The journey started there when I was very young in terms of teaching and coaching young players.”

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Brendan Rodgers
Brendan Rodgers

Rodgers watches on as City's supporters pay tribute to Khun Vichai in November 2019.

The Football Club he joined in February 2019 also shares the values which he says his hometown possesses – community and family. They are the key reasons why he made the journey down from Glasgow to begin a new chapter in an already impressive managerial career. 

He continued: “It was obviously a difficult decision for me to leave Celtic in a lot of ways, but I always felt that I wasn’t just going to leave for any club – it had to be for the right club.

“Myself and the staff that have been with me have been made to feel very, very welcome. It’s a fantastic club and I didn’t really know Leicestershire at all, but I’ve been able to come in and settle into it all.” 

He has already had an opportunity to take in some of Leicestershire’s most famous areas of natural beauty, including the free-roaming deer and five-century-old oak trees of Bradgate Park, which is situated north-west of Leicester’s city centre. 

“I was in a hotel for the first few weeks and I’ve now moved in with the family,” he says of his early days at the Club. “We’ve been able to get out and about into Bradgate Park and Charnwood Forest and the villages round there.

I’m really looking forward to getting the chance to see other parts of Leicester and Leicestershire as a whole. It’s a very beautiful part of the world.

Brendan Rodgers LCFCQ

“I’m really looking forward to getting the chance to see other parts of Leicester and Leicestershire as a whole. It’s a very beautiful part of the world.”

Accompanying the Northern Irishman to Leicester were Assistant Manager Chris Davies, First Team Coach Kolo Touré and First Team Fitness Coach Glen Driscoll. All three are well-informed of Rodgers’ route from Reading and all three possess characteristics that the Leicester manager regards as invaluable.

“I’ve seen Chris grow and develop from a 16-year-old player,” said Rodgers of his 34-year-old Assistant Manager. “He’s highly intelligent and has an incredible work ethic. He has a great knowledge of football and is someone who is very trustworthy, very loyal. He knows his audience, he works well with players and he’s an excellent young coach.”

With a clear idea of his support staff’s essential traits, he continues: “Glen, I worked with at Reading and we were both on the staff there. Glen is very intelligent. He has a great understanding of our football methodology. He builds that bridge between sports science and football. 

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Brendan Rodgers
Brendan Rodgers

The Foxes have progressed remarkably under the former Liverpool and Celtic manager's guidance.

“Sometimes, that can be a really grey area, but he understands totally my football ideas and where that marries into sports science. He’s very professional and he’s good with people. He’s been around me for a long time at Reading, Chelsea, Swansea, Liverpool and Celtic, so he understands how I think and how I work, while also giving his opinion.”

Two-time Premier League champion, 2015 Africa Cup of Nations winner and Ivory Coast legend Touré is the newest addition to his staff. While many know his defensive qualities from his spells at Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool and Celtic, Rodgers has seen a different dimension since he became part of his coaching set-up.

“Most people know Kolo as a player,” said Rodgers. “He’s played at top clubs and he’s a winner. I brought him to Liverpool and to Celtic and I brought him onto my technical staff. He’s someone who adds great value to my team of staff, who again is professional and loyal and very concentrated on wanting to do well.

“He doesn’t want to take any shortcuts because he’s been a top player. He wants to do it right, he does the work and he studies. He’s excellent with players and he’s gaining a lot of experience. He’s got a lot to offer after finishing playing. He understands how the top players think. 

“Those guys, in with Adam Sadler, Mike Stowell and Dave Rennie, provide a really, really strong team.” 

City’s Chairman, Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, who Rodgers had not met until February 2019, is a man for whom he has already developed a deep and meaningful respect. Rodgers can relate, in the most heart-wrenching of circumstances, to the experiences and challenges Khun Top is facing after losing his father, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, in the tragic events of 27 October, 2018. 

“I find it remarkable really how he’s dealt with the emotion of losing his father,” said Rodgers. “When I lost my own father back in 2011, I was probably just a few years older, but the whole emotion of that was tough because my father was my hero really. Watching him grow up and what he gave to life, it was tough for a period. 

I took five hours out of the afternoon and went on one of the longboats up the river. I went to see the modern city of Bangkok, and the temples, to understand a wee bit more about Buddhism and their life in Thailand.

Brendan Rodgers LCFCQ

“Khun Top has probably had that from his own father, but he’s had to be the driving force behind this huge company and huge responsibility. I’ve been taken aback by how he’s been. I’m sure he has his quiet moments and it’s tough for him, but he never lets it show.

“What I aim to do is to give him that joy through watching his football team and watching his club flourish. He’s given me terrific support and he lets me get on with the job, but I think he knows we’re looking to take the Club into the direction he wants it to go in.”

Accompanying Khun Top to Thailand for Khun Vichai’s cremation ceremony allowed Rodgers to not only support Khun Top during one of the most difficult periods of his life, but also to better understand the respectful, caring and generous Thai culture, which has so often shone through during King Power’s ownership of the Foxes.

“I’d been to Bangkok with Liverpool in 2013 and 2015, but it was only football and commercial,” reflected Rodgers. “For this visit, I went to the funeral and had some downtime on the Friday. 

“I took five hours out of the afternoon and went on one of the longboats up the river. I went to see the modern city of Bangkok, and the temples, to understand a wee bit more about Buddhism and their life in Thailand. 

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Brendan Rodgers
Brendan Rodgers

The Northern Irishman speaks to the national media following City's 4-0 win over Aston Villa.

“We took the boat then across to the old part of Bangkok, which you’ve probably seen much more of in films and documentaries. That was interesting. I felt as if I’d come away and had seen a part of Thailand that I’d never seen before.”

What Rodgers shares with Khun Top is a hunger to succeed. Together, they want to develop and enrich Leicester City Football Club, while also retaining the core values that have made it into a triumphant and prosperous environment that both seasoned professionals and inexperienced youngsters can thrive in. 

“That was one of the key reasons for coming – the ambition of the Club,” he said. “You look at the players that you can work with, too – they all have their own personalities. 

Jamie Vardy is the one that’s always mentioned a lot. He is a top player, for someone who has come through the ranks and his journey. He’s one of the top strikers in this division, but you only realise [having worked with him] how bright and clever he is from a tactical perspective. 

“You have a wonderful group of senior players like him, Kasper Schmeichel, who again is a learner who analyses his games. When I’ve sat down and looked at his clips, he’s very reflective in a positive way. He wants to be better. 

Wes Morgan too, these guys are winners, but they want to continue to win. You fit around that all of the young players, and you have a really, really exciting group. 

“I’ve found them really refreshing and they are very motivated to do well. I find them great learners. They want to learn and they’re very honest. The characters that we have here, they all want to do that, whether it’s Wes at 35 or some of our younger players. 

Of course, as a developer and a coach, to have the facilities is going to be absolutely fantastic, and with the core group of young players and hungry players, we hope to keep moving forward.

Brendan Rodgers LCFCQ

“They’ve got great role models there in terms of players that have achieved and who continued to want to achieve. We try to dedicate everything we do to be excellent. I think the internal culture is so important and as a leader, you have to drive that.” 

Much like the Club’s supporters, he is eager to see what is next on the horizon, following the announcement of a stadium expansion and the continuation of work on a world-class training facility. 

“Certainly, the brand of Leicester over these past few years has grown,” added the City manager. “But what I love about Leicester is its community. It’s still a very much community-based football club. What we can do together as players, staff and supporters with the ownership is keep developing and moving forward. 

“That’s something that really excites me. Of course, as a developer and a coach, to have the facilities is going to be absolutely fantastic, and with the core group of young players and hungry players, we hope to keep moving forward.

“That’s the plan.”

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