Brendan Rodgers will be presented as Celtic’s manager for the second time on Friday after agreeing a three-year contract at Parkhead.
Rodgers enjoyed stunning success during his first spell in charge in Glasgow, including delivering back-to-back domestic Trebles.
The nature of his departure to Leicester City midway through the 2018-19 season had angered Celtic supporters, while fans having been split about his return to the club.
Mail Sport’s Brian Majoribanks and John McGarry debate whether Rodgers should apologise to fans as he is unveiled as the club’s new manager.
Brendan Rodgers will be unveiled as Celtic manager for the second time on Friday
Celtic supporters had labelled Rodgers as a ‘fraud’ following his departure back in 2019
Yes – Brian Majoribanks
On the face of it, the idea does seem odd. Why would Brendan Rodgers, who won all seven available trophies while in charge of Celtic, owe the fans an apology for wanting to further his career with a bigger budget in the English Premier League four years ago?
Especially when his supposed betrayal came a six full months after tensions between the Northern Irishman and the Parkhead board first became public.
Speaking when he was experiencing frustration in the transfer market in August 2018, Rodgers famously warned that the club’s failure to match his ambition would result in their relationship being ‘terminado’.
And yet, when he is unveiled for his second spell on Friday, Celtic and Rodgers could both benefit from the manager taking ownership of his acrimonious departure to Leicester City midway through that season. It could certainly be an important first step towards uniting fans who are divided over his return.
First, let’s rewind to why the Celtic fans were so enraged by the circumstances of his departure in February 2019.
Rodgers had previously given the supporters every impression that he was just as invested in winning ten-in-a-row as them, pointing ten fingers in the air while they sang his praises.
Previously linked with Arsenal, he declared that he was already ‘in the best job in the world,’ before later saying: ‘There’s not a place in the world I’d be happier in my football life and personal life … this is Celtic, one of the great, iconic clubs in the world.’
In the wake of his exit for Leicester, a spurned fanbase displayed their hurt and anger in various forms. Who can forget the banner unveiled at Tynecastle that read: ‘You traded immortality for mediocrity. Never a Celt. Always a fraud.’
Rodgers had given supporters the impression he was committed to winning ten titles in a row
Two years later and the Holy Grail of ten successive titles, which the fans had sang about for years as a fait accompli, had gone up in smoke against a bitter backdrop of supporter fury and flying crush barriers.
Time can be a healer but some people have long memories. This week, the North Curve Celtic Twitter account, representing the Green Brigade and other members of the standing section at Celtic Park, posted images of that banner from 2019 as a sign they have neither forgiven nor forgotten.
Rodgers may insist that his decision to return to Celtic Park was a simple one, but it continues to divide fans. Many have already hit back at those who dredged up that old image.
When the Prodigal Son returns to Celtic Park it will be in vastly different circumstances to the first time he walked in the door as manager to a rapturous reception.
This time, a sceptical fanbase will fret over his loyalty and wonder how long he will stick around if another exciting offer arrives. Given the manner of his departure, the former Liverpool boss may need one commodity that he did not require in his first spell: a little credit in the bank.
In his first season in charge, Celtic swept all before them as they romped to an Invincible domestic Treble. The following season they won a second Treble. However, the footballing landscape in Glasgow is far removed now from the 2016-17 campaign when his team beat Rangers five times and drew once in the league.
Under the Ibrox club’s revolving-door management shambles that saw Mark Warburton, caretaker Graeme Murty and Pedro Caixinha come and go, there was also an Ibrox side boasting modest players such as Rob Kiernan, Harry Forrester, Joe Dodoo, Emerson Hyndman and Myles Beerman.
While chaotic Rangers rang in 2017 a huge 19 points behind Celtic, Aberdeen ended up the Parkhead side’s nearest challengers in Rodgers’ two full seasons.
Celtic’s success under Ange Postecoglou means Rodgers will have little margin for error
Michael Beale’s improving Rangers side will put the pressure on Rodgers early in his tenure
Fast forward to 2023 and Rangers are a team that contested a Europa League final just 13 months ago.
They admittedly had a poor campaign last season but showed real signs of being on the rise under Michael Beale.
The Ibrox boss has recruited wisely in Nico Raskin and Todd Cantwell and Rangers won the final Old Firm match of last season 3-0 at Ibrox in May.
Celtic won the Treble under Ange Postecoglou, and Rodgers inherits a fine squad with the promise of more money to improve.
But he will be under pressure to deliver, with the manner of his departure last time leaving little margin for error if he does not hit the ground running.
Whether or not he feels he has anything to apologise for, there is little doubt his words and actions left Celtic fans feeling bruised.
If he provides even a hint of remorse for how things unfolded when he is unveiled today, it would surely remove much of the sting from a divisive issue that could otherwise linger.
It could also be a shrewd move in getting the fanbase onside straight away. All it needs is ‘I’m sorry about the way it ended,’ or ‘I regret the manner of my departure.’
That concession would help heal any lingering hurt and build unity at Celtic ahead of what promises to be a fiercely contested and interesting duel with Rangers next season.
Then, if the 50-year-old can replicate the kind of football and results he managed in his first spell, that would surely win over any remaining doubters.
No – John McGarry
The very notion that Brendan Rodgers is somehow compelled to begin his media conference with an explanation, let alone an apology, is so wide of the mark it does not even make the corner flag at Celtic Park.
In February 2019, the Northern Irishman succinctly explained why he swapped Parkhead for Leicester City. It was quite simple really. He took the emotion out of a career decision.
He didn’t expect Celtic supporters to like that rationale, but it was his all the same. And it’s not going to have changed in the four years and four months since he said it.
As for an apology? For doing what exactly? Sure, the timing of his departure could have been better. And, yes, at times he laid his love of the club on with a trowel.
But, at the time, Rodgers was told in no uncertain terms that Leicester’s offer would not be there in the summer. It was now or never. He had a huge decision to make.
To manage in a league that’s certainly the most captivating in the world, they would pay him twice the salary he was on at Celtic.
Once harmonious, his relationship with his paymasters in Glasgow had deteriorated to the point where it was now unworkable. This was all played out in public.
Any Celtic fan who tells you they wouldn’t have been tempted to accept a similar offer in their line of work is simply being disingenuous.
Rodgers had at times overindulged in expressing his love for Celtic before leaving the club
Rodgers had succinctly explained why he swapped Parkhead for Leicester City back in 2019
It also requires a wilful ignorance of the facts to present Rodgers’ second unveiling as the return of the prodigal son. To be cast in that role, you would have to have done something seriously wrong.
Although the vast majority of Celtic supporters have belatedly welcomed the reappointment of an individual who is indisputably an elite football manager, there are pockets of resistance.
In the case of the Green Brigade, this has extended to the retweeting of a banner from four years back, stating: ‘You traded immortality for mediocrity. Never a Celt. Always a fraud.’
It would be interesting to see how these virtuous guardians of the club’s moral compass view anyone else with the temerity to take their skills to a new employer for twice the remuneration. None of those who stand in section 111 would ever contemplate doing likewise in their own line of work, of course.
Is it just Rodgers — a man who won each of the seven domestic competitions he entered — that they have an issue with? Or anyone who flies the nest?
Ten years ago this week, a little-known defender called Virgil van Dijk signed for Celtic for £2.6million from Groningen.
Within 20 months, the Dutchman was openly expressing a desire to leave the club and, by the start of the following season, had been granted his wish.
Celtic made a £9m profit by selling him to Southampton. Van Dijk continued to develop and won a move to Liverpool where he won the Premier League and the Champions League. Everyone was a winner.
Celtic supporters hold no grudges against the likes of Virgil van Dijk for making similar moves
If he returns to his former club to play against them in Europe in the coming seasons, there will be no accusations that he sold Celtic down the river.
Kieran Tierney’s journey at Celtic was beginning as Van Dijk’s was ending. After signing a long-term deal, the full-back once expressed his desire to join Paul McStay and Billy McNeill as one of the club’s great one-club men.
A lifelong Celtic fan who enjoyed nothing better than picking up a megaphone and serenading the Green Brigade after winning the title, you didn’t doubt his sincerity.
But when Arsenal came along and dangled a cheque for £25m, pragmatism ruled. What would the reception for Tierney be if he returned next season? Cordial, you’d imagine, and rightly so.
Kenny Dalglish has been afforded a hero’s welcome each time he’s returned since leaving for Liverpool in 1977.
Charlie Nicholas was greeted with open arms after his spells with Arsenal and Aberdeen. They almost carried Frank McAvennie up Kerrydale Street in a sedan chair when he ended his three-year exile.
The great McNeill also came back to a warm reception after being in charge of Manchester City and Aston Villa.
In each case, there was disharmony behind the scenes before each man departed for more lucrative financial offers in England.
Rodgers fault was his extraordinary success the uncertainty caused by his abrupt exit
Just like Rodgers, in fact. So where were the distasteful banners and accusations of treachery in those instances? Perhaps, paradoxically, Rodgers’ main fault wasn’t the fact that he indulged in a little too much badgekissing, but his extraordinary success.
His abrupt departure opened up a chasm of uncertainty and fear about what would come next. It was far easier to hold him entirely culpable than take a dispassionate and broader view of how it all unravelled.
Those supporters who view Rodgers’ return as anything other than a major coup for the club at this juncture are entitled and deluded.
They should be thankful Dermot Desmond has secured the future of their club by re-hiring a serial winner rather than living in the past. An apology or an explanation for the events of 2019 will not be forthcoming. And nor should they be.