A year ago this week, Brendan Rodgers was sitting in a suite at Hampden Park, staring out over the pitch and the empty stadium.
The next day, he would lead Celtic to his seventh successive trophy as their boss when they beat Aberdeen in the Scottish League Cup final. But on that day, amid all these triumphs, he was thinking about loss.
He was thinking about his mother and father, who both died in their 50s. And he was thinking about Kevin Austin, a former Swansea defender, who had died the previous week at 45, the same age as Rodgers was then. He talked a little about how it had all given him a keen sense of his own mortality. ‘It’s a short life,’ he said.
Brendan Rogers is in high demand but will now bide his time having signed a new contract
Jamie Vardy and Co have been thriving under the Northern Irishman this season
A couple of months after that, he flew his gilded cage north of the border. To much dismay that he had not stuck around to complete Celtic’s Treble Treble, he took the job at Leicester City. His family history makes him a man in a hurry and football is a fickle, ruthless business. It seemed strange that anyone was surprised.
Clubs sack managers when they lose a few games on the spin. Four Premier League bosses have been fired in the last 20 days. Loyalty cuts both ways.
Rodgers had achieved everything he could in Scotland and, when he saw a good opportunity to move back to England, he took it. If he had not left when he did, he and Leicester would not be where they are now.
As Manchester City falter, Leicester are clear of the champions in the race to catch Liverpool even before Rodgers takes his team to face Aston Villa at Villa Park today. He has got his talented side playing a style and quality of football that is earning rave reviews from pundits and fans.
Nobody really thinks Leicester will win the title because Liverpool and City are simply too good. But no one thought Leicester would win the title in 2016 either. So now there is a tiny doubt in the mind.
Rodgers has led Leicester to a fine start this campaign - 11 wins from 15 Premier League games
Could they do it again? Well, they have won their last seven Premier League games. They are playing better football than they were under Claudio Ranieri. They have more points than they did at this stage of the 2015-16 season, too.
They have scored more goals as well. Leicester play more expansive, ambitious football under Rodgers than they did four years ago but they also have the best defence in the league.
Kasper Schmeichel is finally getting some of the credit he deserves. So, too, Jonny Evans. Caglar Soyuncu has been one of the players of the season. Leicester have conceded nine goals in 15 games. All the character assassination stuff about what getting his teeth done said about Rodgers is forgotten as nonsense.
The idea that Liverpool only came within an ace of the title in 2014 because of Luis Suarez has been banished, too. Rodgers’ stamp was all over that Liverpool side just as his print is all over Leicester now.
Good coaches make good players better. They give them belief. People point, quite rightly, to the immediate impact Jose Mourinho has made on Dele Alli.
The same applies to Rodgers and Jamie Vardy. Vardy has scored 23 goals in 25 league games under Rodgers, the same number he scored under Claude Puel in 51 league games.
Rodgers’ success is leading a shift in attitudes towards UK coaches. His work at Leicester, Frank Lampard’s bright new regime at Chelsea, Gareth Southgate’s leadership of the England team, the football Sheffield United are playing under Chris Wilder, Graham Potter’s impact at Brighton, Sean Dyche’s consistency at Burnley and Eddie Howe’s continuing excellence at Bournemouth is beginning to put an end to the snobbery against managers from the British Isles.
The former Liverpool boss has got the best out of star players Jamie Vardy and Caglar Soyuncu
Pep Guardiola's long-term future remains unclear and Rodgers could be the man to fill the void
So Rodgers is rebuilt. His reputation is restored. He is back in the vanguard of Europe’s leading coaches. On Friday, he signed a contract extension with Leicester that is designed to keep him out of the clutches of multiple suitors and at the club until 2025. It was a reward for what he has done already and what Leicester’s owners hope he will continue.
Rodgers, it is said, was the first choice to replace Mauricio Pochettino at Spurs before Tottenham decided it would be too difficult to extricate him from the King Power and went for Mourinho. Rodgers was also thought to be top of Arsenal’s list of replacements for Unai Emery, although that is an indictment of the way Arsenal are run these days.
If there were anyone in Stan Kroenke’s Arsenal hierarchy with any imagination or bravery, they would have gone for Rodgers, not Emery, to replace Arsene Wenger 18 months ago.
Rodgers is a more talented coach and the style he likes his teams to play means he would also have been a better fit. My guess is that he would have taken the job at that time, too.
Now? Why would Rodgers leave Leicester for Arsenal? The balance of power in that courtship has shifted. Arsenal are a big club, sure, but they are also a basket-case of a club.
They are badly run, they have recruited poorly, their squad is thin and weak, they lack leadership on and off the pitch, they lack identity on and off the pitch, they lack conviction on and off the pitch.
Rodgers is preparing his buoyant, confident Foxes for the challenge of Aston Villa on Sunday
You wouldn't think the Foxes could compete for the title but there is an element of doubt
Oh, and their fans have a nasty habit of reducing their own players to tears. The Emirates has become so toxic now that watching ArsenalFanTV after another defeat feels like blood-sport.
Add to that the fact that Kroenke is building a new $5billion stadium for his LA Rams NFL team and it is obvious that his attention is going to be elsewhere. Arsenal are a long way from being at the top of his in-tray.
The awkward truth for Arsenal is that they are no longer an attractive enough proposition to entice a manager like Rodgers.
So Arsenal are likely to move on to Mikel Arteta, maybe, or Patrick Vieira, club legends who would help camouflage the shortcomings and buy off the fans for a little while. They ignored Rodgers 18 months ago and now that they look like a club in freefall, he has moved out of their league.
Rodgers’ immediate future lies at Leicester, a club at the opposite end of the competence spectrum from Arsenal. Beyond that, it is hard to think of many managers who would be a better fit to replace Guardiola when he decides the time is right to leave Manchester City.
Rodgers also has the intelligence to manage abroad. There is something about his coaching acumen that is reminiscent of Terry Venables. He is only 46. Even for a man in a hurry, time is on his side.