Brendan Rodgers enters the room, quickly adjusts the air conditioning and smiles as he sits down to meet him at the club’s training ground. Leicester are last in the standings but there is a feeling the season is starting now.
It was the most challenging summer of his coaching career as the players wanted to leave and without the money to make replacements. “It’s like going to a store and walking around without money,” he says. Sky Sports. “You can’t buy anything.”
But before all that, he wants to clarify the comments that caused a media frenzy on Thursday night after the defeat to Manchester United. The headlines suggesting he “slammed the board” don’t reflect his true feelings.
“I always know there’s a wordplay. I have a lot of respect for the board. There’s no way I had an idea to expose it. They were honest enough to say how it is. Top’s reviews have made this clear in terms of the reasoning behind the cause of the situation.”
Notes on the Leicester Chairman’s Program, Aiyawat Srivaddhanaprabha
First and foremost, Leicester City’s overall financial position is entirely secure and backed by my ongoing personal commitment and that of my family.
The club is as safe in our hands as it has been every day for the past 12 years. Our commitment to this responsibility drives every decision we make. Sometimes that commitment means making tough, short-term decisions that protect the club’s long-term interests, like our approach to the summer transfer window.
Due to the increase in our net spend over recent seasons, certain actions have been necessary to ensure that we manage our compliance with the game’s sustainability regulations. As we continue to build our broader revenue streams to compete with the established elite over the long-term, our short-term means of offsetting these expenditures generate profits by trading players.
We’ve done this successfully for five consecutive summer windows before 2021, choosing to make more investments in the team without a major sale. This summer, we couldn’t risk this equation unbalanced further, so we decided there was room in the team before new additions were introduced.
“Obviously it was a really tough market for us. But the bigger picture was the club. For me, it’s not a story from today. Now, it’s about everyone getting it together. We bring the fight and we have this collective goal of winning games and being a team.”
It’s unusual to see Leicester like this. The club were crowned England champions six years ago, and their first FA Cup win came as recently as last year. Pausing spending means an adjustment for everyone – the fans, the players and the manager who came here to compete.
“Where we’ve been in the table for the past few years, that’s where I want to take on the challenge. Everyone wants to keep pushing. But for that we have to improve our team and we haven’t been able to do that. Of course it will be difficult for the fans.”
In fact, his supporters accept it. There is nothing but gratitude to the owners who gave the best times in the club’s history. Feelings about Rodgers are more mixed. What does he say to those who point out that he still has a mediocre budget?
“I can only judge the team I have and when I see the opponents it is clear that a lot of our competitors have improved. This is a group that needs to improve and we haven’t been able to do that. But that doesn’t mean we won’t try to find development.”
“We wanted to challenge European football and we were able to do that and win titles. But I’m realistic. I know the missing pieces in my jigsaw. It’s not a lack of ambition, it’s where we are. I have to find ways to improve it.”
Here, it’s a little more complicated than it might seem. Thirteen of the team that achieved FA Cup glory at Wembley Stadium were also on Thursday night. But the conditions are not the same. This is a game played with the legs and the mind, not on paper.
“Sometimes the best coach is the one who comes in to compete for your position. This will push you forward. Otherwise, if there is no competition, the players can feel comfortable. As much as you ask them for things, they know that there is no one around the corner.”
There is a long breath as Rodgers is asked to reflect on the difficulties of the summer and to discuss why everything may not be what it seems. He is willing to explain in some detail and his words reveal that the situation with Wesley Fofana was just part of the problem.
“If you think about it, right from the start we had things about James Madison and Harvey Barnes. You obviously had [Schmeichel] Immediately when he came. You had a situation with Yuri [Tielemans]. you had kgs [Soyuncu] A year from now.
“You also had Daniel Amarty in the year left. Jonny Evans in the year left. Jamie Vardy didn’t sign. Yannick Westergaard might be looking at going forward. So, you had a number of players that could make an impact. Then you have the injury of Ricciardo. [Pereira].
“Those are 10 situations out there that affect the dynamics.
“Then you have a Wesley situation on top of that.
“What it does inside the changing room is it raises suspicion. Stability is affected with no new faces emerging to revive that life. It becomes a place where people are looking to move on. This becomes a distraction. You have to control it as best you can.”
The focus should now be on finding a way through all of this. You have lost leadership but have to come from somewhere else. “Leadership comes in many different forms. When we lost Wes Morgan we lost that character. Now you have to be a combination of them all.”
With Vardy turning 36 in January, some may be past his peak. But there are others who have more to give. “Some guys are still growing. James has continued. Harvey is getting better. Luke Thomas has come in and done really well, Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall too.”
There is an expectation that – with the World Cup in their sights – others will refocus. “I think between now and November, it’s about focusing the laser on our work right now. It’s about us picking ourselves up and getting up at that table. There are no distractions.
“It is time for us to be together. This includes the fans because they are wanted more than ever. They have had an amazing few years but that is the reality of the situation. The players will fuel their energy and we want it to be as positive as possible.”
But perhaps the most relevant question is for Rodgers himself – a man who was open about his ambition. He came here to compete for prizes, upsetting the natural order of things on top of the table. Now, by his own admission, he’s targeting 40 points.
The fear among fans is that he himself has become exhausted by the situation. Just as he wanted to clarify those comments about the club’s financial limitations, he is firm about the fact that he is here to take on the challenge. He can focus on training again.
“I’m very excited about this challenge. It’s something I embrace. The end of the season is a long way off and I haven’t set any goals but let’s get 40 points and then look to finish as high as we can. We’re doing really well in cup competitions and that’s always what interests us.
“Yes, the pieces are missing but how can we still find solutions? What is the best dynamic for us as a team? In terms of matches, we had a tough run with us having had to play three of the top five or six teams while trying to put our game back together.
“We have to be better at handling the ball. Restore that confidence, that simplicity in our game, that creativity in our game. On top of that, you have to be strong defensively. We need to be a tough team to play with and without the ball.”
“With the start we’ve got, they won’t be so self-confident but that’s the job – to motivate them again and empower them during this time. We draw a line under it now. There’s a chance to be ourselves again. It’s about hard work and focus.”
“It’s about hard yards right now.”
Watch Brighton and Leicester match live on Sky Sports Premier League from 1pm on Sunday; Kick-off at 2 pm.