Interview

Classics: New Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers in his Chelsea coach days

On the day our former youth and reserve team manager Brendan Rodgers returns to the Premier League as the new manager of Leicester, we revisit a past interview from his time with us for a flavour of his development and his role at the time.

Rodgers joined the Chelsea Academy in 2004 having previously worked at Reading. He would eventually return to the Royals as manager following a short spell with Watford upon leaving Chelsea in late 2008. Swansea and Liverpool followed, before he moved to Scotland and the club he left today, Celtic.

This interview is from August 2007, a week ahead of the start of a new season…
 

The role of the reserve team in a modern, top-level football club has changed a lot since the days when it was mostly a way to keep down the waistline of players out of the first-team picture, while also helping with recovery from injuries, and giving the odd match to a promising youngster or two.

In today's game, it is a highly-planned stage in a multi-million pound development process for young players although it still maintains a function in the life of the first-team squad.

In six days’ time, Chelsea's reserve team manager Brendan Rodgers begins his second season in charge at this level and in the week when Chelsea can lay claim to two new Under-21 internationals, he has been explaining to chelseafc.com the purpose of the second string and its coach in the current Stamford Bridge scene.

But first Rodgers gives his reaction to the news that Michael Mancienne, a player he has worked with since youth team level, and Rhys Taylor, his goalkeeper during the latter stages of last season, have this week been capped at Under-21 level by England and Wales respectively.

'Michael is a good boy and it filled me with pride, as it would have done the other coaches who have worked with him. He started really well on loan at QPR last season and I know he was delighted he got the run out with England. It was a marvellous step for him and we just hope that it will continue.
 

'For Rhys it is fantastic - a 17-year-old playing Under 21s. The future is bright for the young players at this football club and myself and the staff look forward to continuing the work to give them all careers in the game - and hopefully here at Chelsea.'

Rodgers moves on to describe how the reserve squad sits between the Academy and the first team set-up without being classed as part of either.

'I work with the manager [Jose Mourinho] so he can put players down into the reserves both in terms of training and playing but because I was also an academy director at my old club, Reading, I understand that processes.

'So my job is to build a bridge between the Academy and senior side and ensure people can run across that bridge smoothly.

'I feel that has worked well in terms of integration. A prime example was Monday last week when I had training with me John Terry, the England captain, Andriy Shevchenko, the Ukraine captain, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink who was training with us to keep fit, Alex who had just won the Copa America with Brazil and Claude Makelele - but I also had two 16-year-olds so the diversity in the group was great which is vitally important in the growth of young players.
 

'It is never easy for Premier League players to come in and join a world-class squad,' he points out, 'so for a young player who hasn't made it in the game yet, it can be very, very difficult and that is also part of my job, to create an environment where they can come in without feeling pressure or intimidated and fearful.

'I tell every player I work with that I give you permission to be yourself. I put on sessions that not only help them technically and tactically but will develop their interpersonal skills.

'That is critical in the development of a person as well as a footballer so it is again something you have to manage. It is part of the role.'
 

Here's another way in which coaching at reserve level has evolved. We have all seen the Barclays Premier League become an increasingly cosmopolitan place over the last 15 years and reserve football is following suit. In addition to the cream of British talent that is emerging from the Chelsea Academy, Rodgers is likely to have six other nationalities in his squad at the start of this season.

'That is great because I enjoy learning about life and meeting different people,' he insists. 'I have a thought that I go by - and that is the quality of communication is the quality of your life - and I enjoy the challenge of communicating with different people, on a football level and a personal level.

'Last season was fantastic,' he continues, looking back on his first year as reserve manager following two years as Chelsea's youth team coach.

'I was looking forward to a really exciting job. I have worked with young players all my life and the reserves were going to allow me to continue that, working with players under 21, but it was also going to start feeding in some of the senior players which meant I was getting the chance to work with world-class players. I was delighted with the whole progression last year, for the players and for myself.'

Like everyone working in professional football, Rodgers is in the results business, except for him, results are not so much scorelines after 90 minutes of play but more the number of players that breakthrough onto the major stage, whether it be at Under-21 international level, or more importantly, into the Chelsea first team squad.

Newly elevated from the reserves to Mourinho's pool of players this season is Scott Sinclair, and that conversation rate Rodgers reckons is the bench mark for the seasons to come.

'That is what we are trying to do, get a player a year in. Our job is not getting one into the squad every four or five years but we are operating at world-class level. So if we can get one in there a year, we are doing okay. It is as simple as that and now it is up to us to work away and get the next player in. Everyone at the club is striving to make sure that vision happens.'

 

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