Brendan Rodgers tells Sky Sports about building a "winning mentality" at Leicester and the factors behind the club's "outstanding" record in the transfer market as they search for defensive cover following Wesley Fofana's injury
Thursday 12 August 2021 06:57, UK
"I see the change of mentality," Brendan Rodgers tells Sky Sports.
The Leicester manager is reflecting on Saturday's Community Shield triumph over Manchester City. The 1-0 win, their second at Wembley in the space of three months, was just the latest example of the progress made during the 48-year-old's tenure.
"The players are not surprised now when we beat one of the big clubs," Rodgers continues. "It was always going to be a challenge for a club like Leicester, but our aim was to build that base camp around the top of the league and be up there, being competitive and challenging."
It is exactly what they have done. In the last two seasons, Leicester have spent more time in the Premier League's top four than any other side. Champions League qualification has twice slipped agonisingly out of their grasp but silverware has not.
Rodgers sees their FA Cup and Community Shield victories as proof of the "winning mentality" they previously lacked.
"We've tried to produce a team that's really competitive and can play a certain brand of football but is also young and developing," he says. "We were able to take all that into the games at Wembley.
"Later in life, these guys will look back at the honours they have won and the Community Shield will be one of them. It's great to win it and gives us a good feeling before our first league game."
It begins at home to Wolves on Saturday afternoon but Leicester's preparations have not been as serene as their Community Shield win suggests. Only a few days earlier, the whole club was rocked by Wesley Fofana's serious leg injury against Villarreal.
"Obviously, to lose a player with such an injury in a friendly game was devastating for us - and for the player himself, more importantly," says Rodgers. "He had been very, very good over the course of pre-season and was looking forward to the beginning of the season."
Rodgers insists Fofana is now in "great spirits" having undergone an operation earlier this week - "we all wish Wesley a speedy recovery," he says - but the 20-year-old's lengthy absence has left Leicester scrambling to adjust their plans for the new campaign.
Rodgers drafted Daniel Amartey into the centre of his defence against Manchester City, describing the Ghanaian's performance alongside Caglar Soyuncu as "outstanding", but with Jonny Evans also sidelined, he is in no denial about the need to strengthen.
"Hopefully we can," he says. "It's an area where we are a little light with Jonny out as well for a period of time with a foot injury. With all the games we're going to have over the course of the season, we need to have cover in those positions.
"It is something the club are currently looking at.
"We'll see what we can do."
Fofana's injury puts Leicester in a tricky position but his impact at the King Power Stadium following his £30m arrival from French outfit Saint-Etienne last summer is just another reminder of the club's long-standing penchant for recruiting smartly.
The signings of N'Golo Kante and Riyad Mahrez proved catalysts for their Premier League title triumph in 2016 and, from Wilfred Ndidi to Youri Tielemans, there have been plenty more success stories since.
Indeed, Leicester's overachievement under Rodgers is even more impressive given their net spend since his appointment stands at just £49.8m. They have managed to crack the elite and they have done it on a budget dwarfed by those of their rivals.
"Of course, as a manager, you don't know every single player, but thankfully I am involved in the recruitment process and can give an opinion," says Rodgers, whose relationship with Leicester's head of recruitment Lee Congerton dates back to his time at Chelsea.
"I think where we're clear here is in understanding the profile of player we want and what fits into our way of playing and working," he adds. "Also, very importantly, the type of character we want because we take no risks with that.
"The recruitment here has been outstanding for a long time and obviously in the time I've been here, the last two-and-a-half years, the players we've brought in have done very, very well."
Crucially, in light of Fofana's injury, Leicester have also shown they can adapt and progress despite selling key players. It owes a lot to the spirit of togetherness created by Rodgers. His ability to improve players is another formidable weapon.
"It's about having a sense of realism, knowing that at some point it will happen," says Rodgers, who lost Harry Maguire to Manchester United in his first summer in charge and Ben Chilwell to Chelsea in his second.
"I think at this moment in time, Leicester City is a very attractive place to be. If you want to develop as a player, work in world-class training facilities and be a part of a real community club with a family feel, then this is a great place for you.
"But having been at so-called big clubs, I also understand what the draw of them can be for a player. For us, it's just about developing this football club."
Fofana's injury came as an unexpected blow but Leicester have managed to keep hold of their best players so far this summer - including James Maddison, who has emerged as a target for Arsenal but appears fully focused on the Foxes having impressed in the Community Shield clash with Manchester City.
"At this moment in time, all the players seem very happy to be here," says Rodgers.
"They are very ambitious, which is important, and there is a real hunger to continue progressing. All teams will lose players, but for Leicester, it's always got to be when it's the right time for us."
Rodgers seems confident of keeping Maddison and the 24-year-old was not the only player to catch the eye at Wembley.
We wanted someone who could stretch the backline. He's super-quick and he's also a natural goalscorer
There were also encouraging cameos from striker Patson Daka, a £23m signing from Red Bull Salzburg earlier this summer, and midfielder Boubakary Soumare, a £17m arrival from Lille.
"We needed that extra support for Jamie [Vardy] and Kels [Kelechi Iheanacho] up front and Pats comes in as a winner," says Rodgers. "He understands winning having been at Red Bull Salzburg so he comes in with that mentality.
"We wanted someone who could stretch the backline. He's super-quick and he's also a natural goalscorer. You can see from his record that he's very accomplished in front of goal. He's going to come in and offer great support to the two who are already here.
"Soumare," Rodgers adds, "gives us that physical presence as well as that technical and tactical ability. He also comes in a winner, coming in from Lille, who just won the French title."
Rodgers sees the same winning mentality in Ryan Bertrand, who followed Daka and Soumare to Leicester having reached the end of his contract with Southampton. The left-back is well known to Rodgers and, at 32, he brings much-needed experience.
"We lost two players of real experience this summer in our captain Wes Morgan and Fuchsy [Christian Fuchs]," says Rodgers. "They were two key players for us in the dressing room.
"I worked with Ryan as a 16-year-old [at Chelsea] and it's been great to see his development into the man he is today. His experience and quality will be a real support for us as well, so I'm delighted with all three signings."
Leicester still need to add a central defender to those signings, of course, but Rodgers' optimism is unwavering and given the progress he has overseen already, it is easy to understand why.
The former Liverpool boss was linked with the Tottenham job following Jose Mourinho's departure last season but he is committed to Leicester until 2025 and, as he approaches his third full season at the helm, his belief in the project is plainly stronger than ever.
"Firstly, it's the alignment of the expectations of where we're at with the owner and our board of directors," he explains. "We're very clear on what the project is here. We feel we can disrupt the market from a football perspective and everything is possible for us."
Rodgers describes himself as "very, very lucky" to be where he is.
"Every day, I come down the drive to get to my office and I feel very privileged to be here," he says. "I don't take it for granted. I have to fight to earn the right to be here and stay here.
"Whilst I have that hunger and ambition, that's hopefully something the club can benefit from as well."