Date: 3rd October 2020 at 5:06pm
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Football fans and the media love nothing more than a rags-to-riches story, or the drama of watching a spunky uprising.

Nothing is cooler in the game than watching a team who nobody expects to see putting on a show finding some new level and giving it a right good go.

For the last 18 months or so, in England, that team has been Leicester.

This has suited the man at the helm of that club, the giant ego that is Brendan Rodgers.

Here, in Scotland, there is little love for the man after his act of treachery at Celtic Park … in England, a stage where he feels he’s the biggest, and most underappreciated star, he has the limelight he truly craves.

Whatever else some of us may say about Rodgers – and as a Celtic fan I could say a tremendous lot – he is an exceptional football manager, although perhaps not as good as he sometimes thinks.

At first a lot of us were bewildered at his taking a job at a club like Leicester; how, after all, can anyone at that club hope to match Ranieri and his momentous accomplishment?

And then the penny dropped; Rodgers knows that outside of the Champions League cohort, Leicester has as good a chance as any club of being The Best Of The Rest, and if he can squeeze out a top four place at some point that will be regarded as a great success.

There were two major problems with his calculation.

The first is that the Champions League cohort – those clubs which can challenge for those four places year on year – has grown to more than just a handful of teams. Aside from the obvious clubs, City and Liverpool, there’s Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Spurs.

That’s six major clubs, fighting for four places. Leicester’s form will have to be pretty incredible if they are going to finish ahead of two of those teams.

The other problem with Rodgers’ scenario is that it discounted the possibility that some other club could pull off a Leicester type transformation, with a combination of the right management team and some shrewd business in the transfer market.

In that scenario, Leicester cease to be the club everyone is talking about, and the spotlight falls on another elsewhere.

Enter Carlo Ancelloti and what Everton hopes will be a Miracle on Merseyside.

It is early in the day – way early – to be making bold predictions.

But there’s something in the air, a feeling that their club has made good decisions this summer and having watched their league games so far – four wins out of four after today – there is a swagger to them that hasn’t been there for eons.

They have done good transfer business.

They have signed exciting players.

Their midfield additions are real quality, and James Rodriguez on a free might well be the best deal an EPL club does in this window.

This is a footballer with all the skill in the world and a lot to prove; he is on the right stage now, at a club where he can make himself a legend.

Of course, in Ancelloti they went out last year and brought in one of the best in the business, a wily tactician and accomplished leader with a CV to match anyone. He has won titles in five countries including England. He has three Champions Leagues.

This is his first full season in charge, and he’ll be hoping to beat the 12th place finish they managed in the last campaign, but already the signs are good. Everton look a different beast this year, with a greater balance to their team.

The EPL table has an unfamiliar look to it this evening as a result; it’s Everton top with Rodgers and Leicester still to play; both have won maximum points thus far, and Rodgers is coming off a splendid win against City, and he must have assumed he’d get the spotlight for that.

But Everton have the box seat right now, and they look very good indeed.

Neither of them will win this title, of course, but that’s not the prize the clubs are aiming for right now … both would settle for being the Best of The Rest because that would be a big victory.

Of course, a real win would be to prize that Champions League spot away from one of the bigger clubs, and that would be the ticket to riches and glory on the biggest stage of all.

Ancelloti has tasted all that before, of course, and for all his worldly talents Rodgers never has … nobody expects him to do that at Leicester, but then he doesn’t intend to stop there long.

His best hope of landing the kind of job he truly craves, and where he sees himself as belonging, is to have that spotlight shine on him for the whole of the coming campaign; to be at the helm of the plucky insurgency, to be the guy everyone is talking about.

But timing is everything, and sometimes pure dumb luck upsets even the best laid plans.

Rodgers made a calculation which seemed right to him at the time, and indeed it still might prove to be.

He may yet get the payoff he’s been scrabbling around in the dirt for … but if Everton are this year’s team to watch then for all his talents, especially his shameless ability at self-promotion, Rodgers may well find himself as the fading star of a lesser story.

Because there can only be one plucky insurgent, of course. The media and the public will only get truly excited at one club bucking all the trends and upending all the expectations, and the real problem with Rodgers, of course, is that he came so close to grabbing the brass ring last year … and anything short of that top four finish might not seem like such a triumph after all.

Ancelloti and his club can only move up. Rodgers might already be on the downslope.

Like Everton, Leicester has started well … but there’s a long road ahead and if the Merseyside team gets some momentum behind them the Irishman could yet see it all come apart.

Everton fans have good reasons to feel optimistic. Ancelloti has had time to take stock and his rebuild of the club is just beginning, but he’s laid some good foundations and he has brought real verve to the team at the start of this campaign.

A few more weeks and the buzz will start getting louder.

A month down the line, and he and his club might be all the football public is talking about.

The man at Leicester will be watching closely, and for the first time since leaving Celtic Park he’ll perhaps be starting to sweat a little.

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