Craig Levein reckons the English Premier League was a bigger draw than Leicester City for ex-Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers

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CRAIG LEVEIN has joked that Brendan Rodgers will benefit from the groundwork he laid at Leicester City – but reckons it is the league rather than the club that has lured the Northern Irishman away from Celtic.

The Hearts boss enjoyed a largely unremarkable two-year stint in charge of Leicester which ended in January 2006 with the Foxes in the Championship relegation zone and fighting for their lives.

The outfit Rodgers has joined 13 years later is unrecognisable, having returned to the English Premier League before completing arguably the biggest upset in sporting history by winning the top-flight title in 2016.

CRAIG LEVEIN at a press conference

Rodgers’ decision to spurn the chance to become a Bhoys icon by potentially leading the side to 10 in a row in favour of Leicester – currently in 12th spot – has prompted the likes of Chris Sutton, David Weir and Gordon Strachan to state that Celtic are a bigger club.

However, Levein reckons location is more relevant as he hailed the positive influence Rodgers had on football in Scotland.

He said: “It’s a Premier League job. Without speaking to Brendan, I don’t know what his motivation but I think if Celtic played in the Premier League in England, he probably would have stayed.

“That’s basically it, because you could argue that the Premier League is the biggest league in the world. I wish him all the best.

“From my own point of view, it was good to come up against his teams – and good for Scottish football. I think having him here was great for the game.

“His previous job was Liverpool, where he nearly won the Premier League. He did a fantastic job there, has done a fantastic job at Celtic and is a really high-profile manager. The more high-profile managers we have in the league, the better it is for Scotland.”

On his own time at Leicester, Levein smiled: “I’ve been there, as I’ve been at quite a few clubs now, but I still know a few people there.

I was delighted when they won the Premier League – all that hard work that I put in place paid off!”

Levein acknowledges that Rodgers’ successor, Neil Lennon, has sizeable shoes to fill, following a man who won every domestic trophy he contested – two Scottish Premierships, three Scottish League Cups and two Scottish Cups – after arriving at Parkhead in 2016.

Celtic remain on course to complete an unprecedented treble treble but, in a mischievous move, Levein was quick to confirm that he won’t be the man called in to complete that feat.

Levein continued: “Since he’s come into Celtic, Brendan has done everything he could possibly do, domestically. So it’s quite a tall order to match that level of success.”

Levein’s old sparring partner Lennon is the man the Celtic board have chosen to take charge until the end of the season, bringing his brief period out of the game to an end.

The duo had plenty of run in’s during the fiery coach’s spell in charge of Hibs. However, Levein was among the first to state how much he would be missed when his shock departure from Easter Road played out.

And he has no doubt the 47-year-old represents a safe pair of hands at Parkhead.

Levein continued: “I get on well with Lenny and it would be a really good job for him.

“He knows the club, which is always part of the challenge of being a new manager going into a new role; getting to understand your environment.

“Bringing in someone who already has that knowledge is obviously better than somebody who is just turning up for the first time.”

Amid the fallout from Rodgers’ departure, Hearts are the side charged with adding to the sense of shock among the Celtic faithful by claiming a victory at Tynecastle on Wednesday and halting an impressive nine-game domestic winning run for the visitors.

(Pic: BT Sport)

However, Levein – who confirmed that Demi Mitchell has been ruled out for the remainder of the season due to a knee injury – fully expects the Glasgow giants to remain a formidable foe.

He added: “I can’t see them changing much. They play in a certain way, a style of football that is recognised as Brendan’s way of playing.

“They are on a good run just now so their momentum and belief is quite high at the moment. Their confidence will be high and we are preparing to play against a really good Celtic side. We need to be at our best and keep our foot to the floor as long as we possibly can.

“They’ve got good players and they’ve got a way of playing so I don’t see anything changing. Brendan’s signed players over the last three years to play in a certain manner. So I think they will do the same thing.”

 
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