Brendan Rodgers & Mark Warburton: New rivalry forged in old partnership
For seven months, Brendan Rodgers and Mark Warburton forged an alliance.
Their work together, mostly at Watford's London Colney training ground, was based on shared views on how football should be played.
When Rodgers left Chelsea's youth set-up to become Watford manager in November 2008, Warburton was already academy manager at the club. The working environment was collegiate and open, leading to relationships that have endured.
Now, Rangers boss Warburton and new Celtic manager Rodgers are preparing to be drawn together by a different dynamic: the Old Firm rivalry and a Scottish Premiership season in which promoted Rangers will be striving to challenge champions Celtic for the title.
Tactics and philosophy
There is no mistaking teams coached by Rodgers and Warburton. Details can change but the foundation is possession, circulating the ball while working space for attacks based on wide players coming infield to play between the lines and support a central striker.
It is contemporary football, well organised and well coached, with trigger points during build-up play that inform the movement of players in the final third. The two men come from different backgrounds, but there was a meeting of minds when they worked together.
"The format of the play is similar, definitely on the tactical side," said Sean Dyche, the Burnley manager who was a youth coach at Watford and a contemporary of both.
"Brendan came in and put his own mark on what he wanted Watford to do. But he was quite flexible because of the quality of the player against what he'd had previously at Chelsea and he did play a more mixed style.
"Since he's gone on to Swansea and Liverpool particularly, he's mainly trying to build on possession-based games. We had loads of open discussions and they are ongoing."
Rodgers' tactical flexibility was evident at Anfield, as he switched formations - often during games - to maximise the work of Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez.
Warburton has been less pragmatic, although he may have to consider tweaking his 4-3-3 to accommodate Jordan Rossiter, an accomplished ball-winner and reader of the game, and Joey Barton, who also tends to sit deep.
Rangers also found their tactics picked apart last season by St Johnstone, whose manager Tommy Wright devised a strategy that took advantage of the space behind the attacking full-backs in a League Cup win at Ibrox.
|Scottish Premiership dates - fixtures are subject to change|
|10 Sept: Celtic v Rangers||11 March: Celtic v Rangers|
|31 Dec: Rangers v Celtic||Post-split meeting?|
"Warbo has spoken openly of his idea of if it's not quite working, do it better, which suggests that he'd stick mainly to his beliefs on how the team should play," Dyche said.
"Brendan has shown that he is willing to change shape, but I don't think he'll go far away from a possession-based game.
"For Rangers it's a different challenge from last season when everybody knew how strong they were going to be and they proved that on a weekly basis.
"It's a higher level of football now - can they take that strength and consistency into the higher level and do they need to change things?
"It's quite clear from Warbo's signings that he's felt there's a need for experience. That's one thing he's been pragmatic with; he's maybe looked and thought: high level of football, a bigger demand in handling the occasions and delivering performances."
Rodgers and Warburton both felt a calling towards coaching, although at different stages of their lives. The impetus was the same since neither achieved their ambitions of a top-flight playing career.
Injuries played a part in halting their progress, and Rodgers moved immediately into youth coaching. Warburton spent several years working as a city trader but decided to devote himself to football again when he found himself sketching out passing drills for an under-13 team rather than focusing on a major currency trade.
|Brendan Rodgers||Mark Warburton|
|Played for: Ballymena United, Reading, Newport, Witney, Newbury||Played for: Enfield, Boreham Wood|
|Managed: Watford, Reading, Swansea, Liverpool, Celtic||Managed: Brentford, Rangers|
|Dyche on Rodgers: "He is willing to change shape, but I don't think he'll go far away from a possession-based game."||Dyche on Warburton: "He'd stick mainly to his beliefs on how the team should play."|
Both owe some of their initial progress to relationships forged in the past - Steve Clarke recommended Rodgers as a potential youth coach to Jose Mourinho at Chelsea while Warburton's time at Brentford was enabled by his relationship with the owner, Matt Benham, who was also involved in the NextGen European youth tournament that Warburton helped to devise.
"Having seen them work, even though the thoughts on how they want to format a team may be similar, how they coach is different because they're different personalities," Dyche said.
"Both their lifestyles to where they are now will have formed them into what they are. Warbo has his business background and some of the processes he used there, how they cross over into football, and Brendan has more of a pure football background and has been coaching from a young age all the way through the system.
"They'll both put their stamp on their different groups. As people, they're different characters."
A good relationship
When Warburton was appointed Rangers manager last summer he received a message from Rodgers. They have spoken since the latter took over at Celtic in May. There is a deep mutual respect.
Warburton engaged in a few verbal jousts with former Hibernian head coach Alan Stubbs last season and Rodgers knows what it is to operate in the scrutiny of the top flight of English football.
Separating their relationship from the demands of this campaign will be a challenge in itself. There is unlikely, though, to be a spikiness in the way they deal with the rivalry and the pressure in their media appearances.
"There's a lot of respect as football people and as friends but I don't think there's that kind of intimate friendship between Warbo and Brendan," Dyche added.
"When the whistle blows, the competitive nature comes out and most people in football have a very high thirst and drive to win. When it's game time, they'll both be making sure their players are on top form to win a game.
"Away from that, even with the rivalry between the two clubs, there will be that respect between the two men."