Leicester have dropped into the Conference League and Brendan Rodgers has still never won a European knockout tie. He is in esteemed company.
Before identifying “a lot of naivety in our team,” Brendan Rodgers quite openly admitted to having no idea what the Conference League was on Thursday night. He might be advised to acquit himself quickly in a vague desperation to shed his reputation as a European novice.
Rodgers has never made it past a Champions League group stage in three attempts, losing 11 of his 18 games in the competition with Celtic and Liverpool, beating only Ludogorets with a last-minute penalty and a struggling Anderlecht side at the start of their current relative slump.
The Northern Irishman has at least qualified from three Europa League groups, but Rodgers fell at the first knockout hurdle each time. The highlight was when his Liverpool team were beaten by Zenit St Petersburg on aggregate in 2013, when a 2-0 defeat in the opening leg in Russia proved crucial. Rodgers praised “a near-on perfect away performance” because of course he did.
Excluding preliminary qualifying rounds, Rodgers has won 18 of his 57 games as a manager in Europe. Considering the standard of domestic success he has overseen in that time, it is a baffling underperformance that has only worsened at Leicester.
A coach of his league-winning calibre should not simultaneously possess a record of almost as many draws and defeats as wins in 34 Champions League games. Conte has been victorious 12 times in the competition, experiencing stalemates and losses on 11 occasions each. The Italian made it to the quarter-finals in his debut campaign but was swatted aside 4-0 on aggregate by Bayern Munich and has never advanced even as far since. Conte’s Premier League-winning Chelsea team succumbed with precious little resistance against Barcelona in 2018.
There was a Europa League final with Inter Milan in 2020 but even that ended in avoidable heartache against an inferior Sevilla, while Juventus made the 2014 semis and similarly slipped to Benfica. Even with Tottenham, for whom his only defeat came away at NS Mura last month, the 52-year-old is struggling to make his mark on the continent.
Perhaps there is something about Italian internationals turned serial domestic title winners that does not translate to triumph in Europe. Mancini has managed six different teams in the Champions League, Europe League and UEFA Cup and only made the semi-finals once. Both Manchester City group-stage expeditions at the top table ended in failure – one of which saw him fail to win a single game – while Inter reached consecutive quarter-finals in the mid-2000s but never any further under Mancini.
Not since taking Galatasaray to a last-16 meeting with Chelsea in 2014 has the 57-year-old been on the European Cup stage. All four of his Europa League appearances culminated in exits at the same point, while Lazio were at least guided to the UEFA Cup semi-finals in 2003 after winning precisely half of their games.
With a European Championship winner’s medal in his back pocket, it is a little curious that knockout success at club level seems to have escaped Mancini. “There is a problem in Europe. We are not quite used to the way the opposition play – and if you give the best players in Europe a sniff, they will take the chance. We are attacking teams and they are just breaking away and scoring,” said the man himself after bowing out again in 2012.
The sample size is far from substantial but four wins from 16 European games as a manager is an atrocious hit rate that stretched across two decades.
In the 1990s, Dalglish had one crack at the whip with Premier League runners-up Blackburn, suffering instant UEFA Cup defeat to Trelleborgs in the first round. Then there was Newcastle, who the Scot took over in January 1997 and led to a 4-0 humiliation against Monaco by March. The following season, Dalglish took the Magpies to third in an unforgiving Champions League group.
It took until 2010 for that next taste of continental football, as Liverpool had stumbled into the Europa League knockouts under Roy Hodgson. His sacking in January 2011 afforded Dalglish a chance, which he squandered in a laborious 1-0 aggregate win against Sparta Prague before a tedious last-16 departure by the same scoreline against Braga, even with Andy Carroll making his full debut in the second leg.
This could be the season everything changes. West Ham look brilliant and their place in the Europa League knockouts was secured long ago. But Moyes was no stranger to strolling through the groups with Everton before immediately and avoidably tripping.
The Toffees sides he constructed ought to have made it so much further than they did. Pierluigi Collina remains unwelcome at Goodison Park for his actions in 2005, but Everton responded by dropping into the UEFA Cup and losing in the first round to Dinamo Bucharest. By 2008 they made the round of 16 but lost on away goals to Fiorentina as one of the stronger sides in the competition. Standard Liege dumped Everton out in the first round of the subsequent season’s tournament that same year. Then on his final tour with the Toffees, Moyes navigated them through another Europa League group stage and into the path of Sporting Lisbon, who duly beat them 4-2 over two legs.
For a manager who constantly extracted performances and results far greater than the sum of the team’s parts domestically, Everton’s lack of productivity outside of the Premier League during that period was incredibly disappointing. The only European quarter-final Moyes has ever reached was with Manchester United in 2014, when they actually led their tie with Bayern Munich for 11 glorious minutes. The bar is set pretty low at West Ham, so bring on Barca.
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