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Rodgers reeling as Greek tragedy hits future hopes

European success only way Celtic boss can win return to big time


Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers. Photo: Reuters
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers. Photo: Reuters

Just three months have passed since Celtic completed an unprecedented double-treble with a Scottish Cup final victory over Motherwell.

All was well in the world of Brendan Rodgers. For the second successive season, his team had collected all of the major trophies available to them on their own patch. He spoke of pushing his side “even harder”.

Significantly, back-to-back qualification for the Champions League group stages had delivered record revenues.

The reported figure for 2016/’17 was £90.6m – a 74.2pc increase on the previous campaign when former boss Ronny Deila fell at the final hurdle and wound up in the Europa League.

That provided an insight into the importance of competing with the big boys.

Devastating

And that’s why Tuesday night’s defeat in Greece is a devastating blow for Rodgers and Celtic.

It follows on from a fraught month, during which his language has raised concerns over his future intentions.

The Northern Ireland-born manager voiced frustrations about transfer spending that are a common complaint from Hoops fans, who believe their board have lacked ambition when it comes to digging into their pockets, even though the club is profitable.

Celtic did spend £9m (€10m) to bring in striker Odsonne Edouard from PSG. However, it wasn’t all one-way traffic and they made in the region of £8m (€9m) from selling Stuart Armstrong (Southampton) and Erik Sviatchenko (Midtjylland).

They lost out to Aston Villa in the race for £2.75m (€3.1m) Hibernian man John McGinn.

In a summer when Premier League newcomers Fulham splashed out £100m (€112m), Celtic are bargain-basement shoppers by comparison – a far cry from heady days under Martin O’Neill when they were an attractive option for players who were doing well in England.

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Ironically, it was the rejection of a bid from Fulham for defender Dedryck Boyata that led to the Belgian throwing a strop and he was absent from Greece.

“I just wanted quality,” said Rodgers (below) last week, with some frank and open comments about his dissatisfaction. “We weren’t needing a huge overhaul here this summer.

“If there is a business side to it, I understand that, but I operate in football and I want footballers in.

“You have to do that when you are in a strong position, and I am not sure the club has been in a stronger position this summer than what they have been for quite some time.”

Unsurprisingly, the comments drew quite a reaction.

In the aftermath of their surprise defeat to Hearts last Saturday, Rodgers stressed that he had no intention of walking away.

“I’ve got three years left on my contract here and I love every day of my life at Celtic,” he said.

He is revered at Celtic – they are better to watch than they were under Deila, although defensive failings have attracted criticism – and it would be a stretch to say that he should be thinking of walking.

Celtic remains an attractive job and let’s face it, winning on a good wage must be fairly enjoyable.

Steven Gerrard’s arrival at Rangers has added intrigue but Celtic should still have the muscle to swat their arch rivals aside this term.

The opportunity to deflate the excitement levels around his old captain must be an attractive prospect for the Antrim man too.

However, European regression might just be confirming the reality that there’s a ceiling of what he can achieve within the current structure and he may have reached it.

Reduced

The Scottish champions now have to go through four rounds to make the Champions League proper, a consequence of changes that have reduced the number of places available to the underdogs – the big fish in small ponds that come back year on year.

Dundalk’s old pals BATE Borisov are one win away from the jackpot again.

Celtic now have to contest a play-off tie to make the Europa League group stages and that’s a comedown from their definition of glamour.

Chris Sutton said the club had spent £2m on disco lights to aid the European match-night experience; they would be ill-fitting for the visit of a Qarabag or Ludogorets.

The Scots know this cycle. Better players will naturally start to wonder about the riches available elsewhere.

Boyata’s head has already been turned. Talented youngster Moussa Dembele, an inspired £500,000 buy from Fulham, will inevitably go south at some point.

The Premier League monster is a magnet for the elite. No doubt, Rodgers would fancy a return one day. But where does the ex-Liverpool boss go from here?

His work at Anfield is under-rated, yet it’s hard to see one of the top six making a play for his services – although his name was floated in the Arsene Wenger succession race.

Put simply, Rodgers would need to do extraordinary things in Europe with Celtic to enter the frame for top-bracket jobs and that’s why his own longer-term prospects are effectively tied up with the club’s direction.

Without the investment required to give them a stronger chance of booking a Champions League place, Rodgers cannot show what he is capable of achieving in that company.

They performed creditably 12 months ago, but have failed to build on it and the consequence is strain in a relationship that initially appeared to be a match made in heaven.

Remarkably enough, the Athens loss added to the Hearts game last weekend meant that Celtic had lost consecutive matches for the first time since February 2016. It will take them a while to get over it.

Irish Independent

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