Brendan Rodgers’ priorities are clear for Celtic

He does it his way: Brendan Rodgers says hell set his own standards and let the other Scottish clubs take care of themselves. Photograph: Craig Foy/SNS
He does it his way: Brendan Rodgers says hell set his own standards and let the other Scottish clubs take care of themselves. Photograph: Craig Foy/SNS
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Barring a collapse unseen in the 62-year history of European competition, Celtic will rubberstamp their £30m-earning place in the Champions League group stages on Tuesday in Astana following their midweek 5-0 blitz.

Celtic banking this bounty for a second successive year has sharpened the minds of many to the reality that, barring a financial collapse unseen in domestic competition, the six-in-a-row title winners will be without peer in Scotland for many years to come.

Only a handful of clubs in the country will care much about that. Celtic are untouchable for most without European prize money ever entering the equation.

So all the Parkhead club’s Champions League exploits mean is a £375,000 solidarity payment – with a £4m pot shared between the 11 teams in the top flight – co-efficient points that will stop Scotland nosediving in the UEFA rankings, and a modicum of credibility for the set-up in which they struggle to lay a glove on Brendan Rodgers’ side.

The Irishman’s attitude to fears that Celtic’s financial clout is disfiguring the Scottish game and leaving the club without the prospect of a league rival in perpetuity is pretty much what you would expect it to be. Rodgers’ management expertise is allowing a club that, admirably, only spends what it generates, to reach a level its infrastructure determines ought to be well within its grasp.

“I don’t think anyone’s to blame for that,” he said when asked to reflect on Celtic’s Champions League enrichment being portrayed as bad for the Scottish game. “If we qualify, it means we’ve earned the right to be there. I can’t be looking in my slipstream wondering where everyone is. If I’m in a race, I’m never looking back, I’m only looking forwards.

“The other teams had the opportunity to play European football, it wasn’t just us. So if they had progressed then that would have improved their pot of money. I tend not to worry so much; I tend to worry about Celtic. I want to represent Celtic the best I can but I want Scotland to feel pride that they have a team in there competing and trying their best with football that is productive for Scotland.

“The reality is that if we get £30m or £40m from Champions League I won’t be getting £30m to spend on players or a player. What it does do is allow us as a club to keep making steps forward.”

Rodgers accepts, as an “obligation”, a need to present Scottish football in the best possible light, which they did with a BT Sport-screened encounter on a night when they were the sole British representative in the competition.

He said: “Obviously our duty is for Celtic first and foremost – but we want to improve the country’s standing and you do that in terms of how you perform. You look at Rosenborg’s result in midweek – they won 1-0 at Ajax – and we got out there against Astana and really dominated. This was against the same group of players that had done well against Atletico Madrid and Benfica.

“So for us to have the ball possession and get the win, it’s a representation of Scotland which is very important because we want to gain that respect.

“I’ve been asked the question ‘Do we need other teams to do well?’ – but you worry about yourself and set our own standards. It’s a relentless drive to be the best that you can be. It doesn’t matter what other teams are doing.”

Celtic’s relentless drive in this summer’s qualifiers provides yet one more calling card for treble-winner Rodgers. In keeping five clean sheets and sticking five past Astana in the play-off home leg four days ago his team have exceeded their manager’s predictions. Six months ago he was asked whether the development of his squad in that period would mean that progressing to the Champions League second time around would prove less harum scarum than last summer. Oh no, he offered ruefully, it would be harum scarum once again, not least because of the hideously early scheduling.

The most impressive aspect of Celtic’s five qualifiers in the past month, then, is that there have been delicate moments but no desperate moments – as there was home and away to Hapoel Beer-sheva, Astana and in the Gibraltar loss to Lincoln Red Imps a year ago.

Astana outplayed Celtic for a spell leading up to the 30th minute opener, and for much of the Celtic Park opening leg Rosenborg appeared to have Rodgers’ men just where they wanted them. Never, though, has there been any real sense that Celtic might fall short of producing what was required of them to reach the Champions League for the fourth time in the past six years.

“It’s certainly not been like last year. There is always anxiety and stress around it – and we have yet to complete it – but getting through Tuesday will be satisfying because we have performed well. I said in Dubai at the turn of the year that if we are going to improve we have to improve our game in 2017 and that starts with defending and pressing. If you can defend well then you will create more chances. Our cohesion and our defending is strong and that allows us to attack and build a good base.

“So we can go and accept the challenge of a Rosenborg or an Astana and play football – not just go and suffer and wait for a last-minute winner. We can go and dominate, be aggressive and defend forward and then play football. To do that you have to have courage and nerve and understanding of what it is you’re doing.”

Despite their unassailable lead, Rodgers will demand that his team pitch for a gold standard in what appears a dead rubber in the Kazakhstan capital. He baulks at the notion that he might spare players the 14-hour round trip to Asia.

Complacency is a disease, he was told by Alex Ferguson at a charity function this week, and he intends to avoid his team being infected in a tie they simply cannot lose. Not when it hasn’t happened in 62 years.

Rodgers said: “We prepare the game to the same detail as last week. We had [first-team scout] John McGlynn out there to watch two games – his body clock was all over the place. But we did our work, and it’ll be the same this time. We plan to win. That’s our way of working.

“The score is 0-0. What we’ve tried to create here is that complacency is your disease. Whoever plays, we go to win. We don’t have to, but we want to.

“We want to fight for the result and complete the job and if we do that on Tuesday it’ll be a remarkable achievement in terms of the pressures on them this season and the absence of really decisive players. But we’ll get the job done and then hopefully enjoy the draw.” Even if others in the country might not.