Celtic’s secret weapon for tough trip to Kazakhstan

Head of performance Glen Driscoll, left, with Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers. It is Driscolls job to make sure the journey, time difference and any other factors dont affect the teams chances in Kazakhstan. Picture: SNS
Head of performance Glen Driscoll, left, with Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers. It is Driscolls job to make sure the journey, time difference and any other factors dont affect the teams chances in Kazakhstan. Picture: SNS
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His name won’t appear on the team sheet in Astana next week and, as yet, it probably remains less than familiar to most Celtic supporters.

But in the eyes of the Celtic management team, Glen Driscoll is the man who could hold the key to building a platform for further progress in the Champions League as they prepare for their arduous trip to Kazakhstan.

One of Brendan Rodgers’ first moves when he took charge of Celtic this summer was to secure the appointment of 41-year-old Driscoll as head of performance for the Scottish champions.

It is a role Driscoll has previously filled at Chelsea, Swansea and Liverpool where his work in ensuring players were in peak physical condition in any circumstances or environment was highly valued.

With Celtic now facing a 6,000-mile round trip to Kazakhstan for next Wednesday’s third qualifying round, first leg tie against Astana – a six-hour flight each way with a five-hour time difference for a match played on a synthetic pitch in hot and humid conditions – Driscoll’s expertise will come into its own.

“Glen is brilliant at this kind of thing,” said Celtic assistant manager Chris Davies, pictured right, who also previously worked with him under Rodgers at Liverpool and Swansea. “He has got a lot of experience from Chelsea and Liverpool in the Champions League and the travel. This is his speciality. He is fantastic at this – planning the travel, planning the time zone so that the players are in the optimum physical condition to perform. He is very good at it.

“Everything is taken care of in terms of the diet, the time difference, the pattern of the day, to make sure the players are ready to perform in that moment.

“You can tailor stuff like that when you travel in terms of what time zone you are on and it can help the players adapt. You can make sure the physical conditions are right. The pitch is an astroturf pitch but we train on it the night before and get a feel for it. Any little one per cent that we can affect that will help us, we will do that.

“We are trying to create an environment where there are no excuses and, in fairness, the players are good with that.

“We know about the travel, the pitch and everything else but we are trying to focus on the positives and how excited we are to be there. We know we can do a job there.”

While Celtic were beating Lincoln Red Imps 3-0 at Parkhead to overturn their 1-0 first-leg deficit against the Gibraltar part-timers in the second qualifying round on Wednesday night, Astana needed a stoppage-time goal to edge past Zalgiris Vilnius of Lithuania 2-1.

The match at the Astana Arena was attended by Celtic scout John McGlynn, the former Hearts and Raith Rovers manager, and Davies already anticipates a tough assignment.

“It is going to be a test,” he said. “Last season, Astana got points off Benfica, Galatasaray and Atletico Madrid in the Champions League group stage, all at home. They were also unbeaten at home in the qualifying rounds.

“We know we have to be ready to do a job over there. We have watched a little bit of them alread y, we were doing work on both them and Zalgiris Vilnius leading up to the second leg.

“Now it really focuses on Astana, obviously, and we pride ourselves on the organisation and detail we put in when it comes to working on opponents and game plans. We will know everything about them by next week.”

Celtic also hope to have at least one new face in their squad for the tie, with their priority target a new central defender.

Following last night’s initial 11pm Uefa deadline for eligibility for the third qualifying round, there is a further cut-off point on Tuesday night for a ‘wild card’ signing.

“We know the areas we need to improve on and we have identified targets,” said Davies. “It would be a big boost for us if we can get people in who are going to make the difference.

“But the most important thing is that it’s the right player, rather than rushing in and doing something hasty that maybe isn’t right.

“We are all aware it could give us a boost with important games coming up and we are hopeful something can be done.

“There are timing issues, it is being worked on and we have the wild card option which is a buffer for us as well.

“It is only natural to know that option is there if there is business to be done. We are aware of it.”