Craig Gordon says getting axed has made him a better keeper

Celtic goalkeeper Craig Gordon prepares for Wednesday's Champions League clash against Barcelona. Picture: SNS
Celtic goalkeeper Craig Gordon prepares for Wednesday's Champions League clash against Barcelona. Picture: SNS
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The dress worn by Marilyn Monroe when she famously sung Happy Birthday to President John F Kennedy sold for in excess of £4m this week. Craig Gordon will surely consider the wisdom of the supposed ‘dumb blonde’ to be priceless.

Monroe is credited with modernising an Aristotle musing to come up with “everything happens for a reason”, which she did while contending that “things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they’re right... and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.”

That is how Celtic’s keeper feels right now. Gordon believes he is operating at a level he has never previously in his career – which looked like being destroyed when injuries left him in clubless limbo for two years from 2012.

No.1 at Celtic again, last week he was handed his first competitive start for Scotland in seven years. On Wednesday, the 33-year-old will face the ultimate test as Barcelona take to the Parkhead pitch in the Champions League.

Yet three months ago, all the good things in Gordon’s career seemed to be falling apart following two redemptive seasons at Celtic. Not considered the sweeper-keeper deemed a must by his new manager Brendan Rodgers, he was jettisoned for Dorus De Vries. His demotion appeared potentially permanent and cost him one of those ultimate occasions in club football – a Champions League night in the Nou Camp.

As it transpired, Gordon not only dodged a 7-0 drubbing then but was able to use his month on the sidelines for renewal and remodelling. Being dropped has allowed better things to fall together. “I think it had been coming for a while so perhaps a step back was what I needed,” Gordon said. “You don’t see that at the time, it was disappointing not to be in the team for four or five games, but it gave me the time to really focus on what was needed to play in this team.

“Since I’ve come back in it has been an awful lot better. The manager has been great with me the whole time since he took me out the team. The way he was with me while I was out and putting me back in, there has never been a problem there. He dealt with the situation really well. And now that I look back at it he has probably helped me not only in the short term, but the long term too.”

Gordon is willing to believe that Rodgers’ emphasis on distribution from his keepers – to ensure his team is composed of “11 players and not ten and a goalkeeper” the Irishman says – has made the former Hearts man “all-round probably better than I was before”.

“It was something I felt I did have within me but I had never been asked to do it,” he said. “The teams I played for had been fairly direct. At Hearts we had Mark de Vries up front as our targetman and at Sunderland it was Kenwyne Jones. I had never been asked to play any other way. Now I have, I realise the core skills were there for me to do it.

“There is undoubtedly much more emphasis on a goalkeeper using his feet. The areas that we hit, playing the ball out – whatever the system, the goalkeeper is now a focal point. Before you would put the ball down, play it into an area, everybody would crowd that area and you would play for a second ball. It wasn’t all that difficult. Now it’s more complicated. There are more things to think about but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting to grips with it and I hope I can continue to improve.”

Since he was brought back into the side, Gordon has completed 675 domestic minutes without losing a goal. In the Nou Camp thrashing he missed, Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar ensured Celtic shipped in one at the rate of every 13 minutes. If the fabled night in Glasgow’s east end four years ago, when teenager Tony Watt goal paved the way for them to secure a 2-1 victory, was the fantasy against the world’s most celebrated football club, the 7-0 in September was the nightmare.

A great game to miss for any goalkeeper, Gordon doesn’t see it that way. “I wished I was out there to help. There were some good goals going past Dorus but at the same time you wish it was you out there with the opportunity to try and stop them. Nothing other than wanting to help the team. I spoke to Dorus afterwards but there’s not a great deal you can say. I’ve lost seven myself when I was at Sunderland in a game against Everton. So I know that it doesn’t feel good.”

Gordon won’t trouble himself with the fact it could be him receiving a sympathetic pat on the back from De Vries in midweek. “We’ve nothing to fear, let’s give it a go. We’ll be ready for it. There’s not a great deal expected of us so we can play with a freedom and see if we can get something. As a keeper you just hope you have one of those nights where everything hits off you, rebounds bounce your way and you get a bit of luck. If that comes together, it gives you a chance.” Gordon has reason to believe in everything coming together.