Comparisons between Brendan Rodgers’ early work as Celtic manager and the job done in the previous two seasons at the club by Ronny Deila are inevitable.
In his immediate post-match assessment of his team’s laboured and nervy passage into the Champions League group stage on Tuesday night, Rodgers noted the fragile mentality of the squad he inherited.
Those scars left by their failures in the play-off round stage of the tournament in the past two years could clearly be interpreted as indirect criticism of Deila.
But in his later reflections on Celtic’s dramatic 5-4 aggregate win over Hapoel Beer-Sheva, Rodgers provided an unsolicited and warm appraisal of the Norwegian coach’s legacy at the Scottish champions.
“I will also say thank you to Ronny for this,” said Rodgers. “Because I wouldn’t have got the chance to qualify for the Champions League if he didn’t win the league last season.
“So amongst all the thank-yous I have to say, I want to say a particular thank you to Ronny and his staff. That gave me the chance to come into the club when he decided to move on and try and take the team forward.
“I have respect for other coaches and managers and all I know is there were some good players here when I took over. This is a huge job at Celtic, a very tough job with the expectations of the club and where the club wants to be.”
Celtic are now exactly where major shareholder Dermot Desmond and chief executive Peter Lawwell wanted them to be as an immediate dividend of their considerable close season investment in recruiting Rodgers.
In reaching today’s Champions League group stage draw, Rodgers has overseen a six-match qualifying campaign which contained some matches and moments every bit as unimpressive as some of the performances which brought so much flak Deila’s way.
But regardless of the embarrassing 1-0 defeat by Lincoln Red Imps in Gibraltar at the start of the journey, or the nerve-wracked and error-strewn display in losing 2-0 in Israel and almost blowing a 5-2 first leg lead, the bottom line is that Rodgers has found a way to get there which so painfully eluded Deila.
“They are good players here and they needed help in order to achieve what they wanted to achieve,” added Rodgers.
“They have made huge strides, but there will still be a way to go before they will be where I want them to be.
“Tuesday night showed all the work they have been doing, the long hours, all the tactical work, all the psychological work in terms of getting that resistance to anything thrown at you. You get your rewards on the field and that’s where we want to see them.
“With the riches now in football it’s very, very difficult for Celtic at Champions League level. We haven’t spent nearly anything at all on the squad since we came in.
“But we needed certain types of personalities in here and to add them to the boys here. It’s just to give them a different way of thinking and working and they have responded magnificently. It’s a pleasure to work with them and it’s hopefully only the start for them.”
Having signed Moussa Dembele, Kolo Toure, Scott Sinclair and Dorus de Vries so far, Rodgers will look to claim his share of Celtic’s Champions League windfall to make further additions before next week’s transfer deadline.
“There is a bit of work still to do there,” he said. “We’d obviously spoken about if qualification happens, what it is we need, but the most important thing for Celtic is that it keeps improving what we have and keeping that momentum.
“Our club has built great momentum in a short period of time and we have to keep moving forward.
“That’ll mean bringing players in who will improve us, but we have done an awful lot of great work already in this market. There is a bit of time to do some more and we’ll take some time over the next days to reflect on that and, hopefully, make some improvements.”