Celtic first-team coach John Kennedy yesterday revealed that new manager Brendan Rodgers has already taken preparations “up a notch” as he plots a path to take the club to the group stages of the Champions League.
The first steps on that road will take the club to either Estonia or Gibraltar after the club were drawn against the winners of the first round qualifying tie between Flora Tallinn and Lincoln Red Imps for the second round qualifier with which the Rodgers era will begin on 12 or 13 July, with the home return leg following a week later.
Kennedy, after one day of pre-season, is in no doubt that the Irishman will have Celtic up to speed for a Champions League tilt that will require them to negotiate three rounds across six weeks to return to the coveted group stages after a two-year absence.
“First impressions are good,” the coach said of Rodgers. “Already, his preparation is second to none in terms of the detail. Even for a meeting or a training session, he’s taken things up a notch – to the minute detail. The colours of the cones and the poles have to be the same and the pitch has to look a certain way when we go out. Even down to session plans, there are red and green pens for different teams. But these are all standards and players will say, ‘I like this’. We are a top club and we need to have top standards. That’s the way he works and it’s great for everybody.
“At the early stage you don’t know a lot about the opposition, but the planning has started and we will get the teams covered and do our homework. We’ll be prepared and the important thing is to get the players fit and strong and with plenty game time going into the qualifiers.”
Estonians FC Flora – who have won only one European qualifier in 21 attempts – will be strongly fancied to take care of Gibraltar’s first-ever representatives in the competition. In that event, Celtic will follow Hearts to Estonia, with Robbie Neilson’s men heading there for the return leg of their Europa League first round qualifier against FC Infonet – also based in Tallinn – on 7 July.
Aberdeen, meanwhile, will be at home to CS Fola Esch of Luxembourg on that evening while yesterday’s draw in Nyon handed Scottish Cup winners Hibernian potentially the most daunting task in pairing them with either Valur Reykjavik or Danish side Brondby in the second qualifying round.
Should the Tynecastle men progress to that stage – for 14 July and 21 July ties – Birkirkara of Malta or NK Siroki Brijeg, the Bosnian team they beat in 2006, would provide their opposition. If Derek McInnes’s side suffer no mishaps against Fola Esch, they will take on Lithuanian side FK Ventspils or Vikingur from the Faroe Islands for the chance to reach the third qualifying phase – one round shy of the play-off stage that decides the group entrants.