Brendan Rodgers: Windsor Park game was special night for me

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers on the pitch before kick-off at Windsor Park.
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers on the pitch before kick-off at Windsor Park.
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Brendan Rodgers admits his professional return to Northern Ireland was stained by the scenes at Windsor Park which have left both Linfield and Celtic facing Uefa disciplinary proceedings.

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But the Celtic manager insists his personal determination to help project a more positive image of his homeland will not be diminished by the fall-out from the first leg of the Champions League qualifier in Belfast.

Rodgers will send his players out at Celtic Park tonight to finish off a job which was started competently enough on the pitch last Friday with a 2-0 victory.

It was understandably a source of some dismay for the County Antrim native that the evening was overshadowed by missile-throwing from among the Linfield fans in a fixture which he accepts would always have an element of security risks attached to it, regardless of the progress made in Northern Ireland society.

“Socially it’s difficult, because it has that tag,” said Rodgers. “It will be easier for other teams [to play there] of course, but the history around Northern Ireland and Celtic sets it apart. There will always be an edge to it.

“It would have been nice to have had the stadium full, had the Celtic supporters in there and had a passionate game of football. Hopefully, one day that will happen, but there will always be a minority, I’m sure.

“I thoroughly enjoyed it last week, from going over, landing at the airport and being seven or eight minutes from our hotel.

“Windsor Park was a ground which , when I grew up, I wanted to be there more. I was there once as a young man.

“I’ve been very fortunate in my managerial career to manage at the Bernabeu, the Nou Camp, Anfield and Old Trafford and Wembley and all these great places but Windsor Park was somewhere I’d never managed. So, to have done that and walked out with a team there was a real special night, even though it was half full. Going back home is always special.

“I enjoyed it. The bit at the end taints it, of course, but I tend not to focus on that. There was a lot of goodwill around our trip there and I don’t really want to go back into what is dark-age stuff really for Northern Ireland.

“The idea is to look forward. My job has always been to represent Northern Ireland. I’m very proud to be from Northern Ireland and I always want to have that positivity around the country.”

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Rodgers will look to his players to deliver an improved level of performance tonight against a Linfield side who earned credit for restricting the Scottish champions to just those two first-half goals from Scott Sinclair and Tom Rogic five days ago.

“It was difficult for Linfield,” added Rodgers. “They were having to keep the scoreline down. It’s not just them, we’ve had that here in the league in Scotland as well, where (only losing) 2-0 is the new win.

“So, Linfield are not out there on their own in how they played against us. David Healy set his team out well. Sometimes you can save your side from a beating, and the psychological side of losing a lot of goals. But the way he organised them and had them set up, they kept the lines tight and their goalkeeper was in top form.

“They did very well, but, for us, it’s a case of going out and getting the job done. We were able to do that on Friday. The players gained fitness and there was some good moments in our game.

“The second leg should be a great occasion, the first competitive game of the season back at Celtic Park. Hopefully, there will be a good crowd there, sold out. The team’s getting fitter as we got along so I see us getting better each day.

“It’s a new pitch with good speed on the playing surface. It should be, hopefully, a good night for us, getting through is the aim.”

Rodgers has confirmed that Emilio Izaguirre could be on the verge of leaving Celtic, with Saudi Arabian side Al-Faiha interested in the Honduran left-back who has lost his place in the side to Kieran Tierney.

“There is an offer for Emilio which is with him and his agent,” said Rodgers. “It’s something to consider. We have other options [at left-back] if he was to go. It’s just a case of whether it’s the right time for that.”

Rodgers says there is “nothing to report as yet” over a potential move for former Spurs and England defender Steven Caulker following his recent contact with the player who spent a season with him on loan at Swansea City six years ago.

There could be a Celtic debut tonight for Rodgers’ most recent signing, French midfielder Olivier Ntcham, after the £4.5 million capture from Manchester City impressed during Saturday’s friendly against Lyon.

“He’ll be in the squad,” said Rodgers. “He had a nice little run out on Saturday which excited us with his quality and the way he moves. He’s a wonderful player.”

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