Champions League is priceless for Celtic’s development

Manager Brendan Rodgers in relaxed mood as Celtic train at Lennoxtown before heading south for their Champions League tie at Manchester City.
Manager Brendan Rodgers in relaxed mood as Celtic train at Lennoxtown before heading south for their Champions League tie at Manchester City.
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By the time Uefa get round to settling the invoices from this season’s Champions League, Celtic can expect to collect in the region of £30 million from their campaign which reaches its conclusion in Manchester tonight.

The final amount will be determined by the result of the Scottish champions’ final Group C fixture which, while a dead rubber in terms of the placings, carries a bounty of €1.5m (£1.26m) for a victory.

That startling sum for a single 90 minutes of action puts Celtic’s domestic earnings into sharp contrast, with winning the Scottish Premiership title over the whole season offering just £2.7 million in prize money. But, while manager Brendan Rodgers is keenly aware of the financial implications of his achievement in leading Celtic back into the Champions League group stage at his first attempt, he insists that the footballing benefits of facing Manchester City, Barcelona and Borussia Monchengladbach over the past four months have been simply priceless for his 
players.

“Of course, from the commercial side of things and building process at Celtic, the money is vital,” said Rodgers.

“But dovetail that alongside the football experience, because you only arrive in there when you have good players and for good players it’s all about experiences. For our boys this season that’s been invaluable.

“Take away the monetary side, it’s about learning in this environment and you can’t put a price on that. They’ll arrive on the back of Tuesday evening being better players in every aspect of the game and that’s only going to help us going forward.

“Everything you gain financially at this level is huge for the club. If you look at it in terms of the numbers, it’s frightening. You can sometimes take it for granted what every club in the English Premier League gets in money.

“But I think the TV rights for Scottish football is around £2 million, which is incredible. When you compare that to the €1.5m for a win here, then it’s massive. It’s absolutely 
massive money.

“But we fight for more than the money. We fight for pride, we fight for the development of the team and we fight for the supporters, so they can be proud of their team. Everything else is a consequence 
of that.”

Even in a campaign which began with a club record 7-0 defeat to Barcelona in the Nou Camp, Rodgers has understandably been afforded plenty of understanding of the degree of difficulty his burgeoning side have faced against opponents from the leading three leagues in European football.

Celtic will finish bottom of the group, regardless of tonight’s result, and the target for Rodgers now is to return to the tournament next season and ensure his squad can challenge more credibly for progress into the knockout stages.

“Yeah, but that’s not to ridicule what the players have done this season,” he added. “Listen, you have to be realistic. You don’t just sit down and write a report on the game without looking at the bigger picture.

“Financially, our boys shouldn’t even be in the same league as the group they’ve been in. Even Monchengladbach, you’re talking a budget of £110m. That’s then dwarfed by Manchester City and Barcelona, you know.

“So I think about how our guys are competing and that’s what we want, to be competitive Importantly, too, we want to do it in a way in which we can impose a style. The building blocks this year was to qualify which was great for the club.

“It’s been a great experience for everyone involved to be back in the competition again. Can we build on that going forward? Hopefully next season, all being well, we’re in with a chance of qualification going into the final group game. That would be another step forward for us.”

Rodgers regards the 3-3 draw with tonight’s opponents City at Celtic Park in September as the night they proved to him they are capable of matching the ambitions he has for them among Europe’s elite.

“What was great about that game was that they showed a level they can get to,” he said. “That was important.

“It was about giving the players that psychological belief that, if you stand off good players like City have, then they will murder you. For me it was about trying to give them that mental edge from the first day I came in. You can compete at this level. These are great players we are facing, they are fantastic players, but they are human as well. Of all the big players I have worked with, the most difficult game you will have is when someone is right up against you.

“So that game, in particular, was a big stepping stone for us in terms of confidence. Not only that, but the performance level was there. It wasn’t just sitting in, suffering, waiting on the game. It was attack and defending with real aggression.

“It was nice for the players to feel that and I’m sure it gave them the confidence and belief in what we are trying to do as a group.”

Rodgers returns to a Premier League technical area tonight for the first time since he was sacked by 
Liverpool 14 months ago. Inevitably, he found himself being quizzed by English journalists about the timing of a possible return south of the border.

“Listen, I’m as happy as I’ve ever been in my life,” he said. “I’m very content. I’m living the dream at a club I love, working with great people who are giving me all the support I could possible ask for to build the club and take it forward.

“But when you’ve worked in the Premier League there is always that speculation ‘when will you come back?’ For me, my only focus is on Celtic, and myself and my staff are absolutely loving it.”