Contrast from Emirates to Inverness doesn’t faze Celtic boss

New Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers realises he will face a different challenge. Picture: SNS

New Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers realises he will face a different challenge. Picture: SNS

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When he sits at the front of the Celtic team bus as it draws up at certain venues next season, Brendan Rodgers may have cause to reflect on the sharp contrasts between his new working environment and the one he has opted to leave behind.

Some of his away days in Scottish football will be a far cry from the glamorous settings provided by the English Premier League where Rodgers enjoyed a high profile with both Swansea City and 
Liverpool.

But despite having operated in the rarefied surroundings of the world’s richest league, the new Celtic manager insists he would never look down his nose at the more prosaic settings he is about to encounter.

“I’ve thought about that already,” said Rodgers with a smile. “About the difference between going to the Emirates Stadium on a midweek night or going to Inverness!

“It’s all football, though. I’m from a council estate in Northern Ireland, so I’m not a snob about football.

“Football is football – you represent your team and you go anywhere with them, whether it’s up the road or into Europe.

“I’m looking forward to this job. It’s different. I’ve had five years in the Premier League and that’s great.

“But I’m 43 and if I’ve to have another 20 years of management in me, then I was never always going to be in the Premier League and would never want that.

“I’m here now at a club I love, a team I want to do well with and also one that I have an affinity with. That’s what excites me.”

The first and potentially most significant challenge of Rodgers’ tenure already looms large with the first leg of Celtic’s opening Champions League qualifier just eight weeks away.

Succeeding where Ronny Deila failed in the previous two years by taking Celtic back into the group stage of the tournament will be regarded as the litmus test of whether the new man can live up to the almost messianic welcome he received at his formal unveiling on Monday. Rodgers’ European record at Liverpool was chequered at best, winning just nine and losing seven of his 22 ties. In his only Champions League campaign, the Anfield club finished third in their group and failed to reach the knockout stages.

He has already closely analysed Celtic’s most recent bid to qualify, poring over footage of last year’s 4-3 aggregate defeat by Malmö in the play-off round.

“They fell short on a couple of set-pieces,” he said. “That’s what stopped them going through.I’ll need to assess things and I’ll need to look. There are some good players here and some young talents.

“I can look and identify all I want from a distance. You always have an idea of how to change things and there are one or two players I’ll want to bring in, but I want to look and speak to the players who are here. Hopefully then the ideas will be empowered by them.

“This is a club that expects to win titles and be competitive in Europe. The measure will be on both and that’s what I’m driven to achieve.

“Since I was appointed, I’ve looked at every single goal Celtic scored and conceded last season. I know where there are areas we can improve on and gain. That’s important for us.”

While Rodgers’ personal affection for Celtic is clearly genuine, his primary motivation in taking the job was sourced in pragmatism.

“When I am 70 years of age and I go into a shop to get a loaf of bread, I will not be given it on loyalty,” he added.

“I have got to earn the money to buy it. So it wasn’t going to be purely on emotion coming here, it was going to be about a professional move. Clearly Celtic is a club I love, a wonderful club and family but I was coming in here to speak to people about whether I could be a professional who could really help the club. So I was quite open-minded. There was no pressure either way. I was interested to hear about Celtic.

“When I used to see the stadium here when I was younger, it was full. One of the times I came here they were building the new stands but I remember European nights when 
Martin O’Neill was here as manager with 60,000 in attendance.

“This is a club that has that support – and more. So when I hear and see that the top end of the Lisbon Lions Stand had been shut down for the last couple of years because it wasn’t getting filled, then that gave me a big motivation to get people in there to watch the team play football.

“Maybe the competition hasn’t been there but I’ve come here believing this is an incredible club and I’m really looking forward to working in the league.

“Of course, it’s different – there are more glamorous surroundings to go and work in.

“But I have a real passion to do well here. There are well respected clubs here and if I’ve come in and given things a lift, then so be it.

“I’d hope my best years are still to come as a manager. Maybe the difference with me is that I was coaching for 15 years before I got my first job. Whenever I finished playing, I got into coaching very young.

“There’s no doubt you gain through experience. There’s no way that I know everything – I’ll be getting better and better.

“My mindset is to grow and to learn and if you can do that then you become better and I hope that’s the case here.”

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