Luis Suarez is a ‘beautiful man’ says Celtic manager

Luis Suarez, Neymar and Lionel Messi chat during training ahead of the Champions League Group C match against Celtic.  Picture: David Ramos/Getty Images

Luis Suarez, Neymar and Lionel Messi chat during training ahead of the Champions League Group C match against Celtic. Picture: David Ramos/Getty Images

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There will be broad smiles, firm handshakes and probably even a warm embrace when Brendan Rodgers greets Luis Suarez before kick-off at the Nou Camp tonight.

But the Celtic manager knows that getting to grips with the brilliant striker once the action gets under way will be the biggest challenge his players face in their Champions League Group C opener.

Rodgers and Suarez form a mutual admiration society, the Uruguayan describing his former Liverpool boss as the most influential coach of his career. For his part, Rodgers positively gushes about Suarez, even labelling him “one of the most beautiful men you can come across” during his pre-match media duties last night.

While that may raise eyebrows among those who would take a less forgiving view of the more unsavoury episodes which have blotted the 29-year-old’s CV, the glowing assessment of his ability as a player is impossible to dispute.

Rodgers regards him as the best striker in the world right now, an opinion backed up by the remarkable record of 88 goals and 43 assists Suarez has racked up his first 100 games for Barcelona since his 
£75 million move from Liverpool two years ago.

In a fixture which has become familiar to Celtic – this is their sixth visit to the Nou Camp in the last 14 years and their third in the last five seasons – Suarez provides a fresh and exceptionally dangerous dimension to their task.

For Rodgers, having a greater appreciation than most of what makes Suarez tick is not necessarily an advantage in developing a strategy to subdue him.

“When Luis Suarez played for me at Liverpool, he occupied four defenders on his own,” reflected the Celtic boss. “Honestly, he could take care of four.

“So when you add Neymar to that and then possibly the best player ever in Lionel Messi, it’s a big game for us!

“Does it help to know Luis so well? It does and it doesn’t. I know his tricks, I know his moves, I know everything. But you can’t play the game for your players when he is on there, that’s the problem.

“But you can give as much insight and preparation as you possibly can and then hope you get a bit of luck along the way, stay calm when you have to and really enjoy the occasion.

“I give information more to help us. I’m not a coach who stands for an hour glorifying the opposition team and then your players walk out thinking ‘Christ almighty’.

“I’m a coach who focuses on us and what we do. But you have to respect the opponent and look for the small details, how you might set up, little movements Messi will make, how Luis will take you for a walk and spin in behind, how he’ll run across the first post, he’ll bump you, he’ll nutmeg you. That’s what you try to do.

“Luis is the best striker in the world right now. I don’t think there is any question about that. You have to speak about the man first. He is one of the most beautiful men you can come across. A very humble guy who works tirelessly at his profession.

“He is a family man who gives everything to football after his family. I had the pleasure of working with him as a human being for two years and he was incredible.

“As a player, the biggest compliment you can give Luis is that he came to a world-class team and made them better. Barcelona would not be the same team without him.

“We respect that this is arguably the best team in the world with a front three who are maybe one of the best of all time.”

Rodgers sets great store on improving the psychological make-up of his players, constantly reminding them the adopt a fearless approach to their work. But he accepts that a little nervousness in his camp tonight is inevitable.

“There is always going to be apprehension,” he said. “There is always going to be that little feel around a game here. If you are Kieran Tierney, for example, he’s just 19 years of age so it’s only natural.

“He’s a kid from Motherwell who is suddenly playing at the Nou Camp, after the biggest result of his life against Rangers on Saturday. Now he’s up against Messi. He can’t believe it.

“We’re only human beings and I’m not a brain surgeon. I just try to give the players confidence. I’ve worked with one of the players deemed as one of the best in the world, so I know how players at that level think. Hopefully I can help my players at Celtic find that in their own minds.

“But win, lose or draw here, when we get back home this week, we’re a better team. That’s the beauty of this.

“That’s why you do your work to qualify to get in here. The more exposure you can have to these sort of games, the better player you become, the better it is for your club team, your country.

“The more games you have at it and the more good players you face, it makes you better. It drip feeds confidence into your game, you learn things that you can put into your game. Then you can put it in to become better. That’s what this level does.

“Especially where you are coming from where we are coming from as a club in the last few years. If anyone had said four months ago that we would be playing in the Champions League, we would have bitten their hand off. So for us and the young and senior players alike this is a great experience. You always want it to be a positive experience so that’s my approach to it.”

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