Their 2-1 defeat at home to Bayern Munich may have formally ended their interest in this season’s tournament but there was a Caledonian consolation in their performance which Brendan Rodgers believes holds enormous promise for both Celtic and Scotland.
There were no fewer than six Scots in Rodgers’ starting line-up – Craig Gordon, Scott Brown, Kieran Tierney, Stuart Armstrong, Callum McGregor and James Forrest. In contrast, Bayern named just three Germans in their side while the other Group B fixture saw both Paris Saint-Germain and Anderlecht each include just four native players.
As pleasing as it is to see the Scottish champions utilise so many players from their own nation, it was the quality rather than the quantity of those he selected which gave Rodgers so much satisfaction.
It was an evening on which Forrest and McGregor, who combined brilliantly for Celtic’s goal, shone brightest against the Bundesliga giants while Armstrong and Tierney also illustrated their ability to compete and contribute at the highest level.
“You take a lot of pride from the performance of those boys on that stage,” reflected Rodgers. “In the last two group stages of the Champions League, we have played against arguably four of the top six teams in the world – Manchester City, Barcelona, PSG and Bayern. A year on, you see the progress of the likes of those Scottish boys.
“There is a confidence to play and to understand the game tactically. Our goal against Bayern was top, top quality and it was two Scottish boys involved in it – a brilliant piece of skill by James and then the run and finish from Callum is sensational.
“All those boys, the Scottish boys, can be very proud. They are playing in a way that allows them to develop and showcase what top talents they can be. The more experience they get at this level the better it bodes for Celtic and for Scotland. Look at the performance last week when we won 3-0 at Aberdeen – there was only one player in the team that night who wasn’t at Celtic before I arrived, Moussa Dembele. The rest were already at the club when I came.
“I’ve just tried to give them the idea of playing the game at the very highest level. The courage they showed against Bayern, they tried to do that. It’s very easy to be pragmatic, to sit in, but it gives you pride when you see players play like they did against Bayern. When they do play like that they are only going to get better and gain more confidence from it. They can then go on and see what they can achieve.
“I’ve had lots of encouraging moments in the Champions League with Celtic so far. You think of Manchester City home and away last season, Borussia Moenchengladbach away. Losing 5-0 at home to PSG this season was disappointing but then you see them beat Bayern 3-0 and Anderlecht 5-0. We have to be realistic about the competition we face. But the Bayern performance on Tuesday shows we are moving in the right direction towards where I want us to be.”
The display of 20-year-old left-back Tierney against Bayern’s supremely accomplished Dutch winger Arjen Robben, left, underlined once more the rich potential of the boyhood Celtic supporter who this week signed a new contract committing him to the club until 2023.
“Kieran knows he’s in a place and an environment where he’s improving,” said Rodgers. “You saw against Bayern how he’s improving with how he’s being asked to play in Europe.
“If he ever goes in the future, he knows when he leaves here, he’s playing the game tactically and technically at the top level. But at this moment, he’s 20, he’s loving his development here and he’s Celtic daft. You can see him in it. The last ones you saw like that were the likes of Tommy Burns or Peter Grant. He’s so passionate about Celtic. But the most important thing is that he and his family see the development and he’s still in that cycle of learning. He’s developing at the moment into a brilliant player.
“The new contract is a sign and a symbol of the improvement he has made in a year. He signed a contract when I first came in, a new deal. Then over the course of a year, we feel there has been big improvement in him, so you want to reward that. He had three and a half years left anyway, so it’s an extension of two and a half to take him through to that length of time. It’s just recognition for how well he’s progressed and puts him on a level of salary where he feels he is working well and getting the rewards for it. That’s important. I said when I came in I like to reward players who are doing well and he really deserves it.”
Rodgers, right, has pledged to bring more Scottish talent through from Celtic’s youth set-up as he looks to build on the domestic dominance of the club which he took to a new level with last season’s “Invincible” treble of trophies. “The vision is simple,” he added. “Win titles, as many as possible. Cups, leagues. Play an attacking and aggressive style of football to win and with a number of players from the Academy base. It’s always been the vision and the vision we are now rolling out into the reality. The club and the players are getting their rewards, but we have to keep developing. That’s the key message.”