The Celtic manager believes his 19-year-old left-back Kieran Tierney was fortunate to escape serious damage from a reckless foul by Motherwell’s Ryan Bowman last Saturday and also cited the scissors-motion foul from behind by Inverness midfielder Iain Vigurs on winger Scott Sinclair the previous weekend.
On both occasions, the offending players received only a booking from the respective referees Don Robertson and Kevin Clancy for what Rodgers describes as “horrendous” challenges.
He pointed to the example of his first team coach, John Kennedy, who was forced to retire at the age of 26 in 2009 after finally losing his battle to recover from a knee injury sustained on his Scotland debut against Romania five years earlier. Kennedy was initially sidelined completely for three years following a horrific challenge by Romanian striker Ioan Ganea who was not even cautioned by the Finnish referee on the night at Hampden.
Rodgers insists he has no issues with opponents adopting an aggressive approach towards Celtic who are currently on a 31-match unbeaten run in domestic football since the start of the season. He is adamant, however, that stronger action is required in the instances of foul play such as those witnessed in Celtic’s last two games.
“My only worry at this moment in time is the protection I want for my players,” he said. “I didn’t see the tackle on Kieran Tierney until after the game but when I did see it, it was a horrendous challenge. We also had one the week before on Scott Sinclair that was a horrendous challenge.
“I have a team of men. They are young players but I ask them to be men in the game and I think we have shown over the course of the season we can handle a tough, aggressive, tight game of football. We can take that. But I need the officials to control it. If something is a bad tackle, they have got to see it.
“I have a brilliant young coach on my books called John Kennedy who lost his career on the back of an absolutely disgraceful challenge and I don’t want that. That could have happened to Kieran last week if his foot was planted – easily. It is the responsibility of officials to protect players – that is their duty on the field. Not just the referee – all four of the match officials – and how that was never seen by one of them, I don’t know.
“The same with Scott Sinclair the other week. They are awful challenges. That is my only worry at the minute. I worry for the players. We play an aggressive game and we have lots of games like that that are great – away at Aberdeen, tough games where you fight and tackle and are aggressive. But when it goes over the top we need the help of the referees otherwise you are going to lose talented players and you may lose careers because of it.”
Asked if he felt teams were adopting an overly physical approach against Celtic because they felt unable to compete on footballing terms, Rodgers replied: “I don’t know what it is.
“I do know a player like Sinclair is quick and dynamic and that can affect timing of challenges against him. But a bad challenge is a bad challenge. I don’t care who it is.
“We have respect for how opponents prepare for games. My duty is to make sure my team is prepared to fight and represent our supporters. But there is also a duty from others to make sure the laws of the game and the welfare of players is looked after. I’m not saying to go soft. In Scotland and England we see teams competing and fighting for the result. But we have seen some naughty challenges recently.
“I’m talking primarily about my players but if it’s happening elsewhere then it’s an issue.
“I ask my players to respect referees. We are not a team that goes charging after officials, moaning and groaning. We say this is a man’s game. You expect to get hit with challenges, you take it, you get up and you fight. I’ve just seen a couple of things lately, whether it’s because we are on a run and are a target for teams, that means we need to be careful.
“The last thing I want to be sitting here talking about is a serious injury to Kieran Tierney. Fortunately, he is fine and has trained this week. But if his foot was planted last week, with a straight leg coming in on a 19-year-old, I’m frightened to think what could have happened to him.”