So it should not come as a shock that for the key position of goalkeeper, Brendan Rodgers has decided to turn to a player he has long trusted.
As had been anticipated in some quarters, Dorus de Vries was preferred to Craig Gordon in the victory over Aberdeen on Saturday. Not surprisingly, with games against Rangers and then Barcelona following in such quick succession after the international break, the man now in possession of the No 1 shirt does not intend to give it up in hurry.
“I’ve only been here for a short time but it’s a great time to be involved,” said De Vries afterwards.
There has been a lot of talk of the millions that will soon be sloshing into Celtic’s bank account after their qualification for the Champions League group stage. But a penny for the thoughts of Gordon, whose career-long ambition to sample Champions League football now looks to be under threat. Talk about going from hero to zero.
Gordon’s penalty save against Hapoel Beer-Sheva last week is one of the reasons Celtic are relishing the prospect of a cash windfall. He feels he is playing as well as he has ever done. And yet at such a pulse-quickening stage of the season he finds himself suddenly out of the team.
There was little Rodgers said after Saturday’s 4-1 win which will comfort Gordon. It does not feel as if De Vries’ promotion is a temporary arrangement.
Rodgers applauded the deposed goalkeeper for trying hard to adapt to the new manager’s methods. But De Vries, Rodgers added, knows “inside out” how he wishes to work, hence him being given the nod on Saturday.
It was initially hard to judge the rights or wrongs of this decision since De Vries had so little to do. Celtic pressed Aberdeen back from kick-off and took a deserved lead through Leigh Griffiths’ sweet strike from the edge of the box in the 13th minute.
The striker’s celebrations involved him running the entire length of the pitch to hold up a tee-shirt at the Jock Stein Stand end of the ground in tribute to teenage fan Kieran McDade, who died last week. It meant De Vries finally got involved in some action as he took this chance to congratulate Griffiths.
It didn’t seem as if the goalkeeper’s teammates were particularly concerned about giving him an early feel of the ball. Perhaps they’d heard what the rest of us had; he is like an outfield player and can pick a pass as well as anyone.
Such a reputation, whether warranted or otherwise, meant everything he did with the ball at his feet was bound to be picked over. His distribution wasn’t always great. One pass intended for Kolo Toure was intercepted by Kenny McLean. But the defender managed to save his keeper’s blushes by rectifying matters with a covering tackle.
De Vries acknowledged this mistake as well as another poor kick out in the second-half. He accepted he was possibly trying too hard to impress on his debut.
“Making your debut you want to make a great impression, you want to give a great impression to the new players in front of you and also to the crowd,” he said. “Sometimes as a goalkeeper that’s a little bit harder because you’re not like an attacker where you can create things.”
It was hard to gauge how proficient he is with his hands because other than being beaten by Adam Rooney’s curling effort there were few times when he was called on to make a save. One flying punch was, however, appreciated by the Celtic faithful.
Gordon watched all this from the back row of the dug out. He was quick to depart the scene at the final whistle. The international break has perhaps arrived at a good time. He can try to clear his head and concentrate on trying to secure a starting slot for Scotland against Malta on Sunday.
De Vries was sympathetic to an extent. But he stressed that a top club should always strive to have such an ultra-competitive environment.
“I think throughout my whole career at every club I’ve been it’s no different, whether goalkeepers or players,” he said.
“There is always somebody there who wants to fight for their place, especially at a club like Celtic. There has to be competition, there has to be fighting for places because that’s how you get the most out of people.
Gordon, he added, had wished him well. “Of course he did – and the other goalkeepers did as well,” he said.
De Vries’ teammates certainly refused to let any residual sympathy for Gordon deflect them from their purpose, which was concluding this critical ten-game mini-season with a win that puts them top of the Premiership.
James Forrest curled in a superb second to put Celtic back in front before half-time and goals in the last five minutes from Scott Sinclair and Tom Rogic, from a penalty and free-kick respectively, secured the three points. These strikes were needed because Aberdeen looked far better in the second half. There was at least some evidence they could be a thorn in Celtic’s side this season.
“We have to take positives from it,” said Rooney. “We have been beaten at Celtic Park by three and four goals before and then have beaten them at our own place. We just have to look forward to the next game against them. We have a break now. We have to regroup, take any positives we can from the game and look forward to the rest of the season.”