Brendan Rodgers urges Celtic stars to play without fear

When the rewards for success are so lavish, fear of failure can be a dangerous thing.

Celtic manager says I always think happy people win. Picture: SNS
Celtic manager says I always think happy people win. Picture: SNS

Celtic tonight stand on the threshold of returning to Champions League football, an achievement which would earn them more than ever before.

Record levels of Uefa financial distribution this season mean the Scottish champions could expect to bank about £30 million in prize money, TV revenue and ticket sale income from participation in Europe’s elite club tournament.

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The enormity of that prospect could faze some managers. But Brendan Rodgers, whose impressive start to life in the Celtic hot seat would reach a significant milestone tonight if his team finish the job in their play-off round tie against Hapoel Beer-Sheva in Israel, is not a man easily daunted.

The former Swansea City and Liverpool manager regularly signs off his matchday programme notes with the motto “Without Fear” and it is a message he wants to become a theme of Celtic’s approach under him.

Rodgers knows all about facing fixtures with a huge price tag attached, having guided Swansea to victory over Reading in the 2011 Championship play-off final at Wembley.

“I remember it was deemed the £100 million game,” said Rodgers. “That was a life-changing game. As a coach, you get into the Premier League and your career takes off. The players get into a much better position financially.

“There are big rewards for us at Celtic if we get through on Tuesday night. The differences in this game between winning and losing are very marginal. The consequences are massive but you can’t afford to think of the consequences or you wouldn’t do it.

“This is about prestige. The money is irrelevant. Of course, the bonus for the club, the bonus for all clubs, is the financial package you can get in the Champions League and everything which comes with it.

“For myself and the players it is about operating at the highest level you can. We fought so hard all pre-season, we now have that one final step to take and I believe we are ready to take it.

“Yes, without fear is something I want to get across to the players and to the club. There is nothing to fear. If you look for problems, they are just around the corner.

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“There are plenty of them but if you are positive and approach life in that way, then normally you will feel much happier in yourself. I always think happy people win.

“If you look for issues or whatever, they will always be there but I’ve progressed quickly in my coaching life by always being positive. If that can rub off on people and players, so be it.

“If you think too much of the emotive side, you would drive yourself mad. You just have to focus on the process of winning and getting through. That’s all I’ve ever done. When we lost the first game of qualification to Lincoln Red Imps in Gibraltar, I just said ‘stay calm’, it’s about staying calm and getting through, and it’s the same thing now.

“It is a huge milestone for the club because it’s where the club wants to be. For some clubs with a much greater financial output throughout Europe, winning the Champions League is what they are in it for. But for clubs like Celtic, and where they are financially, reaching the group stage is success. That is very, very important to make that equation and realise how realistic it is and how difficult it is. So for us, this marks success.

“It was the same for me when I went to Liverpool. They hadn’t been in the Champions League for five seasons and when I went in there the club was eighth in the Premier League and had got close to winning the league once in 20 years.

“I went in and signed a three-year deal and my primary objective was to get the club to the Champions League and we did it in two years, and we went on a wonderful journey of football and intensity and it was great. So I have been brought in to Celtic to get to the Champions League and if I can do it in the first three months I’ll be happy.”

With a 5-2 lead from the first leg at Celtic Park last Wednesday night, the Scottish champions are in prime position to qualify for the group stage for the first time in three years.

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But Rodgers will not be content to simply try to protect that lead against opponents who remain unbeaten at their 16,000-capacity Turner Stadium since it opened last year.

“You have to be cute and clever,” he added. “You can’t go all guns blazing, because we haven’t done that in any of the games.

“It’s one where you can over-think it. But I always think and always have done, when you are under pressure or think there is pressure, get on the front foot.

“Go and embrace it and accept the challenge. There is no need to have fear. We have shown we are getting better and better. Tuesday will be a good gauge of how far we have come.”