Brendan Rodgers grapples with Liel Abada Celtic dilemma: treating him like a son, trying to turn it around, 'they won't have a clue'

Manager is unswerving in his support for Israeli – but the prized forward could be on the move

A section of the Celtic fanbase will again demonstrate their support for the people of Palestine ahead of Saturday afternoon’s home match with Kilmarnock.

The Green Brigade ultras group has asked fellow supporters to join them in singing ‘Grace’ in a show of solidarity and to draw attention to the conflict in Gaza that has left more than 28,000 people dead. Liel Abada, though, likely won’t be at Celtic Park to hear or see it. In fact, it might be some time before the Israeli international is involved in another Celtic match, if at all. The enduring turmoil in his homeland has made football a secondary concern for the 22-year-old, who continues to fret for the safety of his family.

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The Celtic support’s unwavering support for the besieged state – with Palestine flags flown regularly at home and away matches – has also made life awkward for this Jewish Israeli who is facing repeated calls from hardliners back home to move to a club with political and religious views more aligned with his own. A loan deal to a country where the transfer window is still open could provide a short-term solution.

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers is protecting Liel Abada during a difficult time for the forward.Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers is protecting Liel Abada during a difficult time for the forward.
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers is protecting Liel Abada during a difficult time for the forward.

It is a scenario that leaves Brendan Rodgers with a heavy heart. The Celtic manager has dealt with difficult personalities and troubling scenarios throughout his career – Mario Balotelli, Luis Suarez and Leigh Griffiths to name a few – but this is one that he can’t resolve with an easy fix.

Abada has grown into a key player for Celtic since first arriving in August 2021 and signed a new four-year contract only in September. The team are undoubtedly stronger whenever he plays, his goals and assists, for Kyogo Furuhashi in particular, a central part of their success. Rodgers, though, can’t and won’t make Adaba play if he is not in the right frame of mind to do so, his primary concern instead the mental well-being of someone he likens to a son.

“In any line of work, whatever it is we do, the mind is key,” said the Northern Irishman. “Now if that’s not quite right, for whatever reason, then the game becomes a challenge. And life can become a challenge. This is a young guy, and this is the sadness of this. It’s not his fault, it’s not our fault, but it’s something that he’s right in the middle of and he has to live with it.

People will talk about banners and what is going on – and I’m 100 per cent sure there will be some people who won’t know where Israel or Palestine is on the map but will be telling him what to do with his life. They won’t have a clue. So, this is a young kid who has to live it every morning when he wakes up, during the day and in the evening, and the mind games are there for him. It’s my job to help him and support him with that, especially as his family isn’t here. He’s had great love from the Celtic support, but it’s more than that.”

Celtic's Kyogo Furuhashi celebrates with Abada earlier in the season.Celtic's Kyogo Furuhashi celebrates with Abada earlier in the season.
Celtic's Kyogo Furuhashi celebrates with Abada earlier in the season.

Rodgers prides himself in taking an interest in his players’ lives, their families, their social circles and how they carry themselves day to day. The Abada situation is far bigger than any of that but he is determined to put the Israeli’s welfare first. “I’ve always said, and what I always promise players when they come in, is that my communication is open,” he added. “They know where my door is, it’s there, because I’m interested in the player.

“It’s not just about the football element, I’m genuinely interested in him, and I also need to know what drives him and what his drivers are to be the best he can be. So, it’s always about making time for the players. The overriding thing is that I care for people. I can care for them because I care about them. That’s from my upbringing. Whatever you connect it to, I genuinely care for people. In a situation like this you can’t just brush it below the carpet.

“I look at him at 22-years-old. I’ve got sons older than him. So I see him as a son, not just an employee of the club or a player in the team. If I had a son in that situation, what would I want someone to do for him in a foreign country when he has challenges? But it’s not just me. He has great support from everyone here. It’s just a shame it’s got to this stage but let’s see if we can turn it around.”

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Celtic will need to do without Abada on Saturday afternoon as they look to get their noses back in front in what is shaping up to be an increasingly tense title race. Rodgers again leaned on the rhetoric that a picture is being painted that his is a team “in crisis” but it’s not a scenario he agrees with.

“If you were Man City or Liverpool and were top of the league having won eight out of nine games then you would be doing very well,” he reasoned. “But this is a unique country where you’re in crisis. But it’s not a crisis in my mind.

“Look at the metrics we work with and a lot of them have been the same or even better. The only one that’s slightly down is our defensive stuff. The narrative is clear in what it’s trying to promote. But for me my promotion is always this club and this team to be the best that we can.

“Supporters always have that ability to make the difference. And that’s what Celtic supporters are renowned for. Hopefully we can continue with that.”