As Celtic attempt to take a significant stride forward in their Europa League group tonight, Brendan Rodgers believes a man who spends much of his time on the pitch standing still could hold the key to their hopes.
If it’s a strange compliment for the Celtic manager to pay any player, it’s also one which is easily appreciated by anyone who has witnessed Tom Rogic at his best over a sustained period.
“He could play in a tuxedo,” jokes Rodgers as he assesses the Australian international playmaker’s technical and creative gifts which so often set him apart from any other player currently operating in Scottish football.
Rogic’s economy of movement is one of his biggest assets in Rodgers’ eyes. The 25-year-old has been badly missed by Celtic in their previous two Group B fixtures, away defeats to Salzburg and RB Leipzig which have diminished their prospects of further progress in the tournament.
Celtic will be eliminated tonight if they lose at home to Leipzig and Salzburg avoid defeat against Rosenborg. Realistically, only a victory will be good enough for the Scottish champions and Rodgers feels Rogic is the man who can help turn the tables.
“Tom gives the team a different dynamic in terms of how he plays,” said Rodgers. “He doesn’t move so much, which actually helps. That’s because he can find space.
“The dynamics of your team are always important, especially when you play three or four in midfield.
“Tom has this incredible quality of standing still and knowing where to stand. He conserves his energy well, so that when he doesn’t have the ball, he can press the game.
“When he takes the ball, he’s normally receiving it to go forward. He’s a big, big talent and a very important player for us. He has got great tools that can help us as a team and he’s that creative player you need at this level to make the difference for us.
“You talk to other managers after games and they normally highlight Tom in conversation with me. The players themselves and opposition players know the problems he causes.
“He’s got an in-built brain for football. You just need to put him into a structure and a framework to get the ball and into areas where he can hurt teams. He’s very elusive. He’s so cool and calm and he just moves so well. He’s fantastic.”
Amid the widespread admiration of Rogic’s talent, a constant criticism of him has surrounded his fitness levels. He is regularly substituted midway through the second half of matches but Rodgers insists that is no reflection of the player’s conditioning.
“He can last a full game, make no bones about it,” added Rodgers. “But we play so many games. There are just moments in games when you might be trying to shore it up and you just want to keep the energy in the team.
“So you change it slightly. Or you are trying to conserve his energy for another game. If you have comfort in a game, you can take Tom off.
“Maybe it was something before that was labelled at him, but it was unfair. He’s just got that languid style and it doesn’t change from the first minute. The time you look at him in the 70th minute and he’s still got that style, so he maybe looks tired.
“Tom’s got good fitness. We’ve been managing some issues with him around certain aspects, but he’s a fantastic player and what’s been great to see is his personality grow in these last couple of years to really impose himself in games. He’s not frightened to be the big player.
“Evidence shows you that. That’s great to see that he puts himself into these big occasions and wants to perform.”
Rodgers is urging his players to adopt a bold approach tonight against an in-form RB Leipzig side who have kept six successive clean sheets.
“Leipzig are a very good team and if you are looking at it man for man, they’re better than us,” he said. “It’s that simple. That’s why they’re near the top of the Bundesliga and why they’ll be challenging in domestic and, probably, European competition this season.
‘But we still have to go and show our true face. If we play how we can and lose, OK, that can happen. But let’s make sure you’re not timid with it. You don’t give up space easily. You fight and you get up tight to players.
“If you give good players the chance to play, they will play. So you’ve got to get right in amongst it, press the game and have that same feeling that you do domestically.
“We have to do everything we can to try and win the game. We go into the game really confident, in a good way after recent performances and with the support behind us, which is huge for us.
“I said before the group started that I felt the home games were going to be critical for us. If we get a win in this one, then we still have an opportunity to qualify. If we don’t, then it is extremely difficult. We have to maximise our opportunity and if we can do that and win our next two games, then we will have given ourselves every chance.”