Brendan Rodgers is confident he can find another Philippe Coutinho as he seeks to provide Celtic fans with a “blue-chip player” at a reasonable price.
The Celtic manager has just signed a new four-year deal with the recently-crowned Scottish champions but has stressed the potential significance of Lee Congerton’s arrival last month as a member of his staff.
Congerton, the club’s new head of recruitment, worked with Rodgers at Chelsea and Liverpool, and is credited with having found Coutinho, who the then scout recommended to Chelsea. There was another player Congerton also suggested the Stamford Bridge club should try to sign –Neymar.
In the end Coutinho signed for Inter Milan but Rodgers was delighted to be able to prise him away when he became manager of Liverpool and the Italian club hit money problems. The Brazil forward is now one of the top players in the English Premier League and is currently being linked with a move to Barcelona.
Neymar, meanwhile, headed to Barcelona in 2013 from Santos and is now among the world’s best players.
“The reason I brought in Lee Congerton was because he’s one of the best at it,” said Rodgers. “This is the guy who found me Coutinho. No-one would have heard of Coutinho otherwise.
“When I worked at Chelsea I remember Lee being away in South America. He came back and told me about two players who were 14 or 15. He said ‘wow, there are two players out there we’ve got to try and get’. It was Coutinho and Neymar.”
“At that point no-one had heard of them,” added Rodgers. “So the reason I’ve brought Lee in is because of that. Alexander Pato was another one, I remember, that he mentioned.
“So I’ve brought in one of the best in his field. Someone who has a worldwide network.” Congerton’s arrival was announced last month and he will head up the club’s recruitment network both at home and abroad.
“He can really help us in a lot of markets, to get the best possible players we can,” explained Rodgers, who is confident he will be given the funds to bring in at least three new signings.
“But the profile and everything has to be right to fit in with the club.
“But Coutinho at 14 was great. He was at Vasco da Gama and Chelsea tried to do a deal, but they’d already done one with Inter Milan. He went there at 16 but I was always aware of him. Then when I was at Liverpool I got the guys to find out about him. Inter Milan were struggling for money and young players very rarely got a chance. So it was an opportunity for us to get him.
“He cost £8.5million, that’s what we got him for. What’s he worth now? But no-one knew of Coutinho. But he was in our team at 19 and he flourishes. So there is talent out there and we will always look to get it.”
With the Celtic board having shown enough faith in him to hand him a new four-year deal, Rodgers is confident he will be backed in his efforts to re-strengthen this season. He smiled when asked how many new players he wants to bring in.
“A manager will always tell you three,” he said. “But it really is a limited amount. The players I’d like to bring in could make a real impact and help the boys here.”
Rodgers said he is only interested in “game-changing” players, those who can come in and be relied upon to make a real impact. “I wouldn’t ever just sign a name for the sake of it,” he stressed. “I look at the needs of the squad and try and project the developments of players here. And I’m preparing for another 60-game season.
“So I need a good squad, one that’s tight and that’s spirit is good.”
“Listen, some will move on naturally,” he continued, with Efe Ambrose, currently on loan at Hibs, one of those whose contract is due to expire at the end of this season. “Some, their cycle will finish here because they might not get the game-time they want,” he said. “Some might want to go on and try something else. That’s natural.
“But the number of players I think can help us develop and improve is minimal. There won’t be wholesale changes.”
“I think there is still a level of player out there for us who bring excitement,” he noted. “Again, it’ll all depend on what it is for the player. We can’t just pay anything, and I would never ask the club to do that.
“I wouldn’t. I’m not here to put the club in a risk. Not at all. I’ll always demand that we sign the best possible players we can. But I understand strategically where the club is at, and how it needs to function going forward.
“That’s not lacking ambition, that’s just being real. And also knowing – from being down south for a number of years – exactly the types of players we can attract here. In fact, not even attract. Players we can get here.
“Plus, as a Celtic supporter, I know what they want. They have always had someone with the magic. They’ve always had someone who gets them up off their feet. Always.
“So I know what they want. Hence the reason I brought in Scott Sinclair, who gets them up off their seat. We’ll be looking for that.
“People knew him but they didn’t really know his quality. You look at him now and he’s one of the most exciting talents. If he keeps going he could be in an England squad.”