The goalkeepers’ union is traditionally strongbut it could be put to the test by Dorus De Vries’ competitive instinct.
While the Dutchman is undoubtedly among the most charismatic and likable footballers, he has not come to Celtic Park to be an understudy.
Aged 35, and fresh from being named Nottingham Forest’s player of the year, he naturally believes he is now in his prime. Hence why he grabbed at the chance to join Celtic. Following a career mostly spent in the Championship in England, he reasoned it was probably his last chance to taste European football.
There is one remaining obstacle; the roundly admired Scotland international Craig Gordon, pictured inset. De Vries is currently shaking off an ankle injury sustained in the opening league game of the season with Forest, and which briefly threatened his move to the Scottish champions on a two-year deal.
“This morning went really well in training,” he explained yesterday. “Thursday is in the schedule for now as the first time I am going out with [goalkeeper coach] Steve Woods so we will see how it responds then.
“But I can say at the moment the ankle is responding really well and I feel really good. Hopefully in the next couple of days it grows stronger and I become fitter and hopefully I can become part of the team in the near future.”
So Gordon’s place seems secure for tomorrow’s crucial Champions League play-off round first-leg clash with Hapoel Be’er Sheva. But after that, with St Johnstone to come in the league on Saturday, only Rodgers can say for sure what his plans are. De Vries has already introduced himself to his peers-cum-rivals.
“Yes I have met Craig,” said De Vries. “I have met Logan [Bailly] as well. I have been out on the pitch with Logan as well as Leonardo Fasan, the young goalkeeper. I would say the goalkeeper department here is strong. But as for me coming here, yes I am here to compete. That’s the first thing I am doing, coming here to compete. But I just want to make this goalkeeper union a stronger unit. Yes, Craig Gordon is a great goalkeeper. Logan has been in and around some good clubs, he is a great goalkeeper as well. And young Leonardo Fassan is a bright young talent coming through so I will have to fight for it. But I am up for it and looking forward to working with the guys as well.
“At a club like Celtic, a big, big club, with Europe coming up and a lot of games, you have to have a fair few good goalkeepers there.”
Being displaced as No 1 is an occupational hazard for a goalkeeper. Just ask Joe Hart, the recently deposed first-choice ‘keeper at Manchester City.
Managers tend to want to feel they have absolute trust in the person occupying the position, hence Pep Guardiola’s decision to drop Hart, who can look unconvincing when he has the ball at his feet.
Of course, this was not a problem once upon a time, when goalkeepers were expected to be good shot stoppers primarily while also proficient at plucking crosses from the sky.
But just as Guardiola has based his football philosophy around fast, tidy distribution, including from the goalkeeper, so has Rodgers. Sadly for Gordon, he could fall victim of the perception his distribution from the ground is not up to the standard required. Or at least is not to the standard of his new rival, De Vries.
The comments from Rodgers since confirmation of the Dutchman’s arrival at Celtic sound ominous for Gordon, voted the Scottish Football Writers’ Association player of the year just two seasons ago. The manager rated the disappointment of losing De Vries when they were together at Swansea as being on a par with how he felt when Luis Suarez left Liverpool, during their days at Anfield. That is quite a statement. De Vries was quick to return the compliments yesterday. “When Brendan was at Liverpool I was close to signing for them,” he revealed. “He tried to sign me but, unfortunately, it didn’t happen.
“So this is probably my last opportunity to join a really big club and be competing in the big tournaments.
“I believe Brendan is the man who can take Celtic back into the Champions League. He’s a great man-manager.
“His training sessions have always been enjoyable but always focused on the opposition. He’s so well-organised and everyone knows what to expect.”
Now reunited, Rodgers is likely itching to see such a favoured player installed as No 1 for Celtic. De Vries’ last competitive appearance in Scotland was against Celtic for Dunfermline in the 2007 Scottish Cup final. But for Parkhead supporters who cannot remember him, De Vries provided a flavour yesterday of what they can expect.
“I have always been a calm goalkeeper,” he said. “I only started goalkeeping quite late. I started playing between the sticks at 15. I was a hell of a footballer but I just decided to have a go between the sticks!
“Because of that, I am pretty comfortable with the ball. Of course, the gaffer wants to play free-flowing football but there is always risk involved. As a goalkeeper I am more of an all rounder but there are always areas where you excel, and always areas where you are not so good. But when the ball is at my feet I feel pretty comfortable saying I am pretty decent.”
It is hard to escape the feeling Celtic fans will get the chance to judge De Vries for themselves sooner rather than later.