'Silence is a death sentence' - Celtic's Brendan Rodgers ready for tough talks with unused players as cull looms

Manager admits squad is not where it was first time around

Crucial to the Celtic cause going forward will not just be the players Brendan Rodgers deploys for the confrontations with Kilmarnock and Feyenoord in the

coming days.

Just as important are the difficult discussions he has been having with the personnel who have no prospect of featuring at Rugby Park on Sunday lunchtime or in Wednesday’s closer to a frustrating and failed Champions League campaign. Across his five-and-a-half months, Rodgers has become increasingly unambiguous over the complexion of his squad being far removed from how he feels it requires to be. The 31-man pool is both too big and too thin on the calibre of player he feels is required to move performances up to the required level, especially to be able to pouch results in the Champions League. Indeed, the other day he was made the arresting admission that such a standard has not been reached across the first four months of his second spell.

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“I believe we will be better [come the next European campaign]. I will have been in here a year and we will have assessed lots of the players and some of the young guys who come in,” Rodgers said. “By the time next summer comes there will be a clearer picture in terms of where we are at as a squad. But in the meantime it’s about working with the guys who are here. Domestically, in the main, they have been consistently good. They have had the odd disappointment in terms of performance which is only natural. But we are still winning without, for me, feeling like we are near where I want us to be.”

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers has said he will always be honest with players not part of his plans - with a raft of these likely to be moved out of the club in January.Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers has said he will always be honest with players not part of his plans - with a raft of these likely to be moved out of the club in January.
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers has said he will always be honest with players not part of his plans - with a raft of these likely to be moved out of the club in January.

This is a result of the squad being nowhere near where it wants to be, with so many of the well-remunerated members of those within it nowhere near being considered for regular starts. Or, in the cases of such as Benjamin Siegrist, Yuki Kobayashi, Alexandro Bernabei, Maik Nawrocki, Gustaf Lagerbielke and Stephen Welsh, even regular appearances in the matchday squad. With clear clues if you care to look for them that he is on the hunt for a new keeper, left-back, holding midfielder and striker – for starters – in the January transfer window, the need for the squad’s invisible members to be moved out – either on loan or permanently – is obvious. Defender Nat Phillips will return to Liverpool following his six month emergency loan and David Turnbull could be moved on, with the playmaker appearing to have fallen out of favour as he runs down the final six months of his contract. The Celtic manager concedes it is not easy to inform players that they are surplus to requirements but it is necessary, and an aspect of his job from which he does not shirk in order to be respectful, and scrupulously fair.

“It is something that is difficult but it's part of this job as a manager,” the Irishman said. "You have to do it. But you are better being honest and telling people. It's especially difficult because you know when you are telling someone it changes the conditions in their life … and not necessarily for the better. They might never have that opportunity again but I would rather say it than be inhumane and bluff someone for six months. You are better telling them as they will have families and, having moved all over Britain, I know how hard and challenging it is.

“Sometimes it can be for the greater good for the player as the family might not have settled or the schools might not be right. To tell them can actually help them. But it's something that is a difficult conversation but you are better being honest. I care for players but I care for people more. Sentiment doesn't come into it. You are paid to make decisions, lead and observe – and make decisions from that observation. You can't be sentimental. These conversations happen throughout the season. Some players wanted to move in the summer and I said: ‘Let's give it a chance. Let's see how they enjoy the work and get the game-time. This is where I think you can improve, so let's assess it. Coming into January, if you feel it's not right and you want to go, we can look at it then’.

"It's an ongoing conversation as silence for a player is a death sentence. I have had experiences outside of football where you mind plays mental gymnastics and you think, 'what's happening?' When you hear nothing, the brain starts talking. I'd rather take all the away and give stability and clarity to a player. I'd say, 'this is where we are at, if it doesn't work out you can move on'. But I will always respect them. That is a value I hold dearest of all. Wherever you sit in the hierarchy, you will always be offered respect. Train hard and work hard, and let's see where it takes us."

Nat Phillips is due to return to Liverpool next month.Nat Phillips is due to return to Liverpool next month.
Nat Phillips is due to return to Liverpool next month.

As vital as Kilmarnock is for where Celtic want to head in the Premiership title trail, the hosting of Feyenoord – even as superficially a dead rubber – is huge to the club’s self worth. Aside from the £2.3million on offer for a win, failure to end a truly desperate run of 15 games without a victory in club football’s most prestigious tournament, and not improve on their all-time low return of two points a year ago, does not bear thinking about. “Every game is vital from a football perspective,” said Rodgers. “Every point is a financial gain for the club and pride is also there to play for. We have shown a lot in spells – whether it was Feyenoord away for a half or Atletico Madrid for the full game here. Okay we lost to Lazio, but again there were periods in there. Away at Atletico we started with authority and then we conceded. Away to Lazio we were in it right up until the last ten minutes. So we have been competitive, but you want to be more than that.”

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