Celtic's Brendan Rodgers passes test of his credentials

Forget hobnobbing with the glitterati clubs boasting wage bills akin to the GNPs of small nations. Champions League games don't come any bigger for Celtic than their encounter in Brussels last night.

Brendan Rodgers is only the second Celtic boss to win away in Champions League. Picture: Getty.
Brendan Rodgers is only the second Celtic boss to win away in Champions League. Picture: Getty.
Brendan Rodgers is only the second Celtic boss to win away in Champions League. Picture: Getty.

It is only truly when they meet opponents with similar budgetary, backwater-league constraints in this exalted domain that accurate judgments can be made about what Brendan Rodgers has brought to the Scottish champions.

It is bizarre to consider that even in never really hitting the heights against Anderlecht last night, Rodgers’ men could depart the scene with their credentials fully enhanced.

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Only a second Champions League away win in 28 attempts across 16 years, the 3-0 victory marked the club’s first clean sheet in the tournament home or away since 2012 – the same campaign their 
solitary win was achieved.

Moreover, the Brussels beating of an anaemic opponent, in truth, made for Celtic’s most emphatic victory in the competition that had last yielded
any sort of win all of four years ago since they recorded the same scoreline at home to Benfica way back in 2006.

All of which made the events that unfolded on Anderlecht’s home patch a series of major tests that were certainly passed by Rodgers and his men. Here was an opportunity to gauge whether Rodgers had made progress in giving Celtic a foothold at this level of continental competition; the opportunity, too, for his team to give the lie to the dismissive attitude that it is only the poverty of what they face on the home front that has allowed them to prove untouchable.

Put Celtic up against opponents on an altogether more modest plane than the Paris-Saint Germain team that gave them a 5-0 pasting the other week and they can capitalise on the inevitable limitations that come with such a stature.

Certainly, the struggles of their hosts – managerless and rudderless in drifting mid-table within their championship – were presented in the build-up as gifts to give Celtic a glorious chance to improve on the most inglorious of runs. But past experience suggested this was no guide to what might come to pass.

Not when Rodgers was seeking to become only the second Celtic manager to win a Champions League game on unfamiliar soil – Neil Lennon standing alone in that camp thanks to the 2012 success away to CSKA Moscow.

Aside from their joy in the Russian capital, Celtic have made misery their on-the-road default with 23 defeats and only three draws.

What provided hope of better was that two of these draws came in their past two away trips in the competition. Or, to put it another way, Celtic went into last night’s tie on their longest unbeaten sequence away from home in the 

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Their draws against Borussia Mönchengladbach and Manchester City last season provided indications that Celtic’s game management had been ratcheted up several notches from even the days when they could reach the last 16 in this competition, or rack up regular wins (albeit in their own backyard).

The current Celtic team may be six-in-a-row champions and on a 57-game domestic unbeaten run but few would claim they are a match for the Martin O’Neill (pictured)side that was underpinned by the talents of Henrik Larsson, Chris Sutton, John Hartson, Neil Lennon, Alan Thompson, Stiliyan Petrov and Bobo Balde, among others.

Yet, in 2003 that team found itself with a man advantage as early as the 25th minute away to Anderlecht and from the scoreless position then that should have been a springboard to end a run of four straight away defeats in the Champions League, they lost.

Two years earlier, they had flunked out away to a far more modestly resourced Rosenborg – as did Gordon Strachan’s men in contriving to lose at the home of an Aalborg side with one-tenth of their budget in 2008.

Rodgers has set himself the task of redrawing the parameters when it comes to what Celtic might be expected to be capable of in the Champions League as it is currently configured. He needed a big result to ensure he had buy-in from his players and public. Last night he masterminded that. A 
history-maker yet again.