Brendan Rodgers an oasis of calm - even if Celtic fans are alarmed

Fit-again Kristoffer Ajer, centre, trains yesterday with Lewis Morgan and Mikey Johnston. Picture: Sns.
Fit-again Kristoffer Ajer, centre, trains yesterday with Lewis Morgan and Mikey Johnston. Picture: Sns.
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The oasis of calm has been well and truly punctured in Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic island. The Irishman recognises, though, that he is not now operating in shark-infested waters through recognising his club really ought to retain the biggest bite as the biggest fish.

Facts and figures were the Irishman’s best friends as his side swept the boards domestically across his first two seasons and created new historical precedents.

Now the numbers aren’t considered to be adding up. In tonight’s Betfred Cup quarter-final away to St Johnstone, his Celtic side require to shake off the club’s worst league start in 20 years and post what would only be a second away win in seven attempts to prevent the pursuit of a seventh straight trophy being halted.

To the outsiders, that ought to be straightforward with Celtic’s near £60 million wage bill dwarfing by a factor of 20 that with which Perth manager Tommy Wright and most other Scottish sides operate. Rodgers didn’t duck that issue when asked if it was “too simplistic” to say Celtic should be blowing away domestic opponents.

“Listen, we can’t run away from it,” said Rodgers, who has never been shy at pointing out such disadvantages when being on the wrong end of such monetary muscle in Europe.

“If you are paying good wages and you’ve got the squad you will be expected to do something. You are expected to win. That’s never something that I have run away from. I’d rather be the top dog than the 
underdog.

“I’m not sure what’s been out there in terms of what the wage bill is but, for me, we always expect. That’s the job of the Celtic manager – and in particular since I’ve come in these last few years.

“It doesn’t always equate in terms of what we did in our first season. Teams will always look to get closer to you. But you always have to focus on yourself and push forward. And that’s what we want to do.”

What many would consider Rodgers might want to do were he able was take back his response given in a post-match interview following Sunday’s 2-1 defeat at Rugby Park. Asked if the club’s supporters should be “alarmed” by the club’s start to the season, his answer that “yes, they should” was taken as suggesting the alarm bells were ringing for him too. He was at pains to stress yesterday that was a misreading of his words.

“There is a difference between fans being alarmed and me being alarmed. Will fans be alarmed? Yes they will. Am I? No. I probably never explained myself well enough. I think if you have lost two games in your first six they will be alarmed at that – I’m not going to deny that. But what I am doing in terms of the bigger picture is staying calm.

“There are 32 league games to go. We have two cup competitions too and we will be judged at the end of the season. So – alarming because of the indifferent start, but not everything else.”

Rodgers accepts full responsibility for the two losses – away to Hearts and Kilmarnock – because on each occasion he changed half his side and left out some of his mainstays of recent years. These are likely to all return in Perth, with Kristoffer Ajer fit again to partner Dedryck Boyata, pictured, as Filip Benkovic seeks to shake off an Achilles issue.

What Rodgers will never change is his coaching philosophy. “If any team that you look at are convinced of their methods, it would be this group of players.

“One thing you can never have is doubt. If you fall into that trap, you have an issue. A problem. I’ve worked in coaching all my life since 20 years of age and these are principles that I believe in.

“Of course you tweak. You do lots of that within games. When you look at it from time to time, it’s been a wee bit stiff and wee bit rigid, but us at our best, there’s lots of variety.

“We will always look to maintain our identity. Our identity is of a big club, which is you have to impose your game and look to win. For me, there is no compromise.”