Brendan Rodgers has defended the pace of Celtic’s summer recruitment strategy, insisting he will not be rushed into revamping the squad he has inherited at the Scottish champions.
Ahead of tonight’s Champions League second qualifying round, second leg meeting with Lincoln Red Imps at Celtic Park, when his team will seek to overturn the shock 1-0 defeat they suffered in Gibraltar last week, Rodgers admitted the lack of central defensive options currently available to him is “a big concern”.
But assuming Celtic progress this evening, Rodgers is confident he will complete the signing of a new defender before Thursday night’s 11pm Uefa deadline for eligibility for the third qualifying round.
So far, the former Liverpool manager has signed only one player since replacing Ronny Deila at Celtic in May – 19-year-old French striker Moussa Dembele from Fulham for around £500,000.
Rodgers is relaxed about the situation, however, and expressed his satisfaction at the support he is receiving on the transfer front from the club’s board. He also revealed he has rejected the opportunity to sign several players who have been offered to him in recent weeks.
“At clubs like Celtic, it’s not about getting them in, it’s about keeping them out,” said Rodgers. “There are enough people wanting to come, with the calls we have had. But it’s always about the right availability and affordability and it’s also about timing.
“We inherited a huge squad and we know we need to trim it. At the same time, we have to add quality and that’s the key.
“The market is slow due to the types of players I want to bring in. It feels as though we have been back training and playing for ages, whereas lots of teams are just coming back in. So it’s taking a bit of time.
“For some things in life you have to wait. It cannot be instant. I don’t want just any player, I want the right player who can give us quality.
“I will never stockpile players for the sake of it because we have a good bunch here anyway and are current champions. For us to take a step forward, we need to cut numbers and then I need to add a little bit more to it.
“Ideally, we would want to try and at least have one more in by the deadline on Thursday, all being well.
“I want it now – but it doesn’t always work out that way. Is it realistic to get one in by Thursday? I would hope so. It won’t be the fault of this club if not. The club are looking to do everything they can to support my needs and what I want.”
Shane Duffy, Blackburn Rovers’ Irish international central defender, is among those who have been linked with a move to Celtic. Rodgers is currently without the injured pair of Jozo Simunovic and Dedryck Boyata, leaving Erik Sviatchenko and Efe Ambrose – the latter culpable for the goal conceded in Gibraltar last week – as his only senior central defenders.
The circumstances could prompt Rodgers to deploy his Swedish international right-back Mikael Lustig in a more central role.
“It’s a big concern but that’s what we have,” he said in regard to his defensive issues. “Hopefully Jozo will be training in the next couple of weeks. He has responded really well.
“I spoke to him at length on Tuesday and he feels strong and good in his body. He[Jozo] is two weeks away and Boyata will maybe be a little less than that. Erik is fine after the knock he took in our friendly against Wolfsburg on Saturday. It was just a punch from the goalkeeper in a clash.
“If I felt it could benefit the team, then I would play Mikael at centre-half. There are players I am finding out can work in different areas. Mikael, for me, can play centre half in a lot of games, if required. He has that quality and international experience. He can serve the ball, he is aggressive and I’d have no hesitation playing him there if that’s what the team needed.”
If Celtic qualify tonight, they will face either Astana of Kazakhstan or Zalgiris Vilnius of Lithuania in the next round. Those sides are level at 0-0 following the first leg in Vilnius, with Astana regarded as favourites to progress tonight.
The 6,000-mile round trip to the Kazakh capital would be typical of the difficulties faced by Celtic in trying to reach the group stage of the Champions League.
“Apart from the six-hour flight, five-hour time difference and the 35-degree heat on an unwatered plastic pitch, it’s not a bad trip,” smiled Rodgers.
“Listen, we have everything covered and we will have someone at the game in Astana. Do people understand how tough these qualifying games are? No, clearly not.
“I always felt when you were looking at it from down south, you were just starting your pre-season and, yet, everything seemed to ride at this time for Scottish teams.
“You’d be sat worrying about your second training session for the afternoon and teams up here were playing qualifiers.”