Brendan Rodgers: Celtic’s aim is get out of the group

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers is eyeing qualification from the Champions League group stage. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers is eyeing qualification from the Champions League group stage. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS
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Brendan Rodgers is determined Celtic will not be Champions League makeweights this season as they look forward to their return to European football’s top table.

The Scottish champions are in the group stage draw, which takes place at 5pm in Monaco today, for the first time in three seasons after edging past Israeli side Hapoel Beer-Sheva 5-4 on aggregate in their play-off round tie.

Clubs who have qualified through the so-called ‘Champions Route’, for domestic title winners outwith Uefa’s top ranked nations, have a poor record in making further progress in the tournament.

Since the concept was introduced by former Uefa president Michel Platini in 2009, with the intention of making the Champions League group stage more accessible for clubs from lower-ranked nations, only four teams from that path have gone on to reach the knockout phase.

Celtic were the last of those clubs to do so, reaching the last 16 in 2012-13 under Neil Lennon when they were eliminated by Juventus.

Repeating that feat represents a major challenge for Rodgers whose team face the high probability of being place in an exceptionally difficult group later today.

But the Celtic manager is not prepared to settle for having already achieved his main objective in the job which was to take the club back into the Champions League proper and secure a financial bounty likely to be in the region of 
£30 million from Uefa prize money, TV revenue and ticket sales income.

“I think we have to refocus on our goals now,” said Rodgers as he reflected on Tuesday night’s nerve-wracking 2-0 defeat in Beersheba which saw Celtic almost completely fritter away their 5-2 first leg lead.

“We want to come out of the group now. We are not in it just to participate. In order to get out the group you have to get in it in the first place.

“So our first job, which was a massive job, was to qualify. It’s an amazing experience to have gone through it.

“But now we are actually in it, it’s most probably going to be a difficult draw. We are in now with Europe’s elite. But we will be in it to try and qualify.”

Rodgers insists he has paid little attention to the possible opponents Celtic could face as they take their place among the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Paris St-Germain at the draw ceremony.

“No, I haven’t really looked at it,” he added. “You can’t get too far ahead of yourself. We have got there and it will be nice to see our name in the pot. Then let’s see what the draw is.

“I am very optimistic and positive in my outlook on it. It will feel really, really nice to be in it. It will sink in over the next day or two – the achievement traced back to starting pre-season training on June 25 and what we walked into.

“We started this work on the first day and this was our first target. It’s amazing to have actually achieved that. It’s a huge success for the club and particularly the players.

“Europe will be happy as well when they see a great club like Celtic involved, with our supporters. Hopefully we can get a good draw.”

Celtic will be in the fourth pot of seeds and can expected to encounter a couple of European heavyweights.