On more than one occasion during his first two years as Celtic manager, Brendan Rodgers spoke of his desire to create a “legacy” which would leave the club in a better place than he found it.
It now seems that he is being forced to accept a reality which dictates the foundations he intended to lay simply cannot be situated on the shifting sands which have become the Scottish champions’ natural habitat.
As a frustrating and largely unproductive summer transfer window took another unwelcome twist for Rodgers yesterday, with the strong possibility of Moussa Dembele’s departure to Lyon emerging, the sense that Celtic are now taking their first backward steps under the Northern Irishman strengthened.
At this stage of the previous two seasons, Celtic have been looking forward to the group stage draw of the Champions League. Tonight, they will seek to claim the secondary prize of a place in tomorrow’s Europa League group-stage draw when they face Suduva in the second leg of their play-off round tie in Glasgow.
It leaves Rodgers to reflect that the policy of developing players and selling them on at a sizeable profit, which Celtic have now done so effectively for the best part of a decade, means continued growth and perennial participation in the Champions League group stage has become a fanciful ambition.
“I think it’s about understanding where Celtic is at,” said Rodgers. “It’s no secret. It’s very difficult to build something here because every two years it is going to be recycled. That’s the way it is.
“Of course, you’d love to be able to say we want to keep some of these players for five, six or seven years, but it’s not the reality, especially now when players can get offered three or four times the money they are on here.
“It’s a really short career. We don’t want to lose Moussa. We make that known as well. He’s not one we want to lose, but it’s something that has come up and he and his representatives have asked to explore that. Which is natural.”
Rodgers was non-committal when asked if this is his most difficult time as Celtic manager but did offer an analogy which suggested he is finding the going tough. “It’s just different things to deal with,” he shrugged. “There’s always something as a manager. They say about football management that you’re always ‘in it’. It just depends how deep – ankle deep, knee deep or neck deep! You’ve just got to keep it as low as you can.”
Dembele’s likely absence is a diversion Celtic could do without ahead of tonight’s meeting with Lithuanian champions Suduva, even though Rodgers’ men are in the box seat after a 1-1 draw away from home in the first leg last week. “It’s a time that can be very unstable for players and it’s my job to stabilise the emotions of the team and ensure we’re focused on the football,” added Rodgers. “There are young players with talents who show that every time we play, so we’ve dealt with other issues but this adds a little bit more because it’s that time of year. But you learn to deal with it.
“Last week in the game in Lithuania, although I wasn’t overly pleased with the performance, we came together as a squad and spoke about our reaction going forward and what is important. The Europa League provides us with an opportunity to play against really good teams and to develop. We have a great opportunity to finish the job at home and go into a prestigious tournament for us which is important. It’s important for us to have European football at least through to Christmas and that’s something we want to do. It’s an opportunity for all of us to play against really good teams and work against very good managers. It’s a competition where we can use our experience and do well in. We were disappointed going out (in the last 32 against Zenit St Petersburg) last season, especially after playing well at home. We need the support behind us and get into what is a very good European competition.”
Rodgers will make a decision today on the readiness of Odsonne Edouard, the club record signing who has missed the last four games with a hamstring injury. The French striker is back in training but his return to action could be held back until Sunday’s Premiership showdown with Rangers at Celtic Park
“Odsonne is looking good and if he isn’t involved against Suduva, then he’ll definitely be involved at the weekend,” said Rodgers. “He’s worked very hard but we’ll wait to see what’s the best game for him to come back in – Thursday or Sunday. He’s a fantastic player and has been a big miss for us.”