Brendan Rodgers: Oliver needed some fine-tuning, we are reaping the rewards

Oliver Burke will be relishing the test of Valencia at Celtic Park tonight. Pic: SNS/Rob Casey
Oliver Burke will be relishing the test of Valencia at Celtic Park tonight. Pic: SNS/Rob Casey
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Brendan Rodgers has come to accept that you have to look beyond the headline figures to grasp the reality of Celtic’s financial situation in trying to compete at European level.

The Scottish champions’ latest set of accounts may have shown they have an eye-catching £38 million of cash in the bank but it won’t alter the budgetary restrictions Rodgers operates under when assembling his squad at a club who have a firmly established and successful business model.

But while the Celtic manager 
cannot go out and spend £20 million on a player, he is relishing the current challenge of honing and improving the considerable skills of one who has cost almost £30 million in 
transfer fees.

Oliver Burke is poised to make his European debut tonight when Celtic entertain Valencia in the first leg of their Europa League last-32 tie.

The 21-year-old has made an impressive start to his loan spell in Glasgow, scoring three goals and turning in a set of jet-heeled performances which have captivated the 
Celtic support.

Rodgers appears to be getting the very best out of a player who looked to have lost his way after failing to live up to the hype of his big money moves to both RB Leipzig and West 
Bromwich Albion.

As he prepares to go toe-to-toe against a Valencia side who spent £110 million on new players this season, Rodgers is backing Burke to prove wrong those who had rushed to a negative judgement of his ability to fulfil his potential.

“There is this perception about Oliver, in terms of what he is and what he isn’t,” said Rodgers. “But the perceived eye is always the weakest. This is a boy, who if you observe him and look at him and judge him on that, has all the talent for the very highest level.

“Then it’s about digging in and shining the torch below all that ability and see where he needs to work.

“For me he needed the work to identify a position – or a couple of positions – where he could play really well.

“Then it’s about coaching him and teaching him by constantly reinforcing the strengths of that.

“He’s played in six games and scored three goals, while creating a number of others. But he’s still got development in him.

“He’s a big talent but what’s important, and I said this to him, is the humility that goes with that. He’s getting headlines now he hasn’t had for a period of time with everybody 
looking at him now and thinking ‘right, this is a talent who has maybe got the engine up and running again.’

“But he needs to stay humble, he needs to work. But there is so much scope with him as a player it’s frightening. He’s got pace that hurts teams at the very, very highest level.

“When I first saw him play for Nottingham Forest away at Brighton he looked like a man playing with boys just with the sheer physicality of him.

“After breaking into the team he then made a £13 million move to Leipzig and then a £15 million move back to West Brom, which is almost £30 million worth of player.

“Sometimes what happens with young players is that because they’re talented and gone for a lot of money then think they should know it all.

“But he’s so young in his game as a footballer. It’s easy to flippantly say that they are not good enough but you have to work with it. The one thing I take from working with him initially at the start of January and then where he is now, is that he is a learner.”

Burke has played as a winger for much of his career but Rodgers has used him as a central striker to such good effect that he is likely to start up front for Celtic tonight ahead of club record signing Odsonne 
Edouard.

According to Rodgers, it was a basic adjustment of Burke’s style of play which sparked the form which makes him one of the most likely sources of success for Celtic against Valencia.

“When I first saw him and played him as a striker, some of the positions he took up weren’t natural,” added Rodgers. “You observe that and ask why is he there or there?

“You sometimes see that with other strikers who are taught to run to the corner flag and into the 
channel.

“I said ‘Oliver can I ask you a question. Why do you keep running to the corner flag?’ Players can’t tell you why. You get so many honest British strikers who run to the corner flag and cross the ball and people wonder why they have only scored five goals in 70 games.

“So stay in the corridor, make shallower runs and if you do make those runs you are squaring it for someone.

“Because he was a winger earlier in his career his natural instinct was to get to the line and cut it back. That meant other players had to go central.

“If you focus on his strengths and polish up other aspects and give him clarity then you can help him and for me he’s been a joy to work with.

“I’ve shown him examples of what we want him to do and make it clear for him. He has to press the game and no one does it better – he frightens the life out of defenders.”