Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers spoke yesterday of “stabilising emotions” among his squad on the back of suffering a whipping at the hands of Barcelona only days after handing one out to beat derby rivals Rangers 5-1.
Roy Keane, a contender to replace Ronny Deila in the summer, bemoaned that Celtic considered themselves a big club yet “when they qualified for the group [against Hapoel Beer-Sheva] the celebrations, for me, were way over the top. I actually thought they’d won the competition. People were hugging each other, the manager, the coaches the players. It’s Celtic, a huge club.”
Rodgers maintains that a Scottish club claiming a place in the Champions League is huge. “I have seen some bits of Roy. Listen, I respect his opinion. He has been a manager and he understands and he is an assistant now,” the Celtic manager said of the Republic of Ireland No 2 and former Ipswich and Sunderland manager.
“So he has seen what it means in order to achieve something. When they [the Republic of Ireland] qualified for the Euros I think that was an achievement. I don’t think there were too many of the staff who stood not smiling, or hugging or cuddling or stuff.
“Where we are at is we had to go through six real tough qualification games. Until you’ve experienced it – and I have to be honest, I was totally ignorant of the fact of what it took because normally I was on my holidays – and until you actually come through it, until you actually experience the emotion and what it means to people [you can’t really judge it]. I am not talking [English] Premier League top end, we are talking a country here that has to fight for the right to be in qualification.
“Players who have to go through a whole season and then go through six qualifying games. Actually, the team they beat in the final qualification round was a good side. They can go to the San Siro and win 2-0 [on Thursday against Inter in the Europa League] so they are no mugs. I think the players have every right, out of relief, out of ambition, to celebrate success if success was to reach the Champions League.
“Some of these players may never be at Roy’s level or the level of some other big players, but, for them, they have achieved something. A lot of them have never been there before. Why shouldn’t they celebrate? The job over the next two or three years is to develop and improve that capability, to be there and to be better in their performance levels.”
Rodgers said he would never consider picking up the phone to Keane for an explanation.
“You will see me over time that this kind of thing doesn’t bother me. Opinion now has never been greater in life, and football in particular. Sometimes there are reasons behind it, sometimes there are messages behind the messages.
“I respect all opinions. Everyone has one on the game and football. Unless someone shows me then I wouldn’t really know what was being said. My focus is only on the best interests of the club, the players and to try make us better. So it doesn’t bother me.”
Rodgers’ focus casting forward is to recruit players with the aggression and physicality Celtic sorely lacked in Barcelona – the January transfer window vital to that. More immediately, he wants a win away to Inverness tomorrow – where Leigh Griffiths will again be missing – that extends Celtic’s victories post-European games to 20. “It’s a fair trip to Inverness, or so I’m told,” he said.
Not as long as the journey Celtic require to make to matter to more than their own when competing in Europe.