When Craig Gordon was relegated to the substitutes’ bench for the first time by Brendan Rodgers a month ago, it was regarded by many as confirmation his time was up as Celtic’s number one goalkeeper.
While Dorus de Vries has scarcely impressed since coming into the side at Gordon’s expense, conceding 11 goals in his four appearances so far, the feeling remains that the Dutchman recruited by Rodgers will be the Celtic manager’s first choice for the rest of the season.
Gordon’s recall for Wednesday night’s Betfred Cup quarter-final against Alloa did little to alter that perception and it would be regarded as something of a surprise if de Vries, who previously played under Rodgers at Swansea City, is not back in the side for tomorrow’s Premiership fixture against Kilmarnock at Celtic Park.
But Rodgers insists there are no guarantees for either man and has also challenged the widespread view that he will always favour de Vries because of his reputation of being superior to Gordon with the ball at his feet.
“When Craig was in the team I was asked if he was the right one,” said Rodgers. “Now he’s not in the team, I’m being asked questions why he is not number one.
“For me, it’s important to accept the goalkeeper that we play and, just as with the outfield players, I will always pick what I think is the best team for the game.
“A goalkeeper, first and foremost, needs to be able to make saves. When you play for a team like Celtic, eight out of ten games is about concentration. But goalkeepers, first and foremost, need to keep the ball out of the net. The second point is can they participate in the game? When you have the ball, you have 11 footballers. If you go back over the video stuff with Dorus at Swansea, that’s how it worked. It allowed us to maintain the ball. The more build-up from behind, the more you get into the final third. The quicker the ball goes forward, the quicker it comes back at you. So if you can build well from behind that makes it better.
“Have Craig’s feet improved since I’ve been here? Yes. Is he a good shot-stopper? Very good. But I don’t really want to be answering questions on my goalkeepers every week. I have very good goalkeepers. If I choose to put one in, he will be the one asked to do the job.
“I feel a wee bit for Craig because he’s a good goalkeeper and a top-class professional. It’s probably worth my explaining again why I brought Dorus in if it makes it easier.
“I only had one fit senior goalkeeper going into the Champions League, so I needed to bring in someone with experience. If it was someone who had experience of how I work, then great. So I decided to bring in Dorus. He was the player of the season at Nottingham Forest last season and worked with me at Swansea and knows how I work.
“Was he coming as No 2 or No 1? That wasn’t really my thinking. I just wanted good goalkeepers. I never really wanted to pinpoint I had a No 1 or No 2. What I needed to know was I had good goalkeepers there.
“It’s like the outfield players. If you’ve got Leigh Griffiths playing as the only striker all season, then he doesn’t get pushed in the same way as when you’ve got one or two others. It’s exactly the same for the goalkeepers. They need to have a little push.
“Everyone needs to be striving every day to be the best. Craig has been exactly the same. Since the games he has been out of the team, he’s been brilliant, very professional. He’s a good guy who works very hard and is in that little goalkeepers’ union with Dorus now. They get on very well and push each other.”
Rodgers dismissed suggestions that Gordon’s contentious challenge on Alloa striker Greig Spence in Wednesday’s 2-0 win, after which he was considered fortunate by many to receive just a yellow card, may have stemmed from the recent pressure and uncertainty over his own position at the club.
“No, not at all,” said Rodgers. “It wasn’t anything to do with confidence, it was just tactical decision-making. I don’t think it was anything to do with confidence whatsoever.”