Fifteen games into his tenure as Celtic manager, Brendan Rodgers has already passed what Bertie Auld regards as the litmus test for any team wearing the green and white hoops.
No conversation with Auld passes by without the Lisbon Lion stressing the need for Celtic to deliver entertainment in the grand tradition set by Jock Stein during the club’s halcyon days on the European stage.
With 41 goals scored already this season, the side being moulded by Rodgers are certainly providing no shortage of thrills for a support which was re-energised by his summer appointment as Ronny Deila’s replacement.
Auld is happy to give Rodgers his own stamp of approval, although he maintains reservations about a defence which has conceded 22 goals in those 15 outings under Rodgers.
Seven of those, of course, came in the Nou Camp two weeks ago when Celtic’s return to the Champions League group stage proved a sobering experience. Ahead of Manchester City’s visit to Celtic Park tomorrow night on matchday two in Group D, Auld is hopeful lessons will have been learned as the Scottish champions attempt to reclaim some pride and credibility on the biggest stage of all.
“Brendan has been great but the only bad moment has been the Barcelona game where I felt the team were a bit immature,” said Auld.
“Having beaten Rangers 5-1 on the Saturday, they went out there on a real high. But it’s a different ball game when you play against opposition like Barcelona. Good teams like them play in the space that their opponents allow them. Celtic gave them too much space.
“Everybody has a system. But sometimes you have to change it and play to your strengths – or counter the opposition strengths.
“I admire Celtic for what they’re doing at home. But, when you get to a higher level, a level some players haven’t experienced before, you have to respect the opposition.
“That doesn’t mean just putting everybody behind the ball. We were actually too deep against Barcelona, with ten or even 11 guys back in and around the penalty box.
“So play the system that suits you. Brendan has them working hard to get the ball back, which is key. When they get the ball, they have to use it well.
“They definitely need to show more maturity against Manchester City than they did in Barcelona. But we all know Celtic park is some place to play on a big European night. It’s the best atmosphere in European football.
“So Manchester City will know they’ve been in a game. Whether Celtic are good enough to beat them on the park is another matter, given the money they can spend and the quality of players they have.
“But look at the teams who have left Celtic Park having been run to a standstill over the years – Barcelona, Manchester United, a lot of the best teams in the world. Celtic are a big club and big clubs rise to the big occasion.”
For Auld, the most encouraging aspect of Celtic’s early development under Rodgers has been the freedom afforded to the wide players in the team.
The timing of wingers coming back into fashion at the club could hardly be more appropriate, given the release this week of a new film about Celtic’s greatest ever exponent of the art, Jimmy Johnstone.
“The wee man would definitely approve of what Brendan is doing,” added Auld. “The best thing about the team at the moment are the runners off the ball. I’m delighted for James Forrest whose mind seemed to be somewhere else for the last couple of years.
“Now he seems to have belief again, he’s going past defenders with pace and playing with passion. He also has the composure to score goals.
“I also like the lad Patrick Roberts, while Scott Sinclair has brought a new dimension to the team. He sees passes, as well as beating players. So we are getting goals from all areas.
“That was an issue last year, when we relied heavily on Leigh Griffiths who was a superstar for us.
“He still will be this season, but now he has support from Moussa Dembele who is very athletic and certainly has a finishing touch.
“So, although we’re still losing some silly goals, we’re scoring plenty.”
lJimmy Johnstone, produced by the award-winning purpleTV, will air on BBC ALBA, Friday 30 September at 9:30pm.