Brendan Rodgers’ vision for Celtic appears set to be given another boost with reports yesterday that Craig Gordon has reached agreement on a new three-and-a-half year contract. The deal, which will be on significantly increased terms, will tie the keeper to the Scottish champions until the summer of 2020 after a protracted period of uncertainty over his future.
Rodgers has staked his authority on retaining the 34-year-old – whom he declared “a big part” of what he was trying to do at the club – in the face of the January transfer window pursuit of the Scottish international by Chelsea.
When the club rejected a £3.5 million bid from the English Premier League leaders six weeks ago, the Celtic manager pledged that Gordon would be looked after with a new deal to replace the current one, which was to expire next summer. As the weeks have ticked on without a resolution to the issue, whispers began to circulate that Celtic were unwilling to meet demands from Gordon’s representatives for a full three-year deal beyond this season and that this would result in the keeper deciding not to commit, raising the possibility of Chelsea rekindling their interest in him in the summer.
The Celtic manager made repeated public assertions that the discussions with Gordon’s representatives would bring the desired outcome. And although there has been no official confirmation from the club that the keeper’s future has been secured, Rodgers hinted on Friday when speaking to Scotland on Sunday that the matter would be concluded imminently.
“I was led to believe it is nearly there so we shall await the announcement,” the Irishman said of Gordon’s new deal. “Craig seems happy, we’ve had good chats on it... but then I step away and the club and his agent will get it over the line very soon.”
Getting over the line in games, meanwhile, has become straightforward but not in a typical fashion for a team that has been utterly dominant in winning 32 games across a 33-game unbeaten domestic season. In previous days, the prospect of holding Celtic early on would be the gameplan for frustrating them in order to increase the likelihood of producing a sucker punch.
Yet, if St Mirren see off the first half-hour without loss in the Scottish Cup quarter-final they face at Celtic Park this lunchtime, the pattern that has developed this season suggests it will not enhance the prospects of the Championship’s bottom side pulling off an almighty shock, as only five goals of the past 46 that Celtic have bagged domestically have been scored in the first 30 minutes of games.
Such is Celtic’s command in games that sitting in against them only appears to limit damage for the first stretch of games. Rodgers was open about the fact that opponents may be looking at a low-scoring loss as some sort of moral victory.
“If you look at early parts of the game, no team is going to open up against us straight away,” he said. “So when the game starts you are virtually straight into 11 players behind the ball giving you very little space. That is very difficult to break down so in order to do that you have got to wear them down.
“You have got to get them running and then bits of improvisation and individual quality, if that can come through early then great, then you get your goal. It then means the opponent has to attack. If they don’t then the new win for them is to lose one or two nil. For us we have to work away around the field to break the opponent down. But we have to have a belief that it will come. So that is the first thing. Our supporters are huge in this.
“When I first came in I stated how important it was they become educated in the way we were playing because you cannot attack all the time. You are in attack when you play back in order to go to the side to go forward. Early on when I came in if the ball wasn’t going forward there was a little bit of nervousness. Now I think the supporters understand how we are working and know supporters need that bit of patience when we are trying to break down teams in order to win the game.”