Jon Daly yesterday rounded on Brendan Rodgers over the pre-match comments the Celtic manager made about the Hearts set-up, branding them “disgusting”, “disgraceful” and “unacceptable”.
In a remarkable outburst by the Tynecastle caretaker manager after his team’s 4-1 defeat at Celtic Park in the league season’s opener, Daly let rip about Rodgers’ take on the sacking of Ian Cathro earlier this week. The former Liverpool manager had expressed “empathy” for Cathro who he had described as “a very talented young coach”.
Rodgers claimed the deposed Hearts boss had been undermined by a “confused” strategy, although he stopped short of naming director of football Craig Levein. The Celtic manager claimed Hearts had signed players such as Kyle Lafferty and Christophe Berra who were not suited to the brand of football Cathro wanted to play.
“I thought Brendan’s comments on Friday were absolutely disgusting. Disgraceful,” Daly, pictured, said. “I hadn’t read them before the game so I made a point when I came in. I thought it was very poor form.
“A manager of his calibre should know better. I’ve followed Brendan’s career down south when he was at Liverpool. Not once did I hear him make a comment about the structures at Man United, Chelsea or Man City. But all of a sudden he comes to Celtic and thinks it’s acceptable to talk about the structure of our football club.
“Our football club is structured in a way that helps younger coaches. You have an owner in Ann Budge who is refreshing and honest. Even this week, she came out and said they’ve made a mistake with the seats for the new stand. If that’s any other club, they make an excuse and don’t hold their hands up. But our club at the minute is very easy to pick on and kick.
“For a manager of his calibre to make the comments he did, it’s not acceptable. Ian Cathro has left and I can understand his comments about the manager because none of us like to see someone lose their job. But once he starts talking about recruitment of players or players fitting into the system the manager wants.
“And questioning Ian’s authority. That shows me that he doesn’t know Ian very well. There’s no chance those players would have come in the door without Ian’s say so.
“Brendan’s a knowledgeable man. But if he thinks [Michael] Smith, [Ashley] Smith-Brown, [Rafal] Grzelak, Lafferty, Berra or [Connor] Randall don’t suit a 3-4-3 system, that baffles me. It really does. They’re wing-backs, centre-backs, strikers, midfielders. So it’s actually farcical that he thinks they don’t fit into that system.
“And that other people make the calls around our club. To comment on it when he knows nothing about the structure at Hearts is a disgrace. It’s very disrespectful.
“We all know that Ian is a good coach and he had a philosophy of play. But his other comments about myself, Liam Fox, Austin MacPhee and Paul Gallacher – about how we’d come here and play a basic shape.
“What’s the difference between a shape and basic shape? Does he play a basic 4-3-3? I don’t know. There’s no difference what shape you play. [If] we were going to play a defensive style 3-4-3 with two in the middle of the park against their three – we’d have lost six or seven especially with where the players are mentally.
“I’m very disappointed with his comments. I haven’t spoken to Brendan about it. I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night and didn’t read press this morning because I was concentrating on the game. But I had a look before kick-off because I had texts about his unsavoury comments. I’ll tell him when I see him that I’m not happy.”
Rodgers, in his post-match briefing, denied mentioning specific players – though he did name Lafferty and Berra in Friday’s daily newspaper conference but not in the broadcast element – and reiterated that his emphasis had been on supporting Cathro. However, though he was conciliatory in the Celtic press room, Rodgers aimed a barb at Daly on BBC Radio Scotland.
Responding to Daly’s point that he never talked about other clubs or managers when he was in English football, Rodgers said: “Yeah, well, he hasn’t become a manager yet so wait until he becomes a manager and then he’ll know the rules of the game then.”
That came only minutes before he offered up praise for Daly’s efforts in his first match of the season in charge. “I hope Jon gets the job,” Rodgers stated. “I said what I had to say yesterday, my feelings on a fellow manager losing his job. But it’s OK, there’s no drama. I said when I first came up here I’ll always be open, say what I think, and then move on. In respect to Jon, I thought he set his team up very well, him and his staff. We had to work to get the result. But however they feel, it’s no drama for me. I haven’t spoken to them.
“I never mentioned any individual players. I was talking about the manager. There’s no issue with it. It’s however they want to take it. My focus is on the game and my empathy was for the former manager.
“It’s a good club Hearts, I’m sure they’ll get a solution and look to push on.”
Berra, meanwhile, did not take Rodgers’ implicit criticism of his recruitment to heart. “I just laughed at it. I don’t know Brendan personally, he’s obviously a well-educated man and always comes across in the press like he’s not really one for being controversial. That’s if you call what he said controversial. But at least he knows who I am. Maybe what he said was disrespectful but I’m not going to lose sleep over it. I’ve played in football long enough to have had bad things written about me and my team and it’s never bothered me before. It was tongue-in-cheek so we just get on with it. Brendan, you know, he’s done a great job with Celtic and has had a great career. He can say what he wants. Football is about opinions and we just get on with it.”