Brendan Rodgers believes Ian Cathro was undermined by a “confused” football management structure at Hearts during his ill-fated eight months as head coach of the Tynecastle club.
Celtic manager Rodgers has expressed his sympathy for Cathro, who was sacked earlier this week, and questioned the input of those above him in the Hearts hierarchy.
Rodgers singled out the incident last season when director of football Craig Levein sent instructions from the stand at Pittodrie to Cathro in the technical area during a defeat against Aberdeen and also claimed players signed by Hearts – notably Kyle Lafferty and Christophe Berra – were ill-suited to the style of football the 31-year-old was trying to implement.
“I looked there [at Hearts] and it always seemed a wee bit confused,” said Rodgers ahead of today’s Premiership opener against the managerless Gorgie side at Celtic Park.
“Especially when you’re a young coach, there are lot of opinions. You get so many so-called experts around you, looking to guide you. They bring you in to do the job but you are getting messages from everywhere, really. The one example, which everyone saw at Aberdeen – Christ Almighty. The game is hard enough, you need to be able to think clearly. I also look at the recruitment. I’m pretty clear on how Ian wanted to play, with the formation and structures he set out. Those are footballing ideas, 3-4-3. It’s very clear how you have to work that to make the best of it – you have to pass the ball, you need players with a certain type of technical ability.
“But then they will switch to 4-4-2 and that’s what I’m talking about, the confusion. There was a coach who wanted to play a brand of football for the benefit of the players and for the club to have grown, although of course you have to win. That was set against players coming in who weren’t of that profile. With all due respect, Kyle Lafferty isn’t that, Christophe Berra isn’t that. That’s the difficulty of it. As manager, if your philosophy is different to someone else’s [at the club], then it is a mismatch.
“I am disappointed, I had empathy for Ian. My own feeling is that he is a very talented coach. I had never come across him before but he clearly has the talent. You don’t go abroad and work at the clubs he has done and gained those experiences if you are not. The board at Hearts thought he was good enough and thought it was the right time for him to come in. But throughout his time there it always seemed as though he was up against it.
“I am a wee bit disappointed for Scottish football because he is clearly someone who was trying to work a certain way and to develop players and make them better. I am not sure you have so many of them up here, that’s the brutal honesty of it.”
As Rodgers gets ready to start the defence of Celtic’s Premiership title, he has welcomed the Champions League play-off round draw which see his side face Astana of Kazakhstan. Celtic, who defeated the same opponents 3-2 on aggregate in the third qualifying round last season, will be at home in the first leg on 16 August with the return in Astana on 22 August.
“It’s a good draw,” said Rodgers. “We have been there last year and got the result and we’re fine with it. Everyone would probably prefer to have the second leg at home but I am not overly concerned by that.”
Celtic will be without Danish defender Erik Sviatchenko who has been ruled out for the next six weeks with the knee injury he suffered during the 1-0 win over Rosenborg in Norway on Wednesday.
Rodgers, meanwhile, is hopeful of an imminent resolution to Stuart Armstrong’s contract impasse. The midfielder is in the final season of his current deal and has been unable to agree terms so far.
“I’m hoping that very soon that can be resolved either way,” said Rodgers. “I don’t think we are too far away now. I hope for him and the club it can be resolved. We haven’t had any offers for Stuart. I know what his goals are, I know where he wants to be and we can help him achieve them here. If that’s the case, he’ll sign. Stability would be good for him.”