Rodgers: We’re not Leaguetoflyaflag in it to prove we can
AS HE picked over the bones of Tuesday night, there was no great mystery for Brendan Rodgers.
His team, which cost around £23million to assemble, were firmly and clinically put to the sword by a PSG team which cost around £500m to build. The expected outcome prevailed.
And yet, despite the chasm which exists, the Celtic manager maintains that he wishes to cultivate an environment of expectancy at the club where success is celebrated not just by qualification into the group stages of the Champions League.
While genuinely going toe-totoe with teams of vast wealth is an impossibility – and there is ample evidence to suggest that the gap between the elite and the rest is wider than it has ever been – , Rodgers expects that Celtic can still compete in the most demanding of environments.
“You can’t take away the human element,” said Rodgers. “We have grown so much in a year and learned – but you have to respect that it’s a humbling experience to be up against guys who are worth £200m and are in a team put together to win this competition.
“That can be difficult. I’m trying to build a mindset where success is not just qualification. We wanted to qualify and fly the flag and that’s great. But we’re also in it to compete.
“This will be like any defeat. The setback will provide the motivation going forward.
“The players will learn. They are honest and when you have honesty in defeat, it helps you grow.
“In the second half we were less timid and more potent before they got two late goals.”
It was Hoops rookie Anthony Ralston who was perhaps given the steepest learning curve of all.
Thrown in for his fifth senior start, the teenager found himself in the midst of a running feud with Brazilian playmaker Neymar, a spat that culminated with the world’s most expensive player refusing a handshake at full-time.
“I didn’t see that until after the game when someone mentioned it,” said Rodgers.
“I think it is probably a tribute to Tony and how well he did and of course it would have been nice for a player of that standing and status to acknowledge it. That is the true mark of a player sometimes.”
Ralston’s attitude throughout the game as he entered into the battle with Neymar suggested that the youngster had no sense of being overly starstruck by the renowned striker who has a bit of history in Glasgow.
And it is that sense of bravado that encouraged Rodgers to put the boy into the fray, while moving Mikael Lustig in beside Jozo Simunovic in the absence of another fit defender.
“That is why I played him,” he s aid. “You can’t have shrinking violets in that arena and one thing he isn’t is a shrinking violet.
“He is an 18-year-old, he is a young guy, but he doesn’t play young.
“He is strong, he’s aggressive and I think with players, when I put them in when they are young, they need to have certain personality traits.
“When you put a young player in a Champions League game, you have to know they are not going to sink. He never did that.
“He was competitive, aggressive, strong… he’ll take a huge lift from that. Professional pride gets hurt when you lose, but he is playing against one of the top five players in world football and actually the most expensive player in world football.
“That is why with young players you have got to throw them in. You have got to put them in, but it is about timing. If I thought he was going to get over-exposed, well, you have to be careful with that as well.
“It wasn’t just a blind risk. I felt he could do well i n the game.”
RODGERS also felt that Kieran Tierney benefited from a testing night against Kylian Mbappe.
“I thought our two young full-backs were very good considering the level of the opponents,” he said.
“Mbappe and Neymar are exceptional. PSG beat Barcelona 4-0 last year without these two.
“I thought they were real positives, even if I was naturally disappointed with the way we played as a team especially in the first half.”
For now though, it is back to normality with the focus on domestic football for the time being.
Celtic have games against Ross County and Dundee before heading to Ibrox next weekend, the send-off game before the Anderlecht tie in