Rodgers: We’re not Leaguetofly­aflag in it to prove we can

TALKING CELTIC

Evening Times - - SPORT - By ALI­SON McCON­NELL

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

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