Rodgers’ Celtic will have to do more than just entertain
The Celtic team which Tommy Burns assembled during his spell as manager is still remembered fondly by many. It was a joy to watch at times
T HERE were many good reasons for the widespread euphoria which greeted the appointment of Brendan Rodgers as Celtic manager on Friday night. But one of them was the prospect of the Scottish champions playing the sort of attacking football for which the Irishman’s sides have long been renowned.
Celtic often impressed under Ronny Deila – the 7-0 triumph over Motherwell which he signed off with eight days ago before his side was presented with the Ladbrokes Premiership trophy was by no means a one-off. Yet, unhappiness with the Norwegian’s tactics, team selections and the 4-2-3-1 formation which he stubbornly relied on, even in home games against far lesser opposition, grew steadily during his two year tenure at Parkhead.
The thought of watching a Celtic side produce the swashbuckling play which a Liverpool team that comprised Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez conjured up under Rodgers is appealing for many supporters.
The new man at the helm has certainly indicated that is what the Celtic fans can expect in the coming season. “I will do all I can to bring our supporters exciting, entertaining and winning football,” he said in the statement that announced his arrival.
But if Rodgers, who was sacked at Anfield in October after a disappointing run of results had seen the Reds slip to 10th in the table, is to resurrect his career in Glasgow his team will have to be more robust defensively than his previous sides often were.
Even when he was leading Liverpool to the brink of their first English title since 1990 in the 2013/14 season, there were murmurings on The Kop about the porousness of his back line. His charges netted a hugely impressive 101 goals. But they conceded no fewer than 50 at the same time. It was, by his own admission, far too many.
The 3-3 draw Liverpool slumped to against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park in their penultimate league game two years ago dealt a savage blow to their chances. They had been leading 3-0 with just 11 minutes remaining.
Celtic’s inability to protect a lead under Deila rightly infuriated their fans. They failed to qualify for the lucrative group stages of the Champions League this season despite being 2-0 and then 3-1 up against Malmo in the first leg of the play-off. That costly collapse wasn’t an isolated incident.
In fairness to Deila, he eventually addressed the problems his team had at the back following the departure of Jason Denayer and Virgil van Dijk, his first choice centre half partnership, in the second half of this season. They let in just 11 goals and kept eight clean sheets in their last 17 games this term.
Rodgers will, then, inherit a decent defence in Craig Gordon, Mikael Lustig, Erik Sviatchenko, Charlie Mulgrew, if he signs a new contract, and Kieran Tierney. Jozo Simunovic, who has been sidelined since January, may also be available. He looked promising in the handful of games he featured in.
Rodgers will not, too, find Celtic up against strikers as formidable as Sergio Aguero, Diego Costa and Romelu Lukaku in the Premiership. However, in Europe he most certainly will – particularly if his side manage to qualify for the Champions League group stages for the first time in three years.
Given the handsome remuneration package which the 43-year-old has agreed with Celtic - he has become the best-paid manager in Scottish football history – he will be required to deliver in continental competition. Defending reliably will be vital to achieving that objective.
The Celtic team which Tommy Burns, who became a mentor to Rodgers at Reading, assembled during his spell as manager is still remembered fondly by many. It was a joy to watch at times. Famously, they only lost a solitary game in the 1995/96 season.
Burns was, though, unable to prevent Rangers from winning the Scottish title and ultimately paid the price with the job. His fate should serve as a warning to his protégé. It is all very well turning on the style, but it cannot be at the expense of winning.
Brendan Rodgers is certainly the right man to take Celtic forward. He is a big name, has a proven track record at major clubs, has European experience as well as a lifelong affinity with the Parkhead club. Securing his services was, no doubt about it, a coup.
After four seasons where, no disrespect to Aberdeen, who have launched spirited challenge despite having a far smaller budget than Celtic, the Premiership title race has been mundane it has now, all of a sudden, become highly intriguing.
Seeing a Celtic team managed by Brendan Rodgers go up against the Rangers side of Mark Warburton in the top flight next season will be compelling viewing.
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