Celtic ease to record but face another type of test
Lisbon Lions’ run is beaten now Rodgers has to fight to keep hold of Craig Gordon
AN UNFORTUNATE but inevitable by-product of achieving success in Scottish football is that the players responsible attract the interest of wealthier clubs from further afield.
Brendan Rodgers should really have spent last night wallowing in the recordbreaking start to the domestic season which his Celtic side have made.
They extended their unbeaten run to 27 games with a comprehensive 4-0 triumph over Hearts at Parkhead yesterday thanks to goals from Callum McGregor and Patrick Roberts and a Scott Sinclair double. In doing so, they eclipsed the previous best post-war run recorded by Jock Stein’s legendary team 50 years ago in the 1966/67 campaign.
Yet, no sooner had Rodgers lauded his charges for their historic accomplishment and pledged to ensure they continue their hot streak of form, than he was fielding questions about Craig Gordon.
Gordon was the subject of a failed bid of under £3 million from Chelsea last week, but the Stamford Bridge club appear set to increase their offer before the window closes tomorrow evening. Having initially dismissed the Barclays Premier League leaders’ prospects of landing his first-choice keeper, the Northern Irishman seemed to accept that he could conceivably move on.
“Chelsea have an interest in him, but for any interest to be activated there has to be a valuation of the player that has to be met,” he told BBC Radio Scotland.
“There’s nothing we have got from Chelsea that would make us think in any way we would want to lose a goalkeeper. He is a goalkeeper I really want to keep here.
“We don’t want to sell him, of course, but if there’s any way that would make Celtic think then there has to be an offer that would allow us to do that as a club. And what came in was nowhere near that level.”
It is, despite the fact Celtic have qualified for the group stages of the Champions League this season and are on course for a rare Treble, a harsh reality of the former Swansea City and Liverpool man’s current position.
Rodgers has, without question, been responsible for Gordon developing as a player this term, and he was once again important for his team yesterday.
It will be ironic, then, if the 34-yearold, who kept his 17th clean sheet of the 2016/17 season in the victory over Hearts, departs this week as a result of the progress he has made.
His manager, though, is optimistic an individual who has played for Sunderland in the top flight in England in the past, and who spent two years out of the game through injury before joining Celtic, will resist the temptation to leave for a club where he will be sitting on the bench.
“He is a player that, with all due respect, when myself and my staff came in here he was a far cry away from what he is now as a goalkeeper,” said Rodgers.
“He has gone away and worked on how we want him to play and has got himself into the team and has been absolutely brilliant, first class. I have enjoyed seeing his progress and development.
“If you look at him now, his game, because of our style has elevated him to one of the best clubs in Europe wanting to take him down there as a No 2. I have had a few conversations with him and he is clear where we are at.
“I understand the lure of [the Chelsea bid] and I also understand what it would mean for Craig to go there as a No 2 for the next two years and waste away his career in not playing games.”
Occasions like the one yesterday, when the home supporters in the 58,247-strong crowd stayed behind after referee Bobby Madden had blown the final whistle to applaud their heroes, will make it difficult for Gordon to move on.
That Celtic recorded such a resounding win was remarkable given that Stuart Armstrong was ruled out before kick-off with a hamstring strain and both Moussa Dembele and Leigh Griffiths were sidelined.
Griffiths was unavailable after suffering an injury during his brief run-out in the 1-0 triumph over St Johnstone in midweek, and Rodgers appeared concerned at the condition of the forward who has only played for 15 minutes this month.
“Leigh has struggled for a while
SAFE HANDS: Celtic goalkeeper Craig Gordon (centre) leaves the pitch after another clean sheet.