Vic­tory over Am­s­ter­dam gi­ants would boost Rogic re­nais­sance

Celtic’s Aus­tralian at­tack­ing star re­flects on his change of for­tunes at Park­head ahead of Ajax clash

The Herald - Sport - - FOOTBALL - GRAEME MACPHER­SON

AS one of the few mid­field/ for­ward types not ei­ther strug­gling with in­jury or sus­pended for Thurs­day night’s Europa League tie against Ajax, it came as some­thing of a sur­prise to see Tom Rogic be­ing al­lowed to roam freely around Celtic’s Len­nox­town train­ing ground on Tues­day with­out the need for 24-hour su­per­vi­sion. It speaks vol­umes for Rogic’s re­nais­sance this sea­son – as much as it does about the length of the list of play­ers likely to be un­avail­able to man­ager Ronny Deila – that if Celtic are to achieve the vic­tory they need to keep alive their chances of making the knock-out phase, then they will surely need Rogic to be at his prob­ing, cre­ative best. And few would have pre­dicted that just a few short months ago.

Rogic played just seven times for Celtic in sea­son 2013/14 and not at all the year af­ter. Plagued by a num­ber of in­juries, even a loan spell back home with Mel­bourne Vic­tory would prove a frus­trat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. He re­turned from in­jury in March this year with a num­ber of low-key ap­pear­ances for the Celtic de­vel­op­ment side but, come the sum­mer, there seemed a greater chance of Rogic be­ing re­leased than of him en­joy­ing a sec­ond wind as a Celtic player. Deila, though, af­forded him an­other op­por­tu­nity and he has made the most of it. Still just 22 years old, the Aus­tralian has played 18 times al­ready this sea­son – many in his pre­ferred No.10 role – and chipped in with five goals. It has been such an un­likely trans­for­ma­tion in for­tunes that even the player him­self ad­mit­ted he had won­dered whether he would ever make it as a Celtic player.

“The man­ager came and spoke to me last sea­son af­ter I missed it all through in­jury,” he re­vealed. “We spoke dur­ing the sea­son and when it came to the end we dis­cussed my fu­ture and me com­ing back to train­ing and play­ing a few re­serve matches.

“I was back in full train­ing and the man­ager said it would be a fresh start with no guar­an­tees. So I came back on the same level play­ing field as ev­ery­one else, and he said that if I per­formed he would give me an op­por­tu­nity. Luck­ily that proved to be the case.

“You never know what can hap­pen in foot­ball. It can change so quickly. But was I com­pletely sure I would come back here and get in the team? “No” is the an­swer.

“It’s turned around for me and I’m just en­joy­ing play­ing reg­u­lar first-team foot­ball. I’m also fit and that’s been im­por­tant. I’m not try­ing to prove my­self to any­one but my­self. Had I left with­out giv­ing it a real crack be­cause of in­juries that wouldn’t have been ideal. But it’s in the past now and I want to keep on de­vel­op­ing.”

Rogic, you sense, is not one for spend­ing hours deep in con­tem­pla­tion about the road trav­elled so far. Asked, though, to pin­point the mo­ment he felt he was “back” as a Celtic player and he alights on the day he was handed his first start in al­most two years.

“My first game back in a Celtic jer­sey, which was against Partick This­tle, was a great mo­ment. I man­aged to score in the first half, which was a nice feel­ing and it was just some­thing I wanted to do to kick-start the sea­son.

“But I don’t think you can ever get com­fort­able. As I said, I’m al­ways try­ing to get bet­ter. I hope I am at Celtic for years to come. I’m definitely set­tled here, I enjoy it, and the club were very sup­port­ive over the last 12 months. I feel good and be­lieve I am in the right place to move for­ward.”

Celtic will take on Ajax with the equiv­a­lent of one hand tied be­hind their back. Nir Bitton and Ste­fan Jo­hansen are sus­pended and there are doubts over the fit­ness of Scott Brown and Kris Com­mons. It does not augur well for a match that may go a long way in de­cid­ing the fu­ture of Deila but Rogic is not with­out hope.

“We’re miss­ing a couple of big play­ers but who­ever plays on Thurs­day will be ready. We have a good squad. Ob­vi­ously Ajax are also a good side. I thought we played well against them in Am­s­ter­dam and were in a sit­u­a­tion in the match where we could have gone on and won it. But I think that if we can per­form to the lev­els we’re ca­pa­ble of then we can cer­tainly get the re­sult we need.”

Celtic, though, have leaked goals at an alarm­ing rate in Europe, con­ced­ing a min­i­mum of two goals in each of their four Europa League matches this sea­son. Rogic knows they must tighten up on Thurs­day. “It’s ob­vi­ously not been good,” he said, with some de­gree of un­der­state­ment. “There have been sloppy mis­takes in­di­vid­u­ally which haven’t helped. But we’ve been work­ing hard to cor­rect that.

“At the week­end we kept a clean sheet against Kil­marnock which was pos­i­tive. We’re now look­ing to carry that into the match on Thurs­day.”

The evening kick-off means an even big­ger le­gion of Celtic fans will be tun­ing in back home. “In Aus­tralia it’ll be a 7am kick-off so my fam­ily will just be wak­ing up be­fore watch­ing it. The time dif­fer­ence can be a prob­lem – some of the games are at 2am for them – so it’s not ideal. But they al­ways watch when they can.”

Had I left with­out giv­ing it a real crack be­cause of in­juries that wouldn’t have been ideal. But it’s in the past and I want to keep on de­vel­op­ing

COUNT ME IN: Tom Rogic takes time out from train­ing at Len­nox­town yes­ter­day to pro­mote tomorrow night’s Europa League tie against Ajax

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