It is on the continent where incoming Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers will be most closely scrutinised in his new position, argues Vincent O’Shea.
On arriving in Glasgow, this is what new Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers had to say (via the Irish Independent) about his new club as a whole:
“People would maybe talk about the level but Celtic is one of the biggest clubs in the world. And for me to come out of the Premier League and come here is certainly not a step down. This is one of the great clubs of the world, an institution, so for me to come here is a huge honour and a privilege.”
Whether you agree or disagree about Celtic not being a step down from the Premier League, it is clear that managing the Hoops has been a lifelong ambition for Brendan Rodgers and the Celtic fans are clearly excited about the appointment. Rodgers has seen off competition from the likes of David Moyes and Neil Lennon to replace Ronny Deila in the Celtic Park hotseat.
While Celtic have been comfortably winning the Scottish title for the last few seasons, there is a feeling that the quality in the squad and the ambition of the club has declined considerably, as they continue to lose key players to the Premier League while settling for a poor standard of player in the transfer market. The return of Old Firm rivals Rangers to the Scottish top flight is expected to give Celtic the wake up call they need and the appointment of Rodgers is a sign of this.
However, it is Europe and progress in the Champions League where Rodgers will ultimately be judged. The Northern Irishman is well aware of this:
“For me the objective is pretty clear, to continue with the domination of Scottish football and also to make an impact in European football.
“Celtic being the first team to win the European Cup is very important, there has been many great European nights here. So that opportunity to revive those fortunes, to get into the Champions League and obviously continue with Scottish football domination (is exciting).
“First of all we have to look to be competing in the Champions League and you have to qualify and then the objective then is can you get out of the group stages and beyond. Of course it is difficult, with the money that is around but you look at Porto, Benfica, those sorts of team that are dominant in their own league and qualify into Champions League and can make a good fist of it.”
Celtic have always had a special history in Europe – dating all the way back to their 1967 European Cup win when they became the first British club to win it, a year before Sir Matt Busby’s Manchester United won it. Jock Stein’s ‘Lisbon Lions’ who consisted of all home grown players overcame Inter Milan’s defensive ‘catenaccio’ style to make history.
In terms of recent history, Celtic have also had many famous European nights. Indeed, Celtic can be considered unlucky not to have added a UEFA Cup triumph in 2003 to their list of honours when Jose Mourinho’s Porto edged Martin O Neill’s side out 3-2 in a controversial game.
It is those special Champions League nights against Europe’s elite that Celtic supporters are craving for Rodgers to bring back. The atmosphere in Celtic Park is electric as many opposition players have stated:
“I’ve been fortunate to play in some great stadiums in Europe with Barcelona but none compare to Celtic,” Messi is quoted as saying in the Daily Record.
“The atmosphere their fans create make it a very special European night of football.”
The atmosphere at Celtic Park has played a part in Celtic taking some huge scalps in the Champions League against the likes of Barcelona, AC Milan and Manchester United. The challenge for Rodgers is to bring those nights back, but those Celtic teams had much better players than the current side.
The likes of Leigh Griffiths, Colin Kazim-Richards and Kris Commons will not put too much fear into teams. There is deadwood in the squad that Rodgers needs to let go. The awful Efe Ambrose is a prime example of this. He seems to make at least one costly mistake per game.
Celtic will also need to put their money where their mouth is and bring in a higher quality of player if they are to progress to the Champions League group stages and be competitive in Europe once again.
Celtic’s bottom place finish in their 2015/16 Europa League group with Fenerbahçe, Ajax and Molde demonstrates the size of the task that Rodgers faces.
Vincent O’Shea, Pundit Arena