SCOTTISH football is waiting with interest to see what Brendan Rodgers does next for his next trick. This is because for the first time the Celtic manager, domestically, might have to produce a rabbit from his hat just to stand still.
Two-and-a-half years have gone by since Celtic welcomed Rodgers as their manager in a style in
which Donald Trump might have thought was over the top. However, Rodgers has at least delivered on his promises.
Seven trophies out of seven is a
decent record for anyone. But at
Celtic Football Club it is always about what happens next, and woe betide the man in charge if the team are not quite as brilliant as before and lose a game.
Celtic are the best team in Scotland and are still favourites to win the league. And it could be three trebles in a row.
But they are not as good as they were. The football at times has been average with points and standards dropped, which is seen by some as a crisis.
It is Rodgers’ job to handle this crisis and steer the club through
relatively troubled waters.
“I don’t get too up or down with the noise and the words,” he says. “If you listen to everything that’s said, you suffer emotionally. I’ve got
experience in the game now to
understand that it’s about winning games.
“When you win games, you get the plaudits. Sometimes, even when you win, you don’t get the plaudits. But you have to win. And you have to
respect the other teams.
“The standard we’ve set has opened the eyes of other clubs to improve. That’s been great for the league. But for us, it’s all about
ourselves. It doesn’t mean we’ve dropped our own standards. We’ve lost big players and the argument is, have we replaced them? If we go on to win the title this year, which is the plan, it won’t be any different or any more important than the previous ones.
“My first one felt important for
different reasons and last season was great. It’s my job to do it again this year and it should be an exciting end to the season.”
Celtic are favourites as a rich seven-in-a-row title winning team tend to be and Rodgers hopes this experience will see his team over the line.
“Our consistency will be important in the second half of the season,” he says. “There’s a lot of noise around at the moment and when you lose a game to Rangers things are said. But you have to stay calm and focused on the field. The method is key for us – the way we work, and the continuation of that. We’ve shown consistency over the past couple of years and we don’t need to change that.
“There’s no doubt that there’s a challenge there now. I try not to over-think it and just focus on ourselves. That was the same in my first year here when the gap was 20 points. I concentrate on improving our standard. That’s what it will be about,
“Rangers have invested well, they’ve brought in good players.
Steven [Gerrard] has done really well bringing them together. Other teams are also up there and the standard of the league has improved, which is great for Scottish football.
“For us, the challenge feels really good. And it’s what these players have always responded to. We’ll do that again but the focus has to be on us. I can’t affect what Rangers do, only what my team do on the field.
Getting consistency will be important.”
With the arrival of Timothy Weah and Vakoun Issouf Bayo, Rodgers has four strikers, if the troubled Leigh Griffiths is included.
What will be interesting is whether Rodgers changes his formation with a lone frontman, which has worked some if not all of the time.
Oliver Burke is another attack-minded player and certainly the message the manager has given to the players in Dubai is that they have to score more goals.
“Timothy coming in gives us the option again of playing two up front,” Rodgers says. “When Moussa [Dembele] left, it took away that option because you need different types of strikers to do what we were trying to do. The players we’ve brought in will increase the options.
“We worked in pre-season with two up front and people could see the excitement the team had. After Moussa left and we had a tricky start to the season, the team found it again.
“In our last game, the difference was that we were missing quality players. Rangers and other teams have improved. We’ve got a good squad, but in those type of games we still need players who can make the difference. If we don’t have them, it can be tough for us.
“So we’ll have options again in the second half of the season. At Liverpool, I played a diamond a lot. I’ve not had the chance to do that here but it can give the team a different dynamic.
“The players are great here, in terms of their flexibility. These new signings will allow us to look at different things.”