Brendan Rodgers tells Celtic: forget ten in a row, go get the eighth
Brendan Rodgers may be name-checked in the most lustily-sung chorus that details their demand, but he will never be sidetracked by this over-arching, almost overbearing, goal. “You hear everyone saying about ten-in-a-row but for me and the players and the coaching staff it is eight-in-a-row,” said the Celtic manager, whose team open up their championship defence at home to Livingston on Saturday. “Forget the other two – go get the eighth.”
At this stage in the season, it is all about eights for Celtic. With a return leg of their Champions League second-round qualifier to come away to Rosenborg on Wednesday, Rodgers side are three matches into the eight-game process they must negotiate to reach the group stage for a third straight season. A captivating and commanding second-half display the other night means they head into their Trondheim assignment with a healthy 3-1 lead as they look to set up an exacting third-round tie with AEK Athens.
While Europe simply does not allow for any wandering of concentration, it would be understandable were Celtic’s hunger on the home front to be in danger of being sated following their unprecedented gobbling up of every domestic trophy these past two seasons. Rodgers, pictured inset, was anything but mealy-mouthed about how he will ensure that his squad retain their appetite.
“It is about firstly getting the right profile of player,” he said. “You have to get the players that are hungry and that is your recruitment. Once you get the right types in then you can really have an effect on them. So all our players are hungry to succeed. Domestically they have been brilliant these last two years. “They have the hunger and this is an era where they can really put themselves in a really successful period. And the beauty and the exciting thing for me is that I can see it growing and developing all the time.
“From the manager down we never have a lazy day. It is intense, it is relentless with the work but the culture is in place now. So the players want to succeed, they want to win things and they want to get better. It is the biggest thing you can create. You need to have a vision in terms of where you see it all going. You need to have certain values in how you work and you have to bring in certain types but number one is culture. If you create the right culture that will hopefully bring you the rewards.”
The notion of a barely credible treble treble is just what requires to be played for more than a target, though. “Whether it is a target or not for me as the manager it is the demand of this club,” Rodgers said. “I think that every competition you enter, you enter it to win. Qualification for the Champions League that speaks for itself, that is a huge task for us. But domestically you have to try and win every competition that you are in and it is not easy because you can have a bad day, get something go against you or you just don’t play well and the other team does. That is why I tip my hat to the players for how they have performed. It is exactly the same idea this year, there is a hunger to improve.”
That hunger is evident in the growing stature of such as record £9 million signing Odsonne Edouard and fellow French youngster Olivier Ntcham. They provided the goals and the flamboyant inspiration against Rosenborg. At 20 and 22 years old respectively, they are at such early junctures of their careers it would be preposterous to have any concerns over them coasting. The pair, as with so many in the Celtic set-up, seem instead hell-bent on soaring in their careers. Ntcham’s attributes are reportedly already interesting West Ham United but Rodgers is determined that last summer’s £4.5m purchase from Manchester City will continue his immediate development in Glasgow.
“It is just getting the games into his legs, getting experiences,” Rodgers said. “He is a wonderful talent and I think he has shown that. He got an outstanding goal against Rosenborg and played very well. He has great comfort on the ball. Technically he is strong, physically you can see he is an athlete and mentally he is a boy who devotes his life to his game.
“He does his extra work and he is now understanding how to look after his body to play so many games. He is still not up to speed. He starts to tire after 70, 75 minutes which is natural. Like I say, he is a big, big talent and we wanted that when we were looking for that type of player. We wanted that power but also that technical ability and his goal was fantastic.”
Celtic’s goals, meanwhile, remain fantastical.