BRENDAN RODGERS has explained the need to have three high quality strikers at Celtic after realising that relying on just two wasn’t sustainable given the fixture list intensity that Celtic have experienced in his time as manager.
Celtic start their season playing meaningful, important football in Armenia on Tuesday and Rodgers knows that his squad will have a punishing schedule ahead of them until towards the end of May 2019.
When he arrived at the club in May 2016, Leigh Griffiths was on hand at Parkhead to meet and greet his new manager. Rodgers knew that Griffiths had effectively carried Celtic to the title in the season just ended – scoring 40 goals in the process and one of his first observations was that we could not hope to rely on one player for the goals going forward.
It wasn’t long before Moussa Dembele arrived from Fulham yet even with two top drawer strikers at the club, Celtic needed a third striker of sufficient quality.
Injuries to both Griffiths and Dembele over the two seasons that Rodgers has been in charge has meant that each has taken turns to lead the line while the other one has been sidelined. There were even a few games – for instance when we wrapped up the title at Tynecastle in early April 2017 – when neither striker was available and Paddy Roberts was played in the number 9 role.
The problem was solved last summer when Odsonne Edouard – French Eddie to the supporters – arrived for a season long loan from PSG. Edouard bedded in and then made a name for himself. A permanent move followed this summer so Rodgers had succeeded in getting the squad to the position where we had three top quality strikers – probably for the first time since Larsson, Sutton and Hartson were doing their stuff in the Hoops.
“What I try to have is real competition in that attacking area. Over a couple of years, Moussa and Leigh were injured for periods and at times we didn’t have that extra one. But I didn’t want to just bring in anyone, so to bring in Odsonne with his quality and potential was important,” Brendan explained.
“All three strikers are fighting and we are going to need all three to play the number of games we are, hopefully, going to play.
“My style will always be the same, but my systems can change. The rules are simple in that we have to attack with aggression and intensity and we have to dominate. When we do that, we can create chances.
“I like them to be flexible tactically and obviously having an option to that is very good. It worked well for us against Sparta.’
Shamrock Rovers are next up before the serious business begins on Tuesday evening in Armenia when Celtic play Alashkert in the first round of the Champions League qualifiers. Rodgers is likely to look to Moussa Dembele to lead the line in Armenia.
“Moussa is a really happy boy and he’s a great boy to work with. I love him.
“He has a belief that he is a player and that is important because you need to have that personality.
“But it is handy when you back it up. That’s what I look for. Moussa backs it up and shows it on the field,” Brendan said.
“I said Moussa had lost weight when he came back and looked really fit and strong.
“What I know with Moussa is that nothing affects him, really. I think there was a little period in my time, but, apart from that, he’s been absolutely brilliant. He is really focused and he’s a good boy,” the manager stated.
Rodgers knows that the risk in having top quality players like Dembele is that some other club is likely to want him and there are richer clubs out there, with their TV money, who could offer him much more financially than Celtic pay. Dembele is among the top earners at Celtic but it is all relative. Rodgers is aware that Dembele knows the score re all of this but for now he is very happy at Celtic.
“He knows it ( it being a big money transfer) will come for him at some point and that there is nothing he can do other than work hard in training and play well in games. He’s done that for the majority of time I’ve been at the club. He can only play well, work hard and see what happens.”