It’s been a funny old week without a midweek Celtic match as the League Cup quarter finals were all being played out. The Celtic support mostly has taken the chance to take a breath and get ready for the next phase of games which are going to come thick and fast and are very likely going to define our season.
We won’t be winning the League Cup this year but Brendan Rodgers will be determined to deliver on his promise he made on his first day back at Celtic about seeing his doubters outside next May to celebrate another title win. That remains the ultimate objective this season but a close second would be maintaining an interest in European football beyond Christmas.
Whether that’s in the Champions League or even the Europa League, that going to be determined in our next run of games from next Wednesday through to the start of December. The Scottish Cup is icing on the cake and we don’t have to worry about that until next year anyway.
Today Brendan Rodgers set the ball rolling when he spoke to the broadcast media ahead of the Scottish Premiership match on Saturday lunchtime. Motherwell manager Stuart Kettlewell confirmed today that the playing surface at Fir Park is like a bowling green and that’s bound to suit a quality football side like Celtic.
Here’s what the Celtic manager had to say this morning at his media conference…
Q: We’ll start with the good news on contracts. Tony Ralston signed a new deal, Brendan. How keen were you to reward him for what he’s done, and what have you made of what he’s developed into as a player?
Brendan Rodgers: “I’m really happy for him, because – not only is he a very good player – he’s a big Celtic supporter as well. Having been here as a child and working his way through. I obviously saw the talent when I was here the first time, and played him in some big games, then he had a few seasons where it didn’t quite work out for him.
“But I think going into the team when Ange (Postecoglou) came here, I thought he did very well. For me, I think it’s important to have players who have come through the system because they know that they’ve got the real feeling of the club there. I’m absolutely delighted that he’s decided to sign on.”
Q: A couple of weeks ago, you said that discussions were ongoing with Reo Hatate about a deal as well. Has that progressed, is that any closer to being over the line?
Brendan Rodgers: “I haven’t been made aware of that. I’ll speak to Michael (Nicholson) later, but I know – and in fairness to the club – the club have been reaching out to the agent for quite some time. Where it’s at, I don’t know at this point.”
Q: Can we expect Scott Bain to start this weekend, given Joe (Hart) is suspended?
Brendan Rodgers: “We’ll look at it between Scott and Benji (Siegrist). Both guys work hard every day, so we’ll finalise the team tomorrow.”
Q: Have you started succession planning for what happens after Joe? Obviously, he’s 36, his contract’s up. He’s been pretty non-committal about what comes next. Is there a plan in place from the club’s point of view long-term regarding number one?
Brendan Rodgers: “No, not only Joe, it’s throughout the squad. I think you always have to plan forward. Currently, at this moment, I thought Joe was unfortunate in terms of getting sent off last weekend. I think what doesn’t get highlighted is he made a great save for us at 0-0 before that.
“He’s at the age that he’s at, he looks after himself so well. He’s in great physical shape, but naturally in every position you’re always planning and planning forward, whether it’s goalkeeper, centre-half or centre-forward, you always have to have an eye on the future.”
Q: Just in terms of contracts from the club, the club have tied a few players down recently to long-term contracts. What do you think that does, does that give the players extra security to give you as the manager extra security and extra ability almost to plan longer term?
Brendan Rodgers: “I think it obviously helps the player from a financial perspective and hopefully stabilises them. You know as well as I do in terms of the modern game, it can all change very quickly. I think if a player signs it, then obviously you’re hoping and feeling he has that happiness to be here, as he sees his future and development here. When you sign on here for a club the size of Celtic, then it’s a great opportunity for you. I think it benefits both and that’s the idea of them signing the longer contracts.”
Q: In terms of Motherwell this weekend, what do you expect from them? They’ve been really impressive this calendar year, especially since the manager has come in. What do you make of them, and what do you think has been key to their success recently?
Brendan Rodgers: “Well, I think they’re obviously very, very well coached, first and foremost. I think that when I see them play, they play the shape very, very well. They defend in 5-4-1 and morph into 3-4-3 when they have the ball. They all look very clear in terms of what it is they’re doing.
“They have a nice mixture in the game, they build the game short, but they can also build it long as well. I think that Stuart (Kettlewell) has done very, very well there. He’s gone in and coached them very well. Going to Motherwell is always a tough game. In my experience of going there, it’s a tough game and always a really good atmosphere. The pitch is normally fantastic, so it should be a very good football game. We’ll prepare for a tough game.”
Q: Did you see the game on Sunday against Rangers? What did you make of it?
Brendan Rodgers: “Yeah, but I analyse all the games and all the opponents that we will play. We’ll pick out the strengths and areas that we feel we can exploit.”
Q: How’s your squad looking, Brendan? Anyone returning?
Brendan Rodgers: “We’ve got Cam (Carter-Vickers), who’s coming back to rejoin the training group, but we won’t be ready till after the international break, I would suspect. Nat Phillips, we’re keeping an eye on, he’s come in and rejoined the group. We just have to make sure with his ankle, but that looks much better. No one else really that has been out injured will be back.”
Q: Do you think Nat might be available for next week?
Brendan Rodgers: “Well hopefully for the weekend, yeah.”
Q: You’ve said before that you’re getting there to where you want the team to be. How far away do you think they are from where you want them to be?
Brendan Rodgers: “It’s not about being far away, it’s just the constant development of the team. I prioritise quality football, in terms of the work. I think over the course of the summer and probably early parts of the season during the transfer window, there was probably that feeling of maybe a little bit of instability and whether players were going to be here or are they not. With a new manager coming in, what is he asking us to do?
“But now, I think the team have taken a big mental step forward, and I think you see that in how they’re performing. The determination, the intensity, and the quality starting to move forward into the levels that I’d wanted to get to. That’s always the beginning of a really good team. I’m really happy with the progress that we’re making day by day, but we have to keep working and working very hard.
“My priority in my career and my body of work has always been about the quality of our football, and that’s the quality of football to win games. We’re starting to see that now.”
Q: How beneficial has this week on the training ground been? It’s quite rare for Celtic to have a midweek off like this. Have you made the most of it this week?
Brendan Rodgers: “Yeah, the players are fantastic. the coaching staff here are brilliant. John (Kennedy) seeing over the coaching side along with the other coaches, in terms of what I look for in the team and what I want, and the delivery of that and the preparation that goes into that. It’s been fantastic.
“Of course, we’d rather have been playing last night, that’s the reality. However, you have to look forward, and because we weren’t, we were able to maximise our training. It’s given us a wee bit more time, and whilst we’re in these early stages, obviously we want to use that time efficiently.”
Q: In a way, is dealing with the red cards over the last couple of games, has that maybe brought the players together coming through adversity? They did well in Rotterdam with nine men, and very well to manage the game last week. Does that maybe even just help to focus on things and make sure they have to work together and step forward that way?
Brendan Rodgers: “Yeah, I think I mentioned it before, I think that the team’s traits have to be good organisation, togetherness and personality. I mentioned that before we went down to 10 men and nine men those are traits that you need in any good team. I think the players have demonstrated that.
“The one thing I’ve always said is that we won’t unravel mentally if we go down to 10 men. Why? Because the guys will understand what it is they have to do. That’s what they did, both in Feyenoord and against Livingston. Now, we don’t want to make a habit of it, that’s for sure. But I think that with the greatest respect, the three sendings off weren’t malicious, they weren’t discipline issues, it was decisions that were made by referees.
“We have to accept that, and very quickly we have to have a plan in terms of what it is and what happens next. I think when you have that – you saw against Livingston – the stability of the team. They stayed calm and in control. I mentioned it before, I like my teams to play aggressively, and be fast and dynamic and create lots of opportunities, but I don’t like the team to be flying with the seat of their pants.
“It needs to be in control and organised. The players demonstrated that last week brilliantly, and we’ll move on to our next game now and look to put in a good performance, hopefully with 11 men.”
Q: Can I just take you back to what you said about Tony Ralston? Important to have players who have a feel for the club and who know the club well. Is that important as well, when you’re bringing in a lot of players from elsewhere that you’ve got these guys who can maybe pass that onto them as well, guys to let them know what Celtic’s all about?
Brendan Rodgers: “Yeah, guys like Tony and Callum (McGregor) obviously, the skipper’s outstanding at that role. I think any player that comes in here has an idea of the history. I think they then go through an induction process, where they understand everything about the club, and then they have that support whilst they’re here.
“The players, they’re great at helping them solve the problems, especially the new players coming in. It’s numbers of players that are coming into here, and the likes of Tony and that help them settle in. It’s not an easy transition, you come into here, and the intensity straight away.
“I know speaking to a number of the new players that that’s been a challenge for them. They come from a slower level of football, different climates, and then all of a sudden they’re into a high-tempo, high-intensity game, and that’s a challenge. Guys like Callum, Tony, James (Forrest), Bainy (Scott Bain), these guys are all guys that have been here, and some of the guys that have been here for a long time. They make that transition a lot smoother.”
Q: We discovered this week that you and Mr Duncan Ferguson are pals from times on Merseyside perhaps. I wonder how that friendship came about, and what you make of his decision to return to Scottish football after such a lengthy absence?
Brendan Rodgers: “We connected when he was at Everton, and then throughout my managerial jobs. I’m always open to help with whatever manager or coach needs it. When we faced Everton – whenever he was in temporary change – we obviously got chatting for a good bit around that time.
‘We have communication, it’s like most coaches and managers, not every single day but my phone is there for him if he ever wanted to reach out. I think it’s great for him, he clearly wants to do well in management, and he’s spent a long time in coaching. Going up to Inverness, it’s a lovely part of the world, but I’m sure they want to do well in their football, and so will he. We exchanged messages the other day.”
Q: Can I ask you a shamelessly Sky question? Will you be watching Europe in the Ryder Cup and what your expectations of it are, given you’re a big golf fan these days?
Brendan Rodgers: “Yeah, I’m a golf fan, I’m not very good at it! I really enjoy seeing the players because they play most of their lives as individuals, and I think that the Ryder Cup has always been something that’s special when you see them come together in that team format and you see what it means to them. I’ll watch as much of it as I can and hopefully, they can do what the women did and win, which would be great.”
Q: Brendan, just on Duncan Ferguson, he said that he’d hope to get a couple of players from you on loan, he can still do that. Do you see that as a possibility, and perhaps beneficial for Celtic too?
Brendan Rodgers: “We’ll always look at any options for players. First and foremost, it’s the player. We have to feel that the loan away from here is going to be beneficial for them because for some it’s better to stay here and be close to the first team and work. It’s all in its own individual merit. You can’t throw the blanket over every player and say ‘Yeah, it’s good for me to go on loan’.
“Then, it’s the case of what the style of football it is that he goes to, because that’s very important. We’ve got some young guys that go to Queen’s Park. Why? Because they’ll get a great development in football on a brilliant surface, and they’ll get educated how we would like them to. It’s all about education for young players, it’s not just about sending them out on loan, there has to be a strategy behind it. Whether it’s Duncan, or whatever manager of whichever club, it has to be right for the player and for Celtic.”
Watch Brendan’s Media Conference below…
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