Celtic Diary Saturday October 5: What Lennon Wants
Celtic sit proudly atop their Europa League group ahead of the double header against Italian side Lazio.
Two wins will secure qualification.
Anything else after that will win the group.
Sound a little over ambitious ?
Perhaps, but the way this team is playing in continental matches, it’s certainly not beyond them.
There’s a desire within the players that hasn’t been there in recent years, as if the manager has managed to instil his own experience and desire to win into the players at this level. A far more cautious and yet exciting at the same time way of doing things.
When the players talk of wanting to go far in the tournament, you sense its not just bluster.
You sense they really believe it.
The 2-0 win over Cluj was evidence of that, and not only on the pitch, there was a belief from the stands that something special might just be happening.
Cluj were never in it, looking back the game was there to lose, but Celtic never looked as though that possibility had entered their minds.
For the first time i n a long time, supporters and players had turned Celtic Park back into a fortress…amd we didn;t even have to turn the hot water off in the dressing room.
quite simply, Lennon wants to succeed in europe, something that never really occurred to his predecessor, Brendan Rodgers.
Which reminds me…Tony Evans, writing for the Independent, may have jogged a few memories in his piece on the honourable man..
Brendan Rodgers held court. It was March 2015 and Liverpool were on a 13-game unbeaten league run. This was not the uplifting Red spring of the previous year when Rodgers’ side had come close to winning the title but the team had not lost since before Christmas. The manager felt positive. He does positivity brilliantly.
The audience were journalists. Although the meeting was off the record and he could not be quoted directly, what the Liverpool manager said made great copy. He talked about long, sleepless nights when he weighed up complex tactical issues and how he arrived at a ‘eureka’ moment and changed his principles to get the best out of his squad. He talked about his CORE philosophy – Commitment, Ownership, Responsibilities, Excellence – and explained how to apply each point. And he discussed players, articulating how he had improved Emre Can and Jordan Henderson while detailing why Mario Balotelli was doomed to failure on Merseyside.
The resulting pieces were published the day before Liverpool played Manchester United at home. They captured a manager in his element and the last high-water mark of Rodgers’ Anfield career. United blew their rivals away in a first half where Louis van Gaal out-thought his opposite number. Although the final score was only 2-1, the defeat was comprehensive. The season unravelled. Liverpool lost five of their last nine league games and, even more embarrassingly, were humiliated by a hitherto abject Aston Villa in the FA Cup semi-final. The campaign climaxed with a 6-1 defeat at Stoke City. All that was left was the lingering smell of bullshit. Rodgers was doomed. It was only a matter of time. Jurgen Klopp replaced him three months into the next season.
In truth, that 13-game run was arguably one of the most underwhelming unbeaten stretches in Premier League history. There were plenty of other debatable issues around Liverpool at the time, too. It was a club on the edge and it took a remarkable lack of perception of the problems for Rodgers to choose that moment to project such a rosy image of his managership.
It had been a difficult season. The title challenge of the previous campaign ended with Steven Gerrard’s infamous slip against Chelsea and the collapse in the next game at Selhurst Park when Liverpool squandered a three-goal lead in the last 11 minutes. Yet, at a club where contending to win the Premier League in May was a novel situation, there should have been enough residual positivity left to fire the team into the new season. Instead, Luis Suarez left in acrimonious circumstances and the replacements were, well, inadequate. Anfield’s recruitment policy was a mess. Lazar Markovic, Emre Can, Alberto Moreno and Balotelli were wished on the manager and were never going to fill the void left by Suarez. Dejan Lovren was only a slightly less contentious signing. Fenway Sports Group (FSG) , the American owners, were convinced that Rodgers favoured English players. The arrival of Adam Lallana and, especially, Rickie Lambert, did not engender much confidence in Boston. Liverpool lost seven and drew three of their first 16 games of 2014-15.
FSG were frustrated by the manager’s reluctance to play the new signings. After a 3-0 defeat at Old Trafford in December, they gave him an ultimatum: get the likes of Can into the side or pay with your job. Those endless hours and the 3am moment of realisation that Rodgers described to the journalists – essentially adapting a 3-4-3 system he had seen Basel use in their 1-0 victory over his team in the Champions League group stage – were born of that necessity. FSG’s Mike Gordon applied heavy pressure to move Rodgers away from his favoured 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 formations.
Can and Henderson were generating praise so Rodgers was keen to point out how he had improved them, even though he was strong-armed into putting the German in the team and did his best to get the Englishman out of the club.
Rodgers was on safer ground talking about Balotelli. He never wanted the Italian and was pressurised to play him, too. Yet the story the manager told about their interaction and the use of psychology to motivate the striker was laughable. The Northern Irishman sketched a drawing of a figure wearing a crown to illustrate to Balotelli that ‘we are all kings of our own destiny’. FSG had long stopped being amused by their manager’s antics.
John W Henry, the principal owner, was convinced he had found the perfect manager in the summer of 2012. The Swansea City boss was in demand. Rodgers showed up with an 180-page dossier that set out his vision and was delighted to discuss analytics with the American millionaire. In their 18 months at the club FSG had dealt with Roy Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish. The Americans could not comprehend why Hodgson had ever been appointed and they simply could not understand Dalglish’s impenetrable accent. They wanted freshness, they wanted the future. Rodgers was that man.
Transfer windows always throw up issues, though, and old-fashioned ideas like wanting to build a squad in your own image come to the fore. There was concern in Boston that Rodgers was too keen to unload players without adequate replacements. Henry wondered whether his manager was too concerned with midfielders and not enough with attackers. They looked short on options up front. On August 10, Henry explicitly told his manager: “We cannot move [Andy] Carroll anywhere until we have a couple of additional forwards.” The Geordie was one of a long list of players Rodgers was keen to discard. Henderson was among them.
FSG were eager to bring Daniel Sturridge to Anfield from Chelsea. With that deal almost done and the deadline clock ticking down, Rodgers offloaded Carroll to West Ham United. Then he turned down the Sturridge move, made an approach for Fulham’s Clint Dempsey and offered Henderson to Craven Cottage in part exchange.
Henry was unhappy about losing out on Sturridge but what made him really furious was Rodgers’ response to the incident at a press conference after the window shut. “It’s probably 99.9 per cent finance,” he said about Carroll’s departure. “If we’ve got a choice, then he’s someone around the place who you could use from time to time. He would have been a good option.”
FSG were aghast at the suggestion. Henry wrote an open letter to fans to shoot down the notion that the manager was being forced to sell and explaining their strategy. What they could not understand across the Atlantic is how Rodgers could “throw us under a bus”. It would not be the last time the phrase was used. Trust was undermined within three months. The roots of the transfer committee began there.
Rodgers was conciliatory afterwards, pleading that Sturridge was a player with “talent but… issues”. Your money is my money, he told the owner, and the manager did not see the striker as being worth it because of his injury record. It cut no ice. In January Sturridge moved to Anfield. Doubt crept in. The transfer chronology of the window, Henry told some intimates, “might make you think I had, again, chosen the wrong manager.”
On the pitch things were fine. The American owners approved of the coaching methods and could see improvement in the team. They inserted a £20 million buyout clause into his contract for fear that Manchester City would come calling – which raised an eyebrow or two at the Etihad – but recruitment remained a cause of friction. “Pay too much for a target and he complains we used too much of the budget on a player he didn’t think was worth it,” a source noted. “Pay too little and lose the deal, and he complains that we aren’t big enough to compete.” Perhaps that was the American’s inexperience. That sort of behaviour is common among managers across the game. Rodgers allowed too much of the thought process to reach the public domain for the owners’ taste, though. After Liverpool’s first failed attempt to sign Mohamed Salah in January 2014 – a player he was lukewarm about and argued against meeting Basel’s valuation – Rodgers said at a press conference that losing out on the Egyptian was “hard to take”. He was asked why the winger ended up at Chelsea. “That’s for the money guys to say,” he replied.
FSG felt the bus roll over them again and one angry internal missive stated, “I’m fighting the urge to call him and tear him a new asshole
Success repairs breaches. Coming close to winning the title – finishing second to Manchester City in 2014 – should have brought all the factions together but there were rumblings in the dressing room as well as the boardroom. Suarez and Raheem Sterling are not the only players who believe that the manager broke promises to them. There was a sense that Rodgers’ schtick was getting old. When the 2015 season started poorly and the manager talked about entering another three-year rebuilding cycle after a 1-1 draw with Everton, FSG’s patience snapped. Rodgers was gone and Klopp appointed in his place.
Rodgers was right, of course. Liverpool did need three years to get anywhere near where they wanted to be. Klopp inherited a squad that was not good enough but then benefited from a more coherent strategy in the market although his predecessor can hardly complain about the mess he helped create. The Northern Irishman sparked the recruitment chaos in August 2012 and it took until after Rodgers’ departure for things to get sorted out.
Because of the lopsided nature of Scottish football, the jury is still out on Rodgers despite his overwhelming success during three years in charge of Celtic. But he is a good coach, even if it is worth taking some of his pronouncements with a hefty handful of salt. Once again he is riding high in England with Leicester. They come to Anfield third in the table and look like the team most likely to crash the top six. At 46, Rodgers seems to have developed some extra maturity. His achievements speak for themselves. The next few months will show whether self-awareness has overridden ambition, especially with the chatter around the possibility of Mauricio Pochettino leaving Tottenham Hotspur growing ever louder. At Celtic, he indicated to former colleagues that he was eyeing his next move within weeks of arriving in Glasgow.
The Leicester manager would do well to learn the lessons of that unbeaten run in 2015. Everything comes to an end and pride comes before a fall. Those cliches would never make it into his list of motivational messages but they are nonetheless true.
The Kop will be affectionate but it is unlikely that Rodgers will have any regrets. If he does, they will not be shown outwardly. He is heading for the big time and his future is bright, he’ll tell anyone who will listen.
And you know what? He might be right.
There’s little doubt Rodgers is a good coach, but as a man manager or someone to work with or for, he lacks something. He doesn’t appear to understand empathy, that knack good managers have of stepping into a players shoes and seeing things from their point of view.
In fact, he doesn;t seem to be able to see anything from any point of view other than his own.
I’ve reprinted that article becuase I think it should be used as the final word on the period where Celtic did well on the pitch, but we almost turned into a soulless EPL side, concerned only with money.
There are also parallels to be drawn with his time at Liverpool and his time at Celtic, which may yet extend to his time at Leicester, with both Manchester united and Tottenham having managers with jackets on shoogly pegs.
And there are one or two I knew it moments in there as well, not least this…which I think, which we all knew deep down…
“I don’t have to explain my love for Celtic, everyone knows it’s my club and the club I’ve supported all my life.
“But this was a chance to move to a massive club in England.
Everyone told me it was a great move, it’s a chance to come here and play against some of the best players in the world.
“And every day I am training with some of the best players in the world too. It was an opportunity to better myself.
“Sometimes you have to look at your career as well as what your heart is telling you to do and it was the toughest decision of my life.
“It kept me up at nights thinking about it. People who are around me know how hard it was.”
There’s an awful lot of cliches in there…was he reading a statement ?
“I don’t know if it will pass, some people probably won’t ever forgive me.
“Everyone has their choice, some people will support me and others won’t. I gave Celtic 15 years, I put my body through a lot playing through injuries and gave everything.
“I am not saying ‘I’m brilliant’ or anything but I gave everything I could every single day.
“Hopefully they will continue to support me but if not I just have to deal with that.
“I just want to say ‘thanks’ to everyone who supported me at Celtic. I couldn’t have got the move to Arsenal without the support and love that they gave me.”