Monday 19 August 2019

Aidan O'Hara: Rodgers risks becoming bored if Bhoys' domestic dominance isn't stopped

Brendan Rodgers
Brendan Rodgers
Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

The tweets coming from the 'Deluded Brendan' Twitter account have dried up a little since Brendan Rodgers was in his Ricky Gervais-esque pomp at Liverpool but, if Celtic maintain their dominance a 'Bored Brendan' account can't be far behind.

'Deluded Brendan' has almost 350,000 followers and regularly takes the mickey out of the Celtic manager with mock musings on topics such as why Scott Sinclair should have won the Ballon D'Or ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo (because he's scored more SPL goals this season) or his actual quotes where praising his team's "character" is a regular occurence.

He did everything but use that word after last week's victory as their opponents lived up to the old Billy Connolly joke that they should be called "Partick Thistle Nil" - Celtic scored once and it was enough to stretch their unbeaten record to 21 domestic games.

Persistence

"To not slip up domestically really shows a real persistence and resistance. . . we should have scored more goals to make it calmer but still having that mentality to win is very, very important," said Rodgers.

No manager, least of all one as optimistic as Rodgers, is going to play down the importance of victory but it's difficult to take Rodgers' assessment seriously when Partick had two wins in their previous 18 games.

That's not the fault of Rodgers or Celtic but does point to a perception which is going to become a problem for the Northern Irishman when he contemplates the next stage in his career.

On Saturday, despite having 10 men for 45 minutes, they beat Hamilton to make it 17 league wins in 18 games - which is one more victory than Rodgers managed in the whole of his first Premier League season in charge at Liverpool.

Next Sunday, there will be no lack of motivation when they play Rangers in a game that remains passionate and fiery among players and supporters, even if certain Celtic fans argue that Rangers, as most people know them, ceased to exist when they went into liquidation in 2012. (If that is the case, the fairytale rise of a new Glasgow club from Third Division obscurity to second in the Premier Division should be one to warm the heart of all football supporters.)

There's an argument that Celtic need Rangers to be strong in order to improve but, even if it eventually reaches a point where the lead is cut to single figures, they face a similar problem to Dundalk in the League of Ireland where there are a few other good teams in the division but there is a chasm of class between top and bottom.

Rangers, however, are a long way off that point and have a squad which looks like it has been brought together by somebody who has started a new game of Football Manager on their computer with the aim of getting a struggling team out of League Two.

The first step is to sign a solid, experienced. no-nonsense centre-half like Clint Hill; then find a journeyman goalscorer like Joe Garner to nab a few goals; throw in an experienced goal-sniffer who is proven at that level - albeit several years ago - like Kenny Miller, and sprinkle with a couple of players who were prospects in their younger days but never fulfilled their potential like Philippe Senderos or Niko Kranjcar.

These five aren't first-team regulars but are part of the squad assembled by Mark Warburton which finds itself quite comfortably in second position - which, even more so than Celtic's 14 point lead at the top, is an indictment of the league's quality.

And this is the problem facing Rodgers that, even while winning, he is in a no-win situation when it comes to his reputation.

Ronnie Deila was nobody's idea of a good manager but, in his two seasons, won the league by 17 and

15 points. If Rodgers wins it by a lesser margin, which seems unlikely unless Roman Abramovich fancies a holiday home in Inverness, then they will be deemed to have regressed.

If it's a record margin, even allowing for an improved style of football, Rodgers won't get much credit because of the perception that anybody could manage Celtic to win the Scottish league.

It's more likely to be the latter scenario and Rodgers will then attempt to attract a better quality of player to help next season's Champions League campaign, which will only widen the gap between Celtic and the rest of Scotland still further.

Pattern

This year's European campaign followed a regular pattern, with an impressive result against a stronger team - a draw with Manchester City; a hiding from an elite team - 7-0 against Barcelona - and then losing the crucial game against their most realistic rivals, Borussia Mönchengladbach.

In fairness, it was a group that far richer teams than Celtic would have struggled to escape from, but with two campaigns under his belt, Rodgers' record now reads one win and five draws out of 12 Champions League group games in charge of Liverpool and Celtic.

Presumably, it's a level to which he wants to return but, even allowing for success on the domestic front, the Celtic job has been something of a career killer for the last few incumbents.

Gordon Strachan won three leagues in Glasgow; he left in 2009 and lasted less than a year in charge in the Championship with Middlesbrough, and his subsequent reign as Scotland manager has been dismal.

He was replaced by Tony Mowbray, who was sacked within a season and replaced by Neil Lennon, whose managerial star rose at Parkhead but then dipped at the basket case of Bolton Wanderers and, two and half years after leaving Celtic, he now finds himself a division below them managing Hibernian.

Rodgers will have far greater aspirations than his predecessors but it's delusional to think he will find it difficult to win the league for the next few seasons. If he wins a little less but is challenged a little more elsewhere, at least it won't be boring.

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