Monday 11 December 2017

Rodgers laments Scottish Euro flops

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers in jovial mood during a press conference yesterday ahead of their match against Shamrock Rovers. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers in jovial mood during a press conference yesterday ahead of their match against Shamrock Rovers. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

After a week of embarrassment for Scottish clubs in Europe, the expectation once again is that Celtic will ride to the rescue.

Brendan Rodgers' Bhoy are in Dublin for a friendly with Shamrock Rovers this evening as the SPL champions continue preparations for their Champions League encounter with Linfield next Friday.

Rovers will rest key men as they have a big Europa League day next Thursday against Czech side Mlada Boleslav after coming through their first-round tie with Icelandic outfit Stjarnan.

They fared better than the two Scottish representatives at that stage - Rangers and St Johnstone suffered shock losses to Progres Niederkorn (Luxembourg) and Trakai (Lithuania).

Progres are a familiar name to Rovers fans as they were comfortably swatted aside in Tallaght two years ago.

In Scotland, the persistent European failures of the clubs below Celtic have opened a debate on the direction of the game.

There have even been calls to look at the Irish example and switch to a summer campaign.

Celtic aside, Scottish results in continental fare have slumped in the past five years. In fact, since 2012, League of Ireland sides have had more success in Europa League qualifiers than their SPL counterparts.

Irish clubs have won 12 ties out of 58 whereas the Scottish record is nine from 56. They are fortunate that Celtic's performances have kept up the country co-efficient.

Both Rangers and St Johnstone were seeded for their failures this week, whereas the three Airtricity League representatives were unseeded, with Derry City exiting after a heavy defeat to FC Midtjylland.

Fantastic

Celtic are on another level to their domestic rivals, as evidenced by a fantastic first season in charge for Rodgers where they were unbeaten and won a domestic treble.

Their fans delighted in Rangers' misfortune this week, but the manager admits that he would like to see better results from Scottish sides.

"We create our own standards, our own benchmark here," said Rodgers. "We're not reliant on any other club but of course in the bigger picture my feeling is for Scotland. I want Scotland not to have just a team but teams that can go in and represent us.

"Scotland over many years is a wonderful football nation that has produced many great footballers and managers, so it has clearly been a hotbed for football.

"There is a problem and an issue. And the only way you deal with that is getting the teams progressing by winning games in Europe."

Rodgers was asked about the prospect of kicking off preparations earlier but he doesn't see much scope for that given his side were back in from the middle of last month.

"It is difficult," he continued. "If your season finishes on May 27 and you're back again on June 19, how early can you start?

"Rangers had a month and still lost. If you're in the south (England) or other nations, you get four to six weeks. We'll be three weeks and into a Champions League qualifier.

"To give the boys recovery, and mental recovery, they need some sort of break. Some of our boys got only ten days.

"The longest was three weeks. It doesn't matter how much money you have, players still need recuperation. It's a difficult one.

"As I said last year, in this period, you're not going to be physically at your top level. You have to bed in the mental fitness to get them through, knowing you'll get better physically as you go on."

Rodgers has been dealt a blow coming into the qualifiers, with Belgian defender Dedryck Boyata facing a couple of months on the sidelines with a knee injury. That could lead to a move into the transfer market to strengthen in that department.

He has brought a strong squad to Dublin after discussions with Rovers boss Stephen Bradley led to the sell-out game coming about.

"We were looking for a game, a nice little test for us at this period of the season and we spoke to Stephen and the guys at Shamrock Rovers," said Rodgers.

"They are midway through the season and they are in good physical condition, so it's a nice game for us."

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