Friday 17 August 2018

Rodgers relaxed about possibility of losing wizard of Oz

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers. Photo: PA
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers. Photo: PA

Roddy Forsyth

Brendan Rodgers last night declared himself "relaxed" about the prospect of Celtic's Australian playmaker, Tom Rogic, moving on this summer, although the Parkhead manager has also tried to persuade the 25-year-old to stay with the Scottish champions. Rogic is about to enter the final year of his Celtic contract and, if fit, is likely to be a key member of the Australian World Cup squad for the finals in Russia.

He has turned down Celtic's initial offer of an extended deal and was ambivalent in an interview given to BeIN Sport in Australia when he said: "It seems like a long time ago since I signed and it seems like I've been here forever, but I wouldn't change anything."

Rodgers, meanwhile, said: "I've spoken to Tom a number of times and I am quite relaxed on it really. Of course, he knows I'd love him to be here but, rightly so, he has to think of everything. If it was purely football, of course, he loves the club. He's been here over five years now and he knows what he has here but his next contract is a big decision for him and his wife. They are both Australian, so they need to have a think about where they want to be. I know they love being here. He knows how much I rate him as a player and he has a World Cup to concentrate on, so we'll see what happens after that."

Rogic famously sealed Celtic's clean sweep of domestic honours last season when he scored the winning goal in injury time of their Scottish Cup final against Aberdeen at Hampden Park.

Today, he will face Rangers as Celtic attempt to clinch their seventh successive championship with a title win in a home Old Firm derby - a conjunction which last occurred in 1979. Victory would leave Celtic needing only a win against Motherwell in next month's Scottish Cup final to achieve an unprecedented back-to-back treble of Scottish silverware. Rodgers placed Rogic's contribution at the heart of the Hoops' domination, saying: "He's the best player at understanding where the space is and that allows him to receive the ball better than anyone. His reception skills are amazing. He has the brain to find space, we see it in training every day and in the games, that's why he's so elusive in the games. He's difficult to pin down because he can find the space and from there, technically, he can score. He's highly gifted technically."

Rodgers attributed Rogic's close control technique to the player's grounding in futsal and compared him to Philippe Coutinho. "Coutinho, was a futsal player," Rodgers said. "For the young players at Liverpool we did a split screen of Philippe when he was 10 or 11 playing futsal and he was virtually exactly the same as a 19- or 20-year-old. That was his game, manipulating the ball, the confidence it gave him - how you receive the ball. The ball's a bit softer in futsal so you can manipulate it and gain confidence with it.

"Tom has about size 14 feet, so how he works the ball around plates that size is even more incredible. That's what people won't recognise, but his feet are soft and he's got a great view of the game - and he likes to score goals. He's got a real inward aggression. He's not timid. I've seen him become stronger physically in his time here, more robust. He's been unfortunate a couple of times when he's been out injured. We know his strength as well as his technical ability and that's what you need if you're going to perform at a good level."

As for Celtic's overall progress towards another league title, Rodgers rated the 3-0 victory over Aberdeen at Pittodrie in October as the epitome of the team's development this season. "We were in the middle of a really busy period and the noise was around the game that Aberdeen were fresh and it was good time to play us because we were playing a lot of games, blah, blah, blah," he said. "To then go and show that level of performance was absolutely outstanding - how we pressed the game, the positioning of the team, the quality on the ball. The surface was beautiful that night and the players got a great accolade that night from Willie Miller, a great Scottish player, whom I don't know, but I respect very much. Willie said that he had never seen a Scottish team play that way. That was a really good performance and it makes you very happy when you play that well and win."

Celtic v Rangers

Sky Sports, 12.0

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