Brendan Rodgers’ decision to take the post as Celtic manager during the summer raised a few eyebrows. The Irishman made the usual right noises as far as being honoured and privileged and humbled etc. to be appointed was concerned. But a creeping suspicion remained that he had taken the job as what amounted to a bit of a breather, before getting back to the serious business of the English Premier League in the next year or two.
We can’t be absolutely certain about Rodgers’ feelings then, far less whether his experience to date has met his expectations. One thing is for sure though– the first few months have been anything but dull, and Rodgers does at least look to be enjoying himself immensely.
This state of affairs, it must be said, is a far cry from Rodgers’ first competitive game in charge, which was a 1-0 defeat against Gibraltar giants Lincoln Red Imps. No disrespect to the Imps, but most fans could cobble together a loose collection of friends who could give them a game. That night Rodgers wore the expression of a man wandering around his new neighbourhood having sold his palatial Kensington home and moved to Baghdad.
But only a few weeks later, Rodgers could claim that his first objective had been achieved, with qualification for the lucrative Champions League group stage duly delivered for the first time in four years. The qualifying rounds weren’t negotiated without the odd tremor here and there of course, but that didn’t matter, and Rodgers was able to enjoy the consequent adulation of the hoops fans, and nodding acceptance by the club’s bank manager.
The first few league games of the season passed without anything remotely approaching trouble, and then Rangers came calling. Those who suspected that Celtic would have far too much firepower for their old rivals were proved correct in emphatic fashion. Rodgers’ charges swatted Rangers aside with consummate ease, to the extent that Rangers players trooped off the pitch at full-time appreciative of the modest 5-1 score line.
Celtic and Rodgers were on a high, and the trip to Barcelona on their opening group assignment suddenly didn’t look so daunting, especially since the Catalans had lost a league match the weekend before.
So the concession of seven goals, whatever gloss Rodgers bravely tried to put on this afterwards, was a bone-shuddering dose of reality. One which showed Celtic to be in a peculiar position – utterly dominant domestically, but fodder as far as the European top table is concerned.
The bread and butter of the league then offered much-needed solace for a while, before high-flying, 10-competitive-wins-in-a-row-under-Pep-Guardiola Manchester City arrived in Glasgow. And in truth more than a few Celtic fans would have been nervously anticipating another drubbing.
However, Celtic’s home record in Europe against top sides isn’t as impressive as their away record is wretched for nothing, and the stadium fairly rocked the home side’s way to a thrilling 3-3 draw. Afterwards, Rodgers was able to talk in terms of a magnificent performance, bravery and so forth, as opposed to a learning process, harsh lesson, etc.
Most people are clear that, for all Celtic’s shortcomings – the defence still looks weak at times, and the midfielders need to weigh in with more goals – Rodgers has made a very positive impact in his short time north of the border. Players such as Tom Rogic and James Forrest have been revitalised, and signings Kolo Touré, Moussa Dembélé (surely the snip of the century at £500,000) and Scott Sinclair have all been hugely influential.
So it’s been a rollercoaster for Brendan so far, and the season is still in its infancy. He may have swapped the glamour and avarice of the Premier League for his spell in Scotland, but no matter how long it lasts, Rodgers looks as if he’s enjoying every minute of the highs and lows that goes hand in hand with managing one of Glasgow’s big two.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that, for all the chances of silverware increase, so too does the price of failure multiply many times over for those who do not meet expectation levels. Rodgers will be astute enough to know that plenty of managers before him were swept away by troubled waters having initially rode the wave of optimism. For now at least, however, he’s clearly having a ball.