Ruairidh Barlow discusses the recent rollercoaster ride at Parkhead
Social media was filled with anger on Tuesday as Brendan Rodgers was confirmed in his new post at Leicester. The green half of Glasgow duly showed no restraint. Even with twenty-four hours grace period, there was no sign of the storm calming, as the Green Brigade unfurled a banner reading “You traded immortality for mediocrity. Never a Celt. Always a Fraud” during their game against Hearts at the end of February. It almost went unnoticed that Neil Lennon had returned to the club on a deal until the end of the season. The loss of a beloved and successful manager is difficult for any team to swallow and harder to replace. But is the departure of Rodgers really the blow it is being made out to be?
There is no doubt he has been successful. Celtic came off the back of two consecutive league titles when Rodgers was appointed, but with poor results in Europe and a stale atmosphere at the club, Rodgers certainly revitalised the team. Winning every domestic title available to him, it is hard to argue that he could have done better. He introduced a ball-playing style, brought through Kieran Tierney and has got the best out of McGregor, Ajer and others. Not to mention a remarkable sixty-nine-game unbeaten run. He leaves with the team a third of the way to winning a third successful treble and top of the league once more.
There is a small caveat to this success however, and that comes in the form of European results. While he did get them to the group phase of the Champions League in his first two campaigns, despite the odd credible draw, they were regularly outclassed and frankly, out of their league. A variety of excuses can and have been offered in his defence, be it the lack of financial muscle or tricky draws – but Celtic’s failure to achieve even the group stages this year cannot be excused. The AEK Athens side which dumped them out of Europe’s premier competition possesses neither a better playing squad nor a bigger war chest and they subsequently failed to pick up a single point in the group stage.
Their Europa League campaign was not a great deal better. They scraped through the group stage, largely due to RB Leipzig’s inability to win their final game against a poor Rosenborg side. Once again, they looked out of their depth in the knockout stage against a Valencia team which sits 9th in La Liga with 15 draws to their name. It is one thing being outclassed in the Champions League, quite another in the Europa League.
Obviously, the draw plays a part in European competition, but it was only last year that Basel made it to the knockout phase of the Champions League. Being competitive is certainly not beyond Celtic. Rodgers himself has become ever more frustrated with the Celtic board and it seemed improbable that this relationship was going to improve, at least not without a radical change of approach from Peter Lawell. Mourinho, Guardiola and Zidane have popularised the concept of managers having “a cycle” in recent years and in all likelihood, this year would have the been the end of Rodgers’. All of these factors combined meant it would have been difficult for Rodgers to continue beyond the summer.
Fans should take solace in the fact that things were unlikely to improve under Rodgers next season – now the club has three to four months to find the perfect replacement. The next appointment Celtic make needs to be the right one; a manager with new ideas, someone who can turn Celtic into a collective which is more than the sum of its parts and find a way to perform in Europe. Lennon has proven himself enough of a motivator to secure the league title once more, giving Lawell time to make the correct decision.
The bitterness from Celtic fans is understandable – leaving a team during a season is never likely to be a happy farewell, especially while the team is in the running for a treble. Still, Rodgers departure can be beneficial for all parties in the long run. Rodgers rebuilt his reputation and has cashed in on it while his stock was high. Celtic have the time they need to find the right manager to take them forward.