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Former Celtic ace says Rodgers can bring Euro glory back to Parkhead

SoccerBy Kevin Palmer
Brendan Rodgers
Brendan Rodgers

FORMER Celtic striker Chris Sutton believes Brendan Rodgers is on course to follow in Martin O’Neill’s footsteps by bringing Champions League glory nights back to Parkhead.

Rodgers has already exceeded expectations in his opening weeks as Celtic boss after plotting an unlikely passage to the group stages of Europe’s elite competition and now he is set for the ultimate test as he prepares to take on Barcelona at the Nou Camp on Tuesday night.

In an exclusive interview with the Sunday World, the straight-talking Sutton has hailed the impact Rodgers has made at Celtic and drawn comparisons with the manager currently in charge of the Ireland team.

“I remember when Martin arrived at Celtic and the mood was bleak, but he had a galvanising effect on everyone at the club very quickly,” begins BT Sport’s Scottish football expert Chris Sutton.

“Rangers had won the title by 21 points the season before, but Martin had a charisma and a presence that changed everything in an instant.

“You look at the scenario now and it’s very similar, with Celtic fans losing faith in the team last season and thousands staying away from Parkhead as a result.

“The transfer activity of the previous manager was a complete shambles and his team were going nowhere, but we have a proper manager running Celtic again and the result has been dramatic.

“Ronny Deila signed a player last season in Erik Sviatchenko for what was a massive transfer fee by Celtic’s standards and he had never seen him play before he arrived. 

“That said all you needed to know about that manager. He wasn’t up to managing a club of Celtic’s stature.

“Rodgers has come in with a professional attitude and is only signing players he knows and has faith in. 

“The result is a squad that’s heading into the Champions League with some proven performers in their ranks.

“The arrivals of Moussa Dembele, Scott Sinclair, Dorus de Vries and especially Kolo Toure has brought the quality levels up a few levels at Celtic and you can sense a dramatic change of mood around the club.

“There will be hiccups along the way as these are early days for Rodgers at Celtic, but he is now preparing for a Champions League game against Barcelona at the Nou Camp. 

“If anyone had said this kind of fixture would be on the Celtic agenda a few months ago, they would have been laughed at. 

“The Celtic manager can take most of the credit for making this happen.”

Rodgers became a ridiculed figure in his final desperate months as Liverpool manager, with his sacking from the Anfield club the final indignity for a coach who came so close to winning the Premier League title just two years ago.

A spell away from the game was inevitable outcome for the Irishman whose stock had fallen rapidly, yet Sutton believes he has selected the perfect destination to make his return. 

“A lot of cruel comments were flying around about Rodgers before he came to Celtic,” he continues.

“I say we should only judge him on what he is doing now and not whether he made a funny comment in a press conference at Liverpool of Swansea.

“We can see a new Celtic team evolving that is in a different league to what we have been subjected to in recent years.”

Sutton was part of two Celtic teams that secured improbable draws at Barcelona’s Nou Camp amphitheater during the O’Neill era, with their success in defying the odds to deft teams led by Brazilian superstar Ronaldinho the blueprint for the class of 2016 to follow.

“The teams I played in at Celtic were well organized and had players who could nick a goal and that combination gave up a chance to enjoyed some incredible European nights at Parkhead,” says Sutton.

“You know possession will be surrendered for long periods when you are in a Celtic team playing Barcelona at the Nou Camp, but that does not mean you have to accept you are beaten before you get there.

“Our attitude was always that we had a chance in every game we played and as a footballer, you want to look at a fixture list and see games against Barcelona and a home match against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City on the horizon.

“As a player or a fan, these are the occasions you want to be associated with and the aim for Celtic in these opening two Champions League fixtures is to show that they can compete. 

“Celtic are not a team that can go toe-to-toe with Barcelona and come out of it with anything other than a heavy defeat.

“Yet they can go there and frustrate them and the longer the game goes on, the more the pressure will pile on to them.

“It’s all about maximising your potential as a team and we did a good job of doing that under O’Neill’s management.

“The best Celtic can hope for is to finish third behind Barcelona and Man City.

“But by making it back into the Champions League, Celtic are back on the football map and that is a great platform for Rodgers to build from.”

Even if clash with Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar proves to be several steps too far for Rodgers and his team, at least Celtic fans can dare to dream again.