BRENDAN RODGERS will guide Celtic in their Champions League quest when the group stages kick off in the midweek of September 19/20.
There will be the usual attendant razzmatazz as Europe’s elite competition gets underway with Zadok The Priest hauntingly caressing the night air at packed, expectant grounds throughout the continent.
Prestigious encounters against football’s aristocrats under the lights at Celtic Park on such nights are always utterly transfixing and intoxicatingly memorable.
I am old – and fortunate – enough to recall Billy McNeill soaring majestically above friend and foe to thump a header from a swirling Charlie Gallagher right-wing corner-kick into the Vojvodina net for a last-minute winner in a pulverising quarter-final in March 1967 during Jock Stein’s team’s surge towards the ultimate European Cup prize in Lisbon two months later.
I was in the Jungle on that occasion and I was convinced the ramshackle, corrugated roof was going to come down on our heads as we celebrated with a fair amount of delirium.
WELCOME BACK…Brendan Rodgers is preparing for a fresh assault on the Champions League.
I have no idea what Ange Postecoglou will be doing the evening his former team perform in the full colourful glare that the tournament offers when it is set in motion for the 2023/24 crusade.
I am aware, though, what he will be doing three or four days earlier and that will be patrolling the touchline of the imaginatively-named Tottenham Hotspur stadium when Spurs play Sheffield United, newly promoted from the second flight with Oli Burke as one of their star names.
Oli, of course, is the gangly, socks-at-the-ankles striker who has played 10 times for Scotland, failed to score a solitary goal and hopefully has made his last appearance for his adopted nation.
The Leeds-born individual has embraced a mindboggling penchant for so-called witty retorts aimed at a pathetic attempt to annoy the Celtic support. You would have thought he would have put any spare time he had to working on skills such as trying to bring a ball under control.
Anyway, the distinctly-average Oli is now one of the much-hyped gems in the jewel-encrusted English crown which makes our neighbours’ league so much more attractive than their inferior rivals up the road. Aye, right.
Yes, the league can attract some of the most illustrious names as bonkers dosh is splashed with reckless abandonment, but no amount of Sky Sports money, lucrative spin-offs or flabbergasting financial backing from other parts of the universe can enrich the basic talents of a performer, over-priced or not.
The two Premier League outings for Postecoglou before he prepares for the arrival of Oli and Co will be against Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium (capacity 11,379) and Burnley at Turf Moor (21,944).
Wait until the Greek-Australian encounters Kenilworth Road when Spurs visit. The quaint, little ground will be bursting at the seams with 10,356 jostling for a good view.
FINAL BOW…Ange Postecoglou says farewell to the Celtic fans with a Scottish Cup win earlier this month.
So much for the glamour of the “greatest league in the world”. The relentless hubris from the English media about their product is as tiresome as it is erroneous.
Shortly after his move to Leicester City in February 2019, I paid particular attention to Rodgers, impassive, focused, arms folded and motionless on the edge of his technical area, in a televised game at the King Power Stadium.
I can’t remember who provided the opposition that day, but I do recall City won the game. There was a crowd of around 40,000 in the ground and I can only say there was little chance of the Irishman being swept up in the frenzy of apathy generated among the support.
Rodgers is a bright enough individual to realise he would never sample the unique fervour of the east end of Glasgow in that pocket of the Midlands. Or anywhere else, for that matter.
Three weeks ago, buried in the midst of the blanket of silence linking Postecoglou with a shift to London, I queried how engrossed the manager would be in the Champions League draw on August 31.
We all got our answer 48 hours later. Good luck to Ange on his travels. What he achieved at our club in two years was nothing short of phenomenal.
However, as he polices the touchline at his new club and gazes towards the stands, I have the notion he will miss Celtic more than we will miss him.
Take it away, Brendan. The ball’s back at your feet.