BRENDAN RODGERS has admitted his pride as he prepares the Celtic players for his competitive debut tonight against Lincoln Red Imps at the Victoria Stadium in Gibraltar.
The Irishman, who took over from Ronny Deila in the summer, saw the Hoops win two and draw two of their four pre-season friendlies in Slovenia and Austria.
Now he is ready for the real thing against the Red Imps part-timers in the first leg of the Champions League second qualifying round.
Asked how he was feeling ahead of the match, Rodgers replied: “Very proud.
“I am really looking forward to it, I can’t wait for the game to get underway and get working and see the relationship between the game and the training we have been doing.
“We have a long way to go before we are ideally where I want us to be at, certainly all the signs so far makes me think I am really looking forward to this season.
“It is going to be an exciting year for sure and it is nice to get off to this start and, hopefully, we get a good performance and result.”
Asked how he would approach this game against semi-professionals, as opposed to a team such as Barcelona or Real Madrid, the Irishman said: “There is no change.
“Celtic is always the big attraction, the big draw, the big club, we are very proud to take Celtic around the world for our supporters and players.
“Every game is a big game. There is no game that is any bigger or smaller.
“Of course, you have different level of opponent, but, for myself and the staff, that doesn’t change in terms of our preparation and at Celtic there is a huge expectation on us to do well.
“So, for us, it doesn’t change.”
The Imps’ tiny stadium holds only 2,000 fans, around half of whom will be supporting the five-in-a-row champions, and although Rodgers admits playing on an artificial surface is “never ideal” he is confident his side will cope.
He added: “The beauty of our boys is they have some experience of it back home, they play on some artificial pitches and what I have learned with this group is they cope with pretty much everything.
“They cope with long journeys, travel and they don’t bat an eyelid, they just get on with it because they are so keen to work and improve. I think it will be the same in this game.
“Pitches like that suit your technically-based players and, thankfully, we have a lot of technically-based players, but other than that I am pretty happy with the team that I am thinking of playing.
“This game presents us with an opportunity early that we have to take.
“We have watched Lincoln, they are very workmanlike, they have won over the course of two games to play against us, so we will give them that respect.
“But the focus is on ourselves, it is a job that we have to do over the course of two legs.
“The pitch and the heat will make it a bit trickier, but we will be ready for the whistle to go and, hopefully, put in a good performance.”