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RODGERS FACE TO FACE WITH THE ONE WHO GOT AWAY

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BRENDAN RODGERS will have a close-up view of the one who got away when Celtic battle it out with Valencia for a place in the Europa League last 16 at Parkhead tonight.

The Hoops boss was in the hunt for Italian right-back Cristiano Piccini when he was playing for Portuguese giants Sporting Lisbon.

However, the Irishman missed out when this evening’s opponents paid £7million to take him to La Liga.

Rodgers confirmed he had his eyes on the player and admitted: “Yeah, it didn’t happen and he went away. He’s an outstanding player which I’m sure you’ll see.

“But, listen, it happens. We targeted a player who we thought we could get, but for whatever reason it didn’t happen. But that’s okay, we move on.

“Of course, in the current market it’s very difficult for us. So, you find the purpose to push on and develop in other ways and the longer I am here the more I understand it.

“It’s not all about the numbers. My life is coaching, I love making and improving and developing players.

“Okay, there are certain areas where at times you need to spend to find quality. Especially when you specifically need something. And you always have to push for your team to improve.

“But, listen, it’s where it’s at.”

MAN ON A MISSION…Brendan Rodgers watches his players go through their paces at Lennoxtown yesterday.

The champions announced earlier this week they had £38million currently sitting in the club bank account.

And it is almost certain Rodgers will have to splash the cash in the summer to bring in a new No.2 with Mikael Lustig and Cristian Gamboa out of contract at the end of the season.

Jeremy Toljan has arrived on a loan deal from Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund, shocked 3-0 by Spurs in the Champions League at Wembley last night, and he will return to the German aces at the end of May.

He has fitted into the Celtic system with ease in his appearances against St Johnstone, twice, and Hibs and will surely start against the Spanish cracks tonight.

Italian giants Napoli are monitoring his situation where he has been out of favour since the start of the campaign and they could make a move in the summer.

So, Rodgers knows he might have to look elsewhere to strengthen the problem position with only 20-year-old Anthony Ralston as back-up.

The Parkhead boss was asked yesterday if he is pleased or frustrated to know the club have financial resources he cannot just go out and spend.

He answered: “It doesn’t do either, really. I’ve loved my time here, my job is to develop players, add value and win because that’s the vision you need to have as a Celtic manager.

“When I came here a few years ago, the stands were not full and over the last two and a half years we all collectively have put the club in a really good position. They are in the black which is great. In modern football that can be tough.

“There is great value in the squad and, of course, I always want the best players we can possibly get and I’ve always pushed. But I have to respect the situation the club is in.

“However, in every way the club is in a healthy position and, of course, that makes me happy.”

MAN WITH A PLAN…Brendan Rodgers plots before tonight’s visit of Valencia.

Looking at the challenges that are ahead on the domestic and European fronts, Rodgers added: “Yeah, it is satisfying because you have to face the reality of it. We do really well domestically and we go into European football and, of course, it’s a different level.

“But we are always trying to find a way and never see it as an obstacle. We are just trying to find ways to try and get a result whilst performing to a level supporters expect.

“I just enjoy the challenge of all the competitions and all the games.”

* DON’T miss the unbeatable match report and the best action pictures from Celtic v Valencia tonight – only in your champion CQN.

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