BRENDAN RODGERS has said that he welcomes the trip to Windsor Park on Friday, especially given their tough route last year which took them to Gibraltar, Kazakhstan and Israel.
In a match that has derived so much negativity and controversy given the week of celebrations that will be underway in Belfast and the decision by Celtic to reject tickets for the tie, the Celtic manager was content of where he’d take his side for the game despite security fears, religious tension and footballing rivalries.
It will be the first time that Rodgers visits Windsor Park for the first time in thirty years, the last time in a schoolboy match against Brazil. The 44-year-old was confident that their destination was not a hostile place but a place that they should be thankful to play at, especially given the mileage of past seasons. Speaking after Celtic humbled Shamrock Rovers 9-0 in their final warmup before the Champions League second qualifying round, Rodgers was straight to the point discussing how ideal the trip was for logistics.
“When you think that last year we were away in the heat of Gibraltar where it was 35 degrees, then we were out to Astana and then Hapoel Be’er Sheva. This is a home from home, really.
“We’re staying in a lovely hotel and Belfast is a great city. We’re playing in the national stadium and it’s a very, very short flight. So, in terms of all the logistics and all that side of it, and in terms of preparation for the team, it’s all cool. I haven’t seen the revamped stadium so I’m looking forward to it.
“You always have to respect the opponent. You always have to respect the atmosphere. There will be a nice little edge to it. It’ll get us focused on the game and, over the two legs, we have to get through.
The Celtic manager, who presided over an undefeated domestic treble, believes that the lack of a Celtic support will only urge the players to face the hostility in Belfast and produce a result for their supporters to gloat about ahead of the return the Wednesday, a week later. The scene in Belfast will be a brazen show of sectarianism as the Twelfth celebrations are occurring throughout the week meaning that the fears that many have about the match are valid, which led to Celtic rejecting tickets for the tie.
Rodgers saw his competitive reign as Celtic boss begin with a shock 1-0 away defeat to Lincoln Red Imps thanks to a goal from Lee Casciaro. This result was regarded by the press as a ‘failure’ yet it was used by Rodgers to push his players and a week later, Celtic were unlucky to win by only 3 goals to nil.
“A big part of my job last year was to go and prepare the team mentally for how to deal with big occasions and big games. How to keep that calmness and that focus.
“You want to go and play in a passionate stadium. It gives you the chance as a team, as a group, to bond even tighter together. To have that oneness that you need.
“Then, when a question is put to you in the game, which there usually is, it’s not about how each individual plays. It’s about how the team plays. Do they have that resilience and that mentality? That’s something that we’ve built up over the last period of time.”
The Celtic gaffer spoke about how he’d watched both the La Fiorita, which Linfield overcame 1-0 on aggregate. It is unlikely that Brendan would’ve caught Hearts’ humiliation of the Belfast side on Saturday whilst his side played in Dublin.
‘We respect them and will not take them lightly. They’ll fight, run and work. I’ve been to many grounds with hostility before — but you always have some supporters.
‘Listen, it’s hostile at places like Ibrox, Old Trafford and Goodison Park. The most important objective for us is to win. The surrounding stuff doesn’t concern me.’
NEW CQN PODCAST WITH SFA PRESIDENT ALAN RAE OUT NOW!
Episode 2 of ‘A Celtic State of Mind’ finds Paul John Dykes and Kevin Graham discussing a variety of topical subjects concerning Celtic Football Club, including:
* Callum McGregor: The Youth of Today;
* Death of the Cult Hero;
* Norwegian Wood – Ronnie Deila’s Exit Interview;
* Farewell to The Stone Roses;
* Hillsborough: The Truth.
Paul John Dykes also chats to SFA President, Alan McRae, to challenge him over recent comments made about Celtic’s domination of Scottish football.
Connect with A Celtic State of Mind @PaulDykes and @CQNMagazine or just listen using the link below…