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THE CELTIC CLASS OF 2016/17, HALF TERM REPORT – PART 1

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WITHOUT a ball being kicked in anger, Brendan Rodgers began putting his Celtic jigsaw together.
The Irishman, a boyhood Hoops fan, studied videos and DVDs of the team during Ronny Deila’s two-year reign and wasted no time in kicking off his revolution.unspecified-15
Rodgers was not impressed at the lack of cover for Leigh Griffiths in the striking department and was aware the club had relied far too heavily on last season’s 40-goal hitman.
Drastic action needed to be taken swiftly and the new boss didn’t hesitate as he released Colin Kazim-Richards, Carlton Cole and Anthony Stokes and sold £2.3 million flop Stefan Scepovic to Getafe for less that half the initial outlay.
That allowed him to concentrate on bringing in French kid Moussa Dembele, only 19 at the time, on a four-year deal after paying a £500,000 development fee to Fulham. The story of Celtic’s interest in the player and indeed that he had signed were both broken on CQN – with the MSM having no clue whatsoever.
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Rodgers, who had been out of football since leaving Liverpool in October 2015, had liked the look of the powerful youngster who had scored 17 goals in the Championship the previous term.
He then switched his attention to central defence and the back-up support to the attack. The astute gaffer realised the heart of the rearguard needed experience and he set about luring his former Liverpool defender Kolo Toure, who, at 35, had been released by the Anfield club in the summer.
Scott Sinclair was a player he had never forgotten after working with him at Chelsea and Swansea and he was determined to get the 27-year-old left-sided raider to the east end of Glasgow.
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Relegated Aston Villa were in no rush to part with the flamboyant attacker, but Rodgers dug in and his bid – that is likely to rise to £4.5million with add-ons – was eventually accepted just before the opening Premiership encounter of the season against Hearts at Tynecastle on August 7.
The new boss also insisted on a busy midfield and Kris Commons, who relied on grace and guile, clearly didn’t figure in his plans, despite being a massive favourite with the fans.
Stefan Johansen had been making noises about moving to England and his wish was granted when he was shifted to Fulham in a £2million deal.
It wouldn’t be long before Swiss Under-21 international right-back Saidy Janko would be joining the Norwegian in the Championship after the defender endured a torrid time in the final Champions League qualifier against Hapeol Be’er Sheva as the Hoops went down 2-0 in Israel, but scraped through 5-4 on aggregate.
The former Manchester United starlet was on his way to Barnsley on a season-long loan deal two days later.
Rodgers replaced him with Cristian Gamboa at the cost of £1million from West Brom where the Costa Rican international had been shunned by Hawthorns gaffer Tony Pulis for the best part of a year.
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In midfield, though, the former Merseyside gaffer concentrated on getting the best out of what he had inherited and it didn’t take him long to discover Stuart Armstrong was not a wide player and his strength and skill was better suited to a role in the middle of the park.
James Forrest, going nowhere in Deila’s last season at the club, impressed in pre-season and was rewarded with a four-year extension.
Rodgers experienced the competitive debut from hell on July 12 when Celtic slid to an awful 1-0 defeat to the semi-professionals of Lincoln Red Imps in Gibraltar in the first of the team’s six Champions League qualifiers.
The manager remained calm and said: “Of course, you never want to lose the game.
“You let the local team have their night, we press on, another week’s training and we’ll be better for it.
“There is no embarrassment. We never took our chances and they took theirs. The second leg will be different.”
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Eight days later, the Hoops responded with a 3-0 second leg triumph in the east end of Glasgow with Griffiths, Patrick Roberts and Mikael Lustig on the scoresheet.
Next up in Europe, were Kazakhstan champions Astana, who proved to be a handful. Griffiths netted again to give the visitors a valuable 1-1 draw and the lively frontman slotted in a penalty-kick to give the champions the lead in Glasgow in the return.
However, after dominating proceedings, the home side gifted Astana a shock equaliser in the second-half and it was nail-biting stuff before substitute Moussa Dembele scored his first goal for the club with a last-gasp spot-kick to send the club towards the final hurdle.
Rodgers was now only three hours away from achieving something his predecessor Deila had failed to deliver in two years – lead Celtic into the money-spinning Champions League group stages.
He watched his team take control of the first tie against Hapoel Be’er Sheva at Parkhead as they scored five goals, courtesy of Griffiths, with a double, Tom Rogic, Dembele and skipper Scott Brown.
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Worryingly, though, the visitors snatched a quickfire double to keep the pressure on for the second leg a week later. They scored two and Craig Gordon saved a crucial penalty-kick and the Hoops were through to Europe’s elite once again.
In the Premiership, the champions had got off to a perfect start when a smart low shot from the rejuvenated Forrest gave them the lead against Hearts in Edinburgh, but Jamie Walker wiped that out with a controversial penalty-kick.
It was left to new Bhoy Sinclair to have the final say in the fading moments when he raced more than half the length of the field to get on the end of a cute Griffiths’ left-wing cross to divert in the winner.
After a 4-2 win over St Johnstone in Perth, Celtic brought down the curtain for the league in August with a 4-1 win over Aberdeen at Parkhead.
It was the Celtic supporters’ first glimpse of new goalkeeper Dorus de Vries with the 35-year-old Dutchman agreeing to join up with his his ex-Swansea boss in Glasgow. A fee of £400,000 persuaded Nottingham Forest to part with their Player of the Year.
Unfortunately, he didn’t keep a clean sheet on his debut, but his new team coasted to a 4-1 triumph with goals from Rogic, Forrest, Sinclair and Griffiths.
The Betfred League Cup campaign had already got underway with an emphatic 5-0 home victory over Motherwell on Wednesday, August 10, with Sinclair on the scoresheet again. Rogic (2) and the increasingly-impressive Dembele (2) chipped in with the others.
TO BE CONTINUED ON CQN – PART 2 WILL BE PUBLISHED AT LUNCHTIME TODAY.
*This week we have been running a very popular offer on CQN Bookstore – when you buy THAT SEASON IN PARADISE – TEN MONTHS OF CELTIC HEAVEN, not only is your copy personally signed by Lisbon Lion BERTIE AULD but you also receive a FREE copy of The Winds of Change – signed by ex-Celtic manager DAVIE HAY and a great Celtic DVD from 2012-13 season.  We only have NINE left though and this offer  can’t be repeated so hurry! You get all of the above for just £15.99 plus p&p so it’s an outstanding deal.
All orders this week have been posted except those from last night which will be going this morning.
If you want one of the last 9 available order HERE or click on the ad below.
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