BRENDAN RODGERS admits Celtic “can improve a great deal” as he looks forward with a fair degree of positivity of meeting the challenges that lie ahead.

There was the anticipated criticism after another European assault that ended far too early with the Hoops once again without football in this arena after Christmas for a second successive season.

The supporters are clamouring for big-name signings and making noises about the club having millions of pounds gathering dust in bank vaults.

Rodgers has been in this movie first time around and is refusing to push frantically on the panic button.

EURO PAIN GAME…Brendan Rodgers watches Celtic’s Champions League exit against Lazio in Rome.

Instead, the 50-year-old Irishman is remaining calm and focused as he prepares for the immediate hurdle in Perth against St Johnstone at noon today and the rigours of a testing schedule with seven games to follow on the way to the turn of the year.

In the midst of the board’s ongoing and disruptive dispute with a fans’ group, Rodgers said: “There’s a sense of a narrative around the club at the moment that isn’t healthy, with the supporters and that side of it.

“But I can only see a really positive future for us.

“I was disappointed after the result in Rome, of course, so you mourn that for 24 hours, but then you have to move on.

“Looking at my first six months here and at the team, I know we can improve a great deal and also knowing, having been here before, the rhythm of Celtic. Normally, there are a couple of years where players are really intense and then maybe they’re looking for a move.

“But when I look at this group here there’s still a lot of development in them. There are players who will become better, but we can also improve the squad. If we can do that and remain consistent then we can have another bright number of years to look forward to.”

Reflecting on the failure on the European front, Rodgers, speaking to The Herald, continued: “One of the reasons I came back was to see whether we could be better and end a cycle which has been going on for many years.

THE ITALIAN SOB…Brendan Rodgers at full-time in Rome.

“We all want to be in the Champions League. It’s difficult when you’re there, but we’d rather be in it, gaining experience and learning, plus there’s a financial implication for the club, as well, which is great.

“But as a football guy, I don’t just want to be competitive. A lot of times this season we showed when it was 11 v 11 we were competitive, but it’s also about achievement, as well, and that’s where we want to be.

“In order to do that, the squad would need to be stronger. That’s not beating about the bush, that’s the simplicity of it. It’s just about identifying the right sort of player who can improve us and the profile of players whom we want is pretty clear.”

Once again, the board members are in the direct line of fire, but Rodgers defended the Parkhead powerbrokers as he added: “When I think of how this board has stabilised the club over many, many years then it’s very hard to knock what they’ve done here.

“There’s a high level of intellect on the board which has made the whole operation sustainable. Dermot Desmond is someone who wakes up every morning thinking about Celtic and he goes to sleep every night thinking about Celtic.

“What the club has always tried to do is not to spend beyond their means.

“Of course, it’s always about the next level and that’s something which is a big decision for any club, but if you want to improve at that level then what you have to do is invest.

“That’s something that Dermot and the guys who run the club know.”

* DON’T miss the unbeatable match report from St Johnstone v Celtic this afternoon – only in your champion CQN.

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