Talk to any Celtic fan about their love for the club and, often, they’ll centre the discussion around the style of play the team prides itself on. ‘The Celtic Way’ it’s called, perfectly summed up by Celtic great Jock Stein in the aftermath of the club’s famous European Cup win in 1967 when he said, “We did it by playing football. Pure, beautiful, inventive football.”
With the appointment of former Liverpool and Swansea manager Brendan Rodgers at the helm of the Glasgow club tonight, there are many who hold the true belief that he will bring such football back to Parkhead. Recently departed Ronny Deila has delivered some measure of success during his two year stint in north of the border but, with performances that often proved unexciting and lacking in dynamism, many Hoops fans felt that merely winning was not enough. In a league without real competition in the form of rivals Rangers, the Celtic faithful expected not only success, but success with style. Perhaps where Ronny failed the faithful, Brendan can triumph.
Never more apparent was the lack of inventiveness in Celtic’s play under Deila than in the recent Scottish Cup semi final defeat to Rangers. Held to a 2-2 draw at Hampden before losing on penalties, Deila’s men seemed unable to match their counterparts for desire and, in some cases, even technical ability. Mark Warburton, appointed less than a year prior to the helm at the Gers, appeared to have built a cohesive unit, able to pass and move and act with the dynamism Celtic fans craved. It was this defeat and, perhaps more the manner of it, that sealed Deila’s fate and led to Rodgers’ appointment.
A style of play that, in many way mirrors that of revolutionary Pep Guardiola, Brendan Rodgers believes in fast-paced and one-touch football when in possession, pressing and suffocating when not. The aim of the game for Rodgers’ sides is to be in possession for as much of the game as possible because, as the man said himself when speaking to The Telegraph in 2012, “If you have possession of the ball you have a 79 per cent chance of winning,”
That particular sentence, however, signifies more about the man than it may first appear. Yes, he favours fluid, attacking and attractive football – but behind it lies research and precision, painstaking detail that produces results when carried out correctly by the team on the field. The Northern Irishman does not come alone. If his previous move from Swansea to Liverpool is anything to go by, it’s likely he’ll bring a team to Scotland with him that will provide the necessary precision he needs to imprint his playing style on Scottish football.
When making the move from Wales to the North West in June 2012, Rodgers took analyst Chris Davies, performance consultant Glen Driscoll and assistant Colin Pascoe with him to Anfield, with sports science chief Rylands Morgans joining them a matter of months later after becoming surplus to requirements under the new Michael Laudrup regime at the Swans.
Despite this being Rodgers’ first time in charge at Celtic, his association with the club is nothing new. His family are long time supporters of the club, as he has previously admitted, and he has a particularly close connection with one Celtic son that will see him find favour with the fans easier than most when they first arrive in the East End of Glasgow.
Tommy Burns, six time league winner as a player with Celtic and Scottish Cup winner as manager of the club in 1995, appointed a young Rodgers Head of Youth Development at Reading while managing there in the late 1990s. It’s an opportunity Rodgers relished and one he has remained ever-thankful to the Scot for. He speaks in effusively of the man he called his ‘great friend’, making clear the impact Burns had on him, not only in football terms, but in personal ones too, saying, “Tommy was a hero, a great man and a friend of mine. He was a special man and saw something in me early on. I’ve been lucky to work with some of the world’s top bosses but I got a lot of human qualities from Tommy.”
This connection between the two men will not have gone unnoticed by fans at Parkhead, and will no doubt have them salivating at the prospect of what Rodgers’ playing style could bring. Burns crafted one of the most exciting sides in the club’s history, taking them within touching distance of a league title that would have broken the stranglehold a dominant Rangers had on the league at the time under Walter Smith.
While solid defensively, Burns’ side is remembered for the pace and energy with which they played. Paolo Di Canio, Pierre Van Hooijdonk and Jorge Cadete, or the Three Amigos as they were termed, led a team that not only went out to win, but to score goals and entertain. Speaking in 2013, Van Hooijdonk himself said it was Burns who was responsible entirely for the team’s style of play, “Everybody talks about us as the players who added something necessary to the club. But Tommy Burns did that. He transformed the team completely… We went from launching long balls down the channels when I arrived to playing beautiful football.”
Celtic fans will be hoping that, with the obvious influence Burns had on his young Youth Academy coach at Reading, Rodgers will be able to reclaim that ‘beautiful football’. It’s something he has combined well with the more direct and robust tactics he undoubtedly saw Jose Mourinho employ while he coached under him at Chelsea.
Outside of the Boot have an excellent piece in which they break down the philosophy that Rodgers has built on and consistently deployed throughout his spells in charge at Reading, Watford, Swansea and Liverpool, where he oh-so-nearly brought the title back to Merseyside in 2014. They show how his teams have the same basic structure – a solid defence and midfield – with the attacking prowess coming from wingbacks pushing forward to provide support to a mobile forward line, in a similar guise to the teams built by the afore-mentioned Guardiola.
Of course, to predict what Brendan Rodgers will do in charge at Celtic is a near-impossible task. With a resurgent Rangers looking ready to take a charge at the title in their first season back in the top flight, there’s no doubt the former Ballymena United player will have to hit the ground running to keep ahead of the pack. With a squad in desperate need of rebuilding, he has a prime opportunity to bring in players who he can mould and teach to adapt to his style. And if anyone is in any doubt of whether the man knows just what an opportunity he has been given at one of football’s greatest institutions, then he has done his utmost to dispel those doubts, stating outright in the past exactly how he feels,
“It’s a tough job managing Celtic although all my family would love to see me there in the future. Martin O’Neill and Neil Lennon would have walked to be in charge there and I’m no different.”
Well, you’ve arrived Brendan. Let’s hope you’ve brought your brand of beautiful football with you.