Europa League

Rodgers Needs Zenit Victory To Ensure Celtic Legacy

 • by Stefan Bienkowski
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Football and the crazed souls that follow it tend to get caught up in the here and now. A striker is only as potent as the goals he’s scoring this season and a manager is only as effective as his last job.

History tends to get disregarded in favour of the present. Football may be the beautiful game, but it’s also dangerously fickle.

On Thursday night, when Brendan Rodgers walks out on to the pitch at Celtic Park and breaths in one of those famous nights in the east end of Glasgow, such a thought may come to him.

He’ll look across to the majestic tifo the Green Brigade will have prepared – no doubt immortalising him among the club’s historical greats – and wonder how quickly that could all change with a select, few poor results.

For you see, Celtic are playing Zenit St Petersburg in the first knockout round of the Europa League this week and although it may just be one game among 16 in the second tier of an entire continent of football, the result will mean the world to the 60,000 fans crammed in to the stadium that night and may go on to affect how Rodgers is remembered when he does eventually leave the club.

The crux of this issue comes down to the fact that Celtic in Europe during the Rodgers era have completely and utterly contrasted with Celtic back home in Scotland.

In the Scottish Premiership Rodgers’ side have dominated games with ease, playing fast, flowing, attacking football and bewildering fans and critics alike. Champions League football has been a little different.

Rodgers gained initial credit for qualifying for the Champions League group stage on his first try – something that eluded his predecessor Ronny Deila – yet aside from a thrilling 3-3 draw with Manchester City, Celtic looked hopelessly outgunned against Europe’s elite and particularly rusty against a driven and well-prepared Borussia Monchengladbach.

The Scottish champions left the competition in bottom place, determined to learn from their mistakes.

Yet the real fear is that they haven’t. This season showcased another impressive qualifying campaign from Celtic only for Rodgers’ side to once again throw caution to the wind against Europe’s superclubs and subsequently rack up an embarrassing goals conceded margin.

A solitary win in Anderlecht undoubtedly did enough to earn third place this time around, but there were few celebrations at Celtic Park the night the club concluded their group stage campaign with a defeat to the Belgian side. The Europa League beckoned but optimism was far from the levels seen in domestic games.

Rodgers will know this. You only have to go back to 2005 and the club’s tenure under Gordon Strachan and then Neil Lennon to appreciate the expectations place on the Northern Irish coach to perform in Europe.

Despite his lofty reputation at present, the former Liverpool manager has a win ratio of just 8% in the Champions League. A tally that needs plenty of work when compared to Lennon’s 29% or Strachan’s 32%.

Indeed, due to Lennon’s current post at Hibernian and Strachan’s role with the Scotland national team until very recently, the current Celtic coach would have undoubtedly received plenty of tips and pointers as to ensure he eventually leaves the club with his head held high. And unfortunately, in the current climate, simply winning domestic titles won’t cut it anymore.

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Lennon won three consecutive league titles, yet when asked about his time at the club fans will either cite his failure to beat Braga in the 2010/11 qualifiers or his win over Barcelona and Last 16 tie against Juventus.

For Strachan, it’ll either be defeat to Artmedia Bratislava or taking AC Milan to extra time in the Last 16 of the Champions League, despite winning six trophies. And Deila, despite winning three trophies in two seasons, left Celtic a failure due to his inability to even reach the premier competition.

Yet Rodgers, with a bigger name and loftier reputation than the three men that came before him, has very little to grasp to when it comes to European endeavours.

The 45-year-old coach may go on to win a second, consecutive treble – and that may earn him more credit than most domestic success – yet he ought to be acutely aware of just how much weight a game like the one awaiting him on Thursday truly carries.

Celtic are a Scottish team, but they define themselves through their success in Europe. They don’t chant about previous cup wins or their 48 league titles nearly as much as they bellow out their adoration for the Lisbon Lions and the club’s ability to punch above its weight.

Each Celtic manager is expected to bring famous European nights to their famed cauldron and Rodgers would do well to start racking up plenty for himself.

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