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Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers pushes the envelope by failing to learn

By Mark Critchley

Just weeks into his reign as manager of Liverpool, Brendan Rodgers infamously pulled the 'envelope trick'. Three envelopes, three pieces of paper and, supposedly, three names of players who would let him down.

In hindsight, it was all a bit like the Denial of St Peter - a 'you will disappoint me three times before the final whistle blows' sort of thing. If that seems a stretch, the attempt at a Christ-like precognition was certainly in keeping with the messianic aura he would later enjoy and encourage at Anfield.

After all, the apex of his career to date came as Liverpool's team coach rolled down Walton Breck Road, through the thick red smoke of premature pyrotechnic celebrations, in late April 2014.

His side were five points clear at the top of the Premier League table with three games remaining, partly through the brilliance of Luis Suarez, but also through a shared belief, held between himself, the players and the supporters, that this was the club's destiny.

Everyone was 'invested' in Rodgers' 'project', everyone was convinced that the league crown was coming back. Everyone, that is, until Jose Mourinho kicked the door in. Later that day, a few hours after the smoke had cleared from the streets, the messiah had no miracle.

Liverpool, interestingly, have since appointed a manager who thrives on the same feverish energy. Rodgers, meanwhile, has joined one of the few clubs where success will bring a similar kind of cult following.

In that sense, Celtic was not a surprising choice. Indeed, it seemed to be a fitting one when 10,000 turned out at Parkhead for his unveiling in May, yet the question of whether he had learned much from Anfield still remained. There would be no 'envelope trick' this time, surely, but would there be less proselytising and more pragmatism?

Prior to Tuesday's Champions League qualifier against Lincoln Red Imps, Rodgers asked reporters: "Will we treat them the same as if we were playing Barcelona or Real Madrid?" It was a rhetorical question, of course, and you already know his answer.

"That's what I said to the team when we went through the video analysis," he added. "We will give them full respect and the same preparation whether it's a team from Gibraltar or anyone else."

A standard, stock answer, used in order to stress respect for an inferior opponent, maybe, but also an admission that Rodgers had prepared nothing different. No matter how a team of policemen and shipping agents might set up, Celtic would approach the game as if it was any other.

Rodgers was right to give Lincoln the same level of respect that he would afford to any opponent, of course he was. Yet to ignore the tie's exceptional circumstances was careless. A pragmatic coach would not simply have noted the gulf in class between the two sides, but accounted for the tactical chess match it would cause.

"They were never in command. We were the team with dominance," he correctly claimed after the worst result in Celtic's history. Yet Rodgers knows, for the directors who appointed him, the performance is not the point. These qualifying matches will be the most important of the club's season bar the Old Firm meetings and the 'Shock of Gibraltar' was easily preventable.

Rodgers, however, is an ideologue and they are inflexible breed. He requires adherence to his style - not because he is a particularly tough taskmaster, but because he does not have another fully coherent plan to adhere to.

Ironically, the many fruitless formation changes that characterised his final months at Liverpool demonstrated that much. His selections then - whether it was Emre Can as a uncomfortable centre-back or Lazar Markovic as a lost left wing-back - reminded you of a drunk in the dark, jamming the wrong key into the lock of his front door.

When he chanced upon a winning formula, the 3-4-3 that sent Liverpool on a 13-game unbeaten run during the middle of the 2014/15 season, all was revealed about his epiphany in a lengthy newspaper profile.

The revelation came over tea and toast, we were told, in the early hours of a winter morning. It was a masterstroke, sure to outsmart Manchester United the following day in a crunch league meeting. Then Liverpool lost 2-1 and the wheels came off their season.

Like Roberto Martinez, another man of principle who is not as popular as he once was on Merseyside, Rodgers is a young coach, just 10 months older than Ryan Giggs. He has the time to change.

He also left Liverpool with much more goodwill than bad, partly because he often took responsibility for the mistakes he made. Unfortunately, for Celtic fans, he is yet to learn from them.

Belfast Telegraph


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