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Wantaway Boyata issue is more sad than a distraction for Celtic, says Rodgers

 

By Ronnie Esplin

Brendan Rodgers has described Dedryck Boyata's situation with Celtic as "sad" as he prepares for the crunch Champions League qualifier against AEK Athens tonight without the Belgium defender.

The 27-year-old is not in Greece with the Hoops squad for the second leg of the third-round qualifier due to a back complaint amid increasing uncertainty about his future.

Boyata's agent Jacques Lichtenstein claimed the Parkhead club had broken promises to his client, who was the subject of a failed £9m bid from Fulham before the English transfer window closed.

Lichtenstein also said: "Entering the last 10 months of his contract, everyone understands that he cannot put his career at risk by playing even slightly injured or at 95 per cent. Dedryck cannot put his future and his family's future in danger by playing without being 100 per cent."

When asked how much of a distraction the Boyata issue had been, Rodgers said at the pre-match press conference in Athens: "More sad than a distraction.

"He is a player that we would have loved to have here with us. He is a player that has been with us over the last couple of seasons and at this time it would have been great to have him here.

"But he is not and we need to put faith in the squad that want to be here and want to play for the result. And that is my focus, on the players we have."

Rodgers, whose side drew 1-1 with AEK in the first leg last week, refused to be drawn when asked if Boyata had played his last game for the club.

The Ulsterman said: "It is an internal matter now. Of course it is disappointing, some of the comments, but we will deal with it internally.

"My concentration and focus is just to prepare the team for a big game and a fantastic game for us. That's my only consideration at the moment."

Rodgers admitted that this is a huge game for the Bhoys and they are determined to make sure they remain in the competition.

Rodgers added: "We have enjoyed our experiences in it and want that to continue. There is always the threat we may not qualify but we can't think of that.

"We are not planning on going out, we are planning on playing well enough to get a result.

"We played well enough last week and got punished for one mistake, so we have to learn from that, and this group has shown in the last couple of years that they can come through that. We are excited about it."

A huge plus for Celtic is that striker Moussa Dembele is fit again and will start on the bench.

Dembele has been out since picking up another hamstring injury in the 3-0 home win over Alashkert in the first qualifying round.

Rodgers, without suspended defender Kristoffer Ajer, will not risk starting the French striker.

He said: "It's a big boost for us. He started the season fantastically well and was unfortunate he got his injury. But he has worked very hard to come back and will take his place in the squad.

"It is probably too much to start, he will take his place on the bench. He has looked very fit and strong, and the beauty with Moussa is he wants to play.

"It is too much of a risk to start but I am sure at some point in the game he will play a part."

Despite AEK having the away goal, Hoops striker Leigh Griffiths remains confident that Celtic can get through to the play-off to face either Malmo of Sweden or MOL Vidi FC of Hungary.

He said: "You could say they have the advantage, especially with the away goal, but we are more than capable of scoring an away goal ourselves.

"Last week we proved that, even under the circumstances and with the game at 1-1, we were still pushing for the second goal."

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