Celtic’s Champions League qualifier defeat to AEK Athens this week was met with a certain amount of glee from outside Celtic Park. You’d expect it from Rangers fans, of course – I don’t know if you’ve heard, but they have quite the rivalry up in Glasgow. You’d also expect it from fans of other Scottish clubs. Watching the big boys of your league get a bloody nose is always quite amusing.
You’d also expect it to a certain extent down in England due to who the manager is. For some reasons that are fair, and some reasons that aren’t, Brendan Rodgers is still seen as a bit of a figure of fun among Premier League fans. That’s fine, I am sure he has come to terms with it and doesn’t go back to his massive house and cry himself to sleep over it. What is surprising though, is the number of Liverpool fans who join in.
Lets first of all address the defeat itself. I don’t know a huge amount about Scottish football, although coincidentally I am going to watch Celtic vs Hamilton next week so I’ll be happy to declare myself an expert after that, but from an outside perspective I don’t see how the Scottish champions have any divine right to beat the Greek ones. Especially with the number of key players Celtic had unavailable to start and the fact that they apparently spent their entire summer budget on “disco lights”.
Over the years Greek teams have caused Liverpool plenty of problems in Europe. 2005 and Istanbul doesn’t happen if Gerrard doesn’t hit a late thunderbolt against Olympiakos. But for that the Greek team would have been through instead. The Greek league might not be as strong as when Rivaldo and co were knocking about in 2005, but last time I looked the Scottish league wasn’t exactly flying either.
In the two years previous to Brendan Rodgers joining Celtic failed to qualify for the Champions League. The next two seasons under Rodgers, they did. So which is the norm? Or are they just around the level of 30-somethingth best team in Europe. Meaning sometimes they will, sometimes they won’t.
Of course the details, specifics and facts don’t really matter. People just enjoy taking the piss out of certain people and Brendan is one of them. But, as I said, Liverpool fans don’t need to join in. For all his faults he was the man who brought Liverpool closer to a league title than anyone has managed since 1990, and there are plenty of lauded managers in that time who tried and failed.
“But that was all about Suarez” you will hear people say. Nonsense. Suarez was really good at football, but Kenny Dalglish had him too and finished 8th. Rodgers got the best of him by building the team around him.
But he also got the best out of others too. He got Daniel Sturridge, who no one really fancied at the time, playing the best football of his career. He turned Phil Coutinho from promising kid in the Inter Milan reserves into superstar. He identified Raheem Sterling not just as a talent but a number 10 in a diamond formation, which few managers would have done. He turned Jon Flanagan into the scouse Cafu. Rodgers had lots of talent, sure, but also a few misfits, and he managed to blend them into something brilliant.
Did he really have more at his disposal than Roy Evans, with his front line of Fowler, Collymore and McManaman? Or Houllier with a front four to choose from of Owen, Fowler, Heskey and Litmanen? Or Benitez who had Gerrard and Torres at their absolute peak? Rodgers came closer than them all to the holy grail, yet he is seen as the joke.
Yes he want mad by the end, but we send all managers mad eventually. But for a while it was brilliant, and Brendan’s positive personality and belief were a huge part of what made it work so well. I’m not saying we should build statues of him, we save that for the greats. But he should be spoken of with more respect than he is. There are plenty of others waiting to give him a kick. In Liverpool we stick up for our own. And for a while he made us dream.