What is success for Rodgers at Celtic amid awkward reunion?


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They say you should never go back to an ex – but Brendan Rodgers returns to Celtic with some points to prove.

The first one is to the fans: and whether the Northern Irishman is indeed one of them.

Three-and-a-half years have passed since Rodgers upped and left Celtic in the middle of the season to take over at Leicester. The game after his departure prompted the Celtic fans to unveil a banner addressing the boyhood Bhoys fan directly: “You traded immortality for mediocrity. Never a Celt. Always a fraud”.

27/02/19 LADBROKES PREMIERSHIP.HEARTS v CELTIC.TYNECASTLE PARK - EDINBURGH.The Celtic fans unveil a banner for their former manager Brendan Rodgers.
Celtic fans were furious at Rodgers’ departure in early 2019

The Celtic fans were outraged – even though he had secured the “double treble” in his first two campaigns at Parkhead, after no such achievement in the 16 years before he joined. He even lifted the season’s League Cup trophy before departing.

However, the decision to walk away from “living the dream” – as he put in his own words – was too much of a betrayal for the Celtic fans who watched Neil Lennon return. Although the club went on to seal two more back-to-back trebles, they then fell short in their quest for 10 league titles in a row. Now Rodgers is back at Parkhead looking to prove to the Celtic fans that the old ways are the best.

The domestic challenge

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Celtic fans react to Brendan Rodgers replacing Ange Postecoglou

In fact, Celtic’s current position is somewhat like the one which saw Rodgers depart in February 2019. A popular treble winner in Ange Postecoglou has swapped Scottish supremacy and Champions League football for a Premier League club not even in Europe next season.

Rodgers can point to the “been there, done that” argument for his appointment – but he is certain to face a stronger challenge domestically on his return to Glasgow.

He arrived the season Rangers returned to the top flight, with Mark Warburton’s team unable to pose any great threat as Celtic knocked them out of both cups, while winning three and drawing the other league meeting that season.

They then won all five meetings the following season, scoring 14 goals while conceding just two. In fact, Rodgers lost just one of his 13 Old Firm games in his first spell at Parkhead.

Lennon completed the “treble treble” after replacing Rodgers then secured a fourth, but the Ibrox side were starting to improve under Steven Gerrard and reclaimed the title in 2021.

Postecoglou’s Celtic dominated domestically, although Rangers beat them on their way to Scottish Cup glory under Giovanni van Bronckhorst in 2022.

Michael Beale has only been in charge at their Old Firm rivals since December but he is unbeaten at home and claimed a 3-0 win over Celtic in the final meeting of last season.

With a summer rebuild already underway in Govan, Rodgers is guaranteed to face a vastly-improved Rangers side as he looks to pick up where he left off in 2019.

Style of play

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers and his team appear dejected after the final whistle of the Ladbrokes Scottish Premiership match at Celtic Park, Glasgow.
Rodgers’ style of play came under question, particularly during his final 18 months

Celtic played some impressive football under Rodgers but it could be argued that Postecoglou took those foundations to another level. Rodgers advocated attacking play but would often adopt a more patient, possession-based style as opponents set up simply to defend.

After firing Celtic to 106 points in his ‘Invincible’ first season at Parkhead, the second season was more modest, winning the title by just nine points, with four goalless draws and two defeats in the 11 games before securing the title via a 5-0 thrashing of Rangers.

Under Postecoglou the emphasis was on relentless attacking football, summed up by his ‘we never stop’ mantra. He favoured a 4-3-3 formation and used inverted full-backs to tuck inside and push into the midfield when the team had possession of the ball.

The Australian had the Hoops fans off their seats, it was exciting and enthralling to watch. It was a style the players worked hard to perfect and it will be interesting to see if Rodgers holds on to any of his predecessor’s style when the season kicks off in August.

Champions League

Patrick Roberts is happy to continue his footballing education under  Brendan Rodgers
Success in Europe will be critical for Rodgers

One thing that Postecoglou could not crack was making waves with Celtic in Europe – the near-perennial Scottish champions have too often exited Europe without making much of a splash in recent years.

Rodgers’ new dawn saw them finish bottom of their Champions League group in his first season, a drop into the Europa League before falling at the first hurdle in year two. In year three, they failed even to get past the third qualifying round.

Postecoglou’s version also fell in the Europa League last 32 in his first season, while Celtic finished bottom of their Champions League group last term.

It is clear that success in Europe next season is high up on the checklist – with talk that Rodgers will be given major financial support in order to compete in the Champions League, where Celtic automatically go into the group stage.


That financial support, however, needs to be spent in the right way – as Rodgers’ recruitment was too hit-and-miss for Celtic’s liking.

There were success stories with Moussa Dembele, Scott Sinclair, Kristoffer Ajer, Odsonne Edouard and Olivier Ntcham, but six-figure fees were forked out for Marvin Compper, Vakoun Bayo, Jack Hendry, Eboue Kouassi and Jonny Hayes – who were either plagued with inconsistency or never got going in the first place.

Brendan Rodgers with Kouassi Eboue (left) and Moussa Dembele in Dubai
Rodgers’ transfer success ranged from Kouassi Eboue (left) to Moussa Dembele

And now Rodgers inherits a Celtic side who, perhaps not relied on, but were certainly influenced by Postecoglou’s knowledge and connections in the Japanese leagues. Rodgers takes on a Celtic side that was his, but won’t feel like it at all.

How quickly he moves the team on from Postecoglou’s days, and how quickly the fans move on from Rodgers’ initial betrayal will be key factors in how successful next season is for the club.

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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