THE late, great Tommy Burns once remarked “it’s nice to go to work in dinner suits, but sometimes you need to put on the donkey jackets”.
The somewhat cryptic comment meant that playing with style, something his team was renowned for during his stint as Celtic manager, is all well and good, but, ultimately, it is results which really matter.
Brendan Rodgers, who was helped greatly by Burns when he was starting out as a coach many years ago, certainly needs his team to win by whatever means possible tonight. Defeat to RB Leipzig in their antepenultimate Group B game at Parkhead could end their hopes of progressing to the Europa League knockout rounds for the second year running. The heat, then, is well and truly on.
Yet, Rodgers fully expects, regardless of the importance of victory, pressure of the occasion and quality of the opposition, Tom Rogic to turn up and turn on the style against German rivals who are once again performing well in the Bundesliga this season.
“Tom’s so cool and calm and I think he could play in a tuxedo,” he said at Lennoxtown yesterday as he talked about a player who has been one of main reasons his charges have overcome their unconvincing early season form and are hopeful of recording what would be a famous European win.
“He’s a big big talent and a very important player for us. He’s got some great qualities. Our players and other players know the problems he causes. He just moves so well. He’s fantastic.
“When he takes the ball he’s normally receiving it to go forward. He’s got an in-built brain for football. How to receive the ball, the space he has. You just need to put him into a structure and a framework and get the ball to him in areas where he can hurt teams. He’s very elusive.
“Tom gives the team a different dynamic. The dynamics of your team are always important, especially when you play three or four in midfield. He has this incredible quality of standing still. He knows where to stand. That’s what he does. He conserves his energy well, so that when he doesn’t have it he can press the game.”
The fact he is often substituted after around an hour has led to his fitness and work ethic being questioned. Rodgers, who makes intense demands of every member of his side both defensively and offensively, has no concerns about either. He is confident the Australian will be able to put in a powerful shift in what promises to be a physically and mentally draining evening.
“He can last a game,” he said. “There are just moments in games when you might be trying to shore it up and you just want to keep the energy in the team. You change it slightly. Or you are trying to conserve his energy for another game. We play so many games. If you have comfort in a game, you can take him off.
“Maybe it was something before that was labelled at him, but he can last a game no problem. It was unfair. He’s just got that languid style and it doesn’t change from the first minute. The time you look at him in the 70th minute and he’s still got that style, so he maybe looks tired. But he’s not. It’s just his way. Just his style. Tom’s got good fitness.
Rogic, who signed a five year deal that ties him to Celtic until 2023 back in May, has shown many times in the past that he flourishes in big games like the one his side have tonight. He scored in four games against Rangers last term. The season before he netted in the last minute of the Scottish Cup final against Aberdeen to ensure his team completed the treble.
“What’s been great to see is his personality grow in these last couple of years to really impose himself in games. He’s not frightened to be the big player. Evidence shows you that. That’s great to see. He puts himself into these big occasions and wants to perform.
“The game that stands out for me in Europe is Manchester City away (in the 1-1 draw in the Champions League in 2016). His ability to take the ball, his quality and his rhythm were immense. Tom’s got great tools that can help us as a team and he’s that creative player you need at the level that can make the difference for us. You talk to other managers after games and they normally highlight Tom.”
While Rogic will be a key player for the home team up front Filip Benkovic, the Croatian centre half who has joined Celtic on loan from Leicester City until the end of the season, will be an important figure at the back alongside Dedryck Boyata.
His promotion to the first team has coincided with some vastly improved defensive displays in recent weeks and Rodgers is optimistic the errors which proved their undoing in Saxony last month will be avoided on this occasion.
“We have made mistakes at the top level and been punished,” he said. “If we can nullify them (Leipzig) and deny them as much space to play as we possibly can then we know we have the quality. But that is key. You can give yourself a fighting chance by not making mistakes and if a team scores then they have to score a really good goal to beat you.
“It’s been really good the last couple of weeks in terms of the level of our game. It all comes from our defensive base. They (Benkovic and Boyata) give great stability. Filip has a good presence. Filip wins the first header all the time. You see him at the weekend when you play against Hearts your aim is to win the first ball and prevent the second ball going wide and he and Dedryck gives us that.
“His positioning is good, his ability to step in and press is good and top defenders need to be able to play with the ball. Those two have shown that they give us real stability at the back.”