Brendan Rodgers finds his Paradise: Why Glasgow Celtic remain one of world's great clubs
Celtic's appointment of Brendan Rodgers as their new manager has captured the imagination, but a club with such a huge worldwide fanbase has been crying out for such a high-profile coach, writes Desmond Kane.
What is the 'Celtic Way' and what does the term mean?
Celtic have christened the refurbished main thoroughfare into Celtic Park as the ‘Celtic Way’, a mood-lit 150-yard right of way dominated by a statue of former captain Billy McNeill clasping the European Cup in 1967, that leads from London Road into a 60,000-capacity football cathedral in Glasgow’s East End. To millions of fans of the club worldwide, the Celtic Way is the very essence of the Scottish champions, the spirit to which all Celtic teams should aspire.
Brendan Rodgers is paraded at Celtic Park.Eurosport
Brendan Rodgers embraces Neil Lennon during his days as Celtic manager.Eurosport
It was coined due to the remarkable achievement of 11 Scots living within the confines of Scotland’s biggest city conquering a continent by slaying a redoubtable Inter Milan side in Lisbon. It is a feat that has never been and will never be replicated by any side in the world game as Celtic swept all before them in Scotland and in Europe with an ensemble cast of local lads.
"I signed in '55 and my dad said to me out on the park, I was 16 years of age," said Bertie Auld, a member of the team who won the European Cup with such a distinctive style. "Listen Bertie, see if you can play and entertain, this support will never ever forget you."
Celtic fans were awarded FIFA gong for conduct in 2003 UEFA Cup final in Seville.Eurosport
Celtic have and continue to be at a severe disadvantage compared to England due to the simple geography of being based in an impoverished Scottish Premiership that continues to house genuine giants in Celtic and their Glasgow rivals Rangers, clubs with average attendances of well over 50,000 but without the television revenue of the Premier League.
Yet since their definining moment in Lisbon under Stein, Celtic continue to hold an enticement that is not merely financial, but spiritual. It is not as if Rodgers needed to take on such a role with his wage cut from £100,000 at Liverpool to a measly £45,000 per week, according to various media reports.
Since being formed by an Irish priest to help the poor in the East End of Glasgow in 1887, Celtic, with its Irish roots and diaspora, has been more than a football club, it is a cause. It is a focal point for a working-class, good-natured community of fans that are driven by an unyielding expectation to give of your best and be the best you can be when representing your people in the famous hooped jersey.
Celtic unveil a statue to former European Cup-winning captain Billy McNeill.Reuters
The iconic shirt, worn by Kenny Dalglish, Danny McGrain, Jimmy Johnstone, Henrik Larsson and Paddy McCourt, is another aspect of the club’s fascinating background that has no room for cheap imitations. Celtic have endured some poor times, wretched managers and some desperately mediocre players, but the ambition to play the Celtic Way has never waned.
Rodgers will be acutely aware of what playing the Celtic way means. He apparently rejoiced in following the club from his childhood days back in Carnlough with his family all devotees of a place named Paradise.
Celtic shocked BarcelonaEurosport
Celtic supporters are seeking a leader of men, and a figure with an aura who can raise the club’s profile in foreign climes. Most notably, by qualifying for the Champions League group stage for the first time since 2013.
The memory of beating Barcelona in 2012 at Celtic Park under Neil Lennon to mark the 125th anniversary of the club are evenings Rodgers will long for.
“It is the best atmosphere in Europe and we all want to experience that again,” said Barcelona's Lionel Messi as recently as last year.
Nobody is expecting Rodgers to become the new Stein during his turn as Celtic manager, perhaps not even a Martin O’Neill who inherited Henrik Larsson and was flush with a level of finance green enough to rival the Premier League at the outset of the millennium while losing to Jose Mourinho’s Porto in the 2003 UEFA Cup final in front of 80,000 travelling Celtic fans. But there is the style of his close friend Tommy Burns, one of the club's greatest supporters as a player and manager, and his class of 1995/96 to aspire to.
Rodgers was given his break in football by Burns at Reading in the late 1990s, and is a figure Rodgers describes as his "hero". They remained close friends until Tommy, a truly wonderful man this onlooker had the pleasure of interviewing several times, tragically lost his fight with cancer eight years ago. The legacy of the iconic Burns lives on at Celtic in Rodgers, who is well aware of the style of attacking play that Burns demanded of his teams and team-mates.
Tommy Burns celebrates winning the 1995 Scottish Cup as Celtic manager.Eurosport
Burns landed Celtic only one trophy as Celtic manager, the Scottish Cup in 1995, but he was feted by the fans because his side produced a brand of football that was thrilling in its energy, rawness and a joyful sense of adventure that contained weird and wonderful figures such as Pierre van Hooijdonk, Paolo Di Canio and Jorge Cadete.
As Rodgers' predecessor Ronny Deila discovered, it is not merely enough to win titles, Celtic are up to five straight in Scotland, you have to win and entertain.
Celtic owner Dermot Desmond, a billionaire businessman who does not fund such ventures without great attention, deserves huge credit for appointing a man who was the Premier League manager of the year in 2014. Faced by the largesse over the border, it is an astonishing appointment in every sense with more than a few commentators in England wondering how Celtic pulled off such a coup. In another sense, it should be deemed the norm.
Celtic's 1967 European Cup-winning side.Eurosport
Even for a bloke who was Liverpool manager less than nine months ago, Celtic have proved an irresistible pull for a figure who could have earned more elsewhere without the level of prestige his new role provides.
Rodgers has swapped a Mersey Paradise for Paradise and he is only 43. But just as the Celtic version of You'll Never Walk Alone is hardly inferior to the stirring Anfield rendition, he is not taking a step down by swapping Liverpool for Celtic.
Brendan Rodgers on his first day as Celtic manager.Eurosport
Rodgers suddenly has a vocation in life than merely another manager's job.