The Man behind the Invincible's

When it was announced in May 2016 that Brendan Rodgers would be the next Celtic manager, many fans were quite rightfully excited about the future of the club under the care of the Northern Irishman. One of the things I confess myself, and many other Celtic fans I know were hoping for upon Rodgers’ arrival was the mass exodus of dead weight that would come with it.
At the end of Ronny Deila’s time at Celtic, it had become clear that Celtic had more than a couple of empty jerseys on their books. James Forrest had not impressed on a consistent basis since 2011/12. Scott Brown was fresh off the back of arguably his worst season in a Celtic shirt, with some calling for him to be stripped of the captaincy. Callum McGregor seemed to impress very few among the supporters, Craig Gordon was a liability in goals, Dedryck Boyata was a bomb scare as well, and Stuart Armstrong was a shadow of the player he had been less than a year before.
It came as a shock to many, therefore, when he was quoted as saying he was not planning a massive overhaul of players and was mainly hoping to bolster the current squad with a few extra players. Rodgers told Celtic’s official website “You have to respect that the current players are the Premiership champions and if we can add to that and help them with one or two players then that would bode well for us.”
On the opening day of what was to be one of Celtic’s best ever seasons, it was out of necessity rather than preference (at least in the eyes of the Celtic support) that James Forrest would start for the champions away to a difficult Hearts side, due to Patrick Roberts being out injured. Gordon and Brown both appeared on the team sheet as well, being Celtic’s best options in their respective positions, but perhaps somewhat surprisingly, both Callum McGregor and Stuart Armstrong made the starting XI at Tynecastle.
In the cases of James Forrest, Callum Mcgregor and Scott Brown, this game proved to be a real statement.
Brown bossed the midfield like he was born to it, McGregor got the assist for Celtic’s first goal after tearing up the field from the halfway line to the Hearts penalty box before sliding the ball back for none other than James Forrest.
Fast forward about 15 months and James Forrest has taken his tally to 10 goals this season in a 5-1 thrashing of Motherwell, Callum McGregor has matured immensely, even scoring against German powerhouses Bayern Munich, Scott Brown found a level to his play beyond anything anyone ever expected him to be capable of, Craig Gordon (while still a bit dicey at times) has totally reshaped his game, Dedryck Boyata made his first appearance of the season away to Kilmarnock in late November after training every day well into the night to get himself to peak ability and soon proved to everyone watching how hard work can pay off, in the process becoming indispensable to Celtic’s defence, and Stuart Armstrong performed to such a high standard last season the hoops fans were begging fine-haired midfield maestro to sign a contract extension.
The key to all this? Brendan Rodgers.
The Carnlough man’s man management skills are legendary, so it should really come as no surprise to anyone who’s paid attention to his career that he was able to drag the formerly lost Bhoys out of the mire, and furthermore improve the men around them to a scary level, Kieran Tierney being a fine example of this.
This has been the trend at almost every club Brendan Rodgers has managed. One only has to look at his time with Liverpool to see his incredible man management skills at work. Luis Suarez credits Brendan Rodgers as being influential in helping him become arguably the best out and out striker in Europe. He said of Rodgers “If it wasn’t for Brendan, then I know I would not be the same player that you see at Barcelona today. Such a big part of my education is down to him and his management.”
Suarez is not Rodgers’ only pet project to have matured into one of the world’s best, with Philippe Coutinho singing the Northern Irishman’s praises, saying: “The likes of [Rafael] Benitez, [Mauricio] Pochettino and Dunga are great coaches, but I will always have a special gratitude to Brendan. He believed in me and brought me here. He gave me the opportunity to play for such a great club.”
With a track record such as his, we can only wonder just how far Brendan Rodgers can take these players, and if by the time he leaves, will his formerly-lost-bhoys have written themselves a favourable chapter in the Celtic history book.