BRENDAN RODGERS has revealed that Jonny Hayes could have signed for Celtic, had it not been for him. The Celtic Park boss spoke to the media at length ahead of his clash at Pittodrie on Friday night and his relationship with former Reading colleague was an interesting aside while discussing the Premiership match tomorrow evening at Pittodrie when the Champions take on Runners-up Aberdeen.
The current Celtic boss intercepted his compatriot on his way to Parkhead as a thirteen-year-old and convinced him to resist the temptation of Martin O’Neill’s all conquering Celtic and to progress his career in more modest surrounds at Reading – where Rodgers was a youth coach.
“We eventually persuaded him to come over with another young boy called Darren Stapleton. Both of them loved it. Glenn Driscoll, who is my head of performance here, used to go by his house and give him a lift in every morning because he went past his house so he used to take him in.
“I convinced him to come to Reading and he probably should have done better than what he actually did do.
“He always had the talent and the talent he has now was evident then.
“Like I say, he was a breath of fresh air. He wasn’t coached or anything, he was just a free spirit but always a talent. I have kept an eye on him ever since.
“You can imagine the job I had then convincing him not to go to Celtic. With players you have to hook them emotionally and that was important because I was trying to bring in the best young talent to Reading.”
Unfortunately for both Hayes and Rodgers, the winger failed to make the grade at both Reading and Leicester, before finding his form north of the border with Inverness Caledonian Thistle – where he scored 25 times in 101 appearances, which led to Aberdeen’s interest and he joined on a free transfer.
The Irishman, 29, has scored 27 goals in 200 appearances for the Dons and has been omnipresent in Derek McInnes’ attack since his arrival.
Hayes was the only non Celtic player to be in contention for the PFA Scotland Player of the Year last weekend, with Scott Sinclair winning the award.
Hayes was also at the centre of events at Ibrox in January when the then Rangers boss was refused £600,000 to bid for Aberdeen’s star man. This was the beginning of the end for Mark Warburton.
Celtic can make it 44 domestic games unbeaten with a victory or draw on Friday night and would mean that the club can go for an ‘invincible season’ with 3 remaining games in Glasgow, one at Firhill versus Partick Thistle, then against Hearts at Celtic Park on the last day of the Premiership fixture and then the Scottish Cup Final at Hampden versus Aberdeen.