BRENDAN RODGERS has not lost his focus from the first day he walked in the doors at Parkhead in May 2016: Celtic MUST make an impact in the Champions League.
Under his predecessor, Ronny Deila, the Hoops failed to qualify in two consecutive seasons for Europe’s elite competition and a major part of the former Liverpool manager’s remit was to change that sorry situation.
Rodgers successfully guided the team through two arduous qualifying campaigns in his first two years, but ambitions were disappointingly derailed this time around as the Parkhead men went out lamely to a mediocre AEK Athens.
The Greeks had four attempts on target over the two games and, astonishingly, scored with three of them to go through on an unlikely 3-2 aggregate.
Questioned if the club were not fully equipped for the challenge this season, Rodgers answered: “That would be fair. For a club like Celtic, we have to be at our max in every single facet just to have a chance.
“That doesn’t mean we don’t try our best to achieve it. But where everything was in the summer, all the difficulties we had, it made it tough.
“When I came in, my objectives were clear – to dominate Scottish football and qualify for the Champions League.
MATCHWINNER…Leigh Griffiths secured three points against Rosenborg.
“Knowing the climate and the waters Celtic were in, everyone knew it would be more difficult as time went on. But in two of the three years we’ve qualified and Europe is important to us.
“I don’t think those ambitions have changed. We still want to be a Champions League club. But to do that, you need to build.
“That’s the thing that didn’t happen – continually building. We built for two years then we had to change.
“We were growing and developing from the first year in the Champions League into the second when we came out of the group into the Europa League.
“We would have loved to keep that group of players and add a few bits of quality. But we lost big quality.
“You try to replace that, but if you can’t, you’re at a different starting point. That’s where we were last summer.
ON THE RUN…Scott Sinclair takes on a Rosenborg defender.
“But it is what it is. We’ve qualified for the Europa League and are in a tough group. We’re enjoying the challenge and Thursday night is important.
“We can look back at what happened in the summer – but it’s gone. We had the opportunity and it didn’t happen, for whatever reason.
“After that disappointment you have to find a purpose to push on again. It didn’t happen so, okay, we move on.”
Rodgers’ men kicked off their Europa League Group B campaign with a 1-0 win over Rosenborg where Leigh Griffiths claimed the winner late on.
That was followed by back-to-backs defeats on their travels as they lost 3-1 to RB Salzburg and 2-0 to RB Leipzig.
The cash-rich Bundesliga outfit will provide the opposition on Thursday and the Celtic gaffer is only too aware of the importance of three points as well as a performance that underlines the team can mix in this company.
Looking ahead, Rodgers added: “Is the knock-out stages of the Champions League a realistic target? You have to try.
HIGH JINKS…Filip Benkovic puts pressure on the Danes’ defence.
“But, of course, it’s getting more difficult and I’m a realist. At the same time, the expectations of Celtic and Rangers are to push on in Europe even though it’s extremely difficult.
“It has to still be our aim. Whether we get there or how, it has to be the aim.
“We’ll be at full pelt against Leipzig, but I know that still might not be good enough for us to win.
“I’m happy here in my work and in my life, but I know what the constraints are.
“We were all frustrated in the summer, especially after a double treble and two Champions League groups.
“But my ambition is for Celtic. I said that on my first day here. I love working with the players here, they’ve been incredible and my duty is to develop them.
“The staff are amazing and the supporters have given me everything. I have family and friends who are Celtic fans and I have to give them the best team I possibly can.
“Whether that satisfies some who think we can win the Champions League or the Europa League? You can’t satisfy everyone.
“When my time is up here I know I’ll have given my best. It’s not about satisfying me.
“A win on Thursday keeps us alive in Europe. We know it’s going to be hard, but we’ll look to find a way to win.”
WALLOP…Tom Rogic has a go against Rosenborg.
Celtic go into the clash in a fine run of domestic form following the 5-0 win over Hearts at Parkhead yesterday where Odsonne Edouard (2), Filip Benkovic, James Forrest and Ryan Christie (pen) got on the scoresheet.
That hoisted the Hoops’ incredible goalscoring tally to 23 in the past five games.
However, a 1-0 success in their latest European mission is likely to keep the home fans happy.