Celtic’s 3 Rapidly Rising Stars // Re-Instated (A Love Letter to Brendan Rodgers)

I remember the cutting realisation as the arrow pierced my teenage heart and the numerous similar occasions over the ensuing years, always the rejectee never the rejector. Understandable with a face like mine but sore all the same. We called it the ‘el boa’ round our way or Spanish Archer, local parlance for being chucked, dropped, sacked. No longer required by the love of that fleeting time and place.

The most recent wound was inflicted not by a girl who claimed my undying love for that particular week, it was a far more serious and deeply felt love affair. One in which I invested everything. A keeper, the ‘one’ or so I stupidly thought.

It’s been a few months now and as much as I miss Ange Postecogelou, I accept and even understand his rejection – If you love someone set them free. It’s the grown-up approach, however a little piece of me will always go with the big man. Thanks for the memories mate.

Us Celts have been here before, of course, a rejection that caused such hurt and slump it had us collectively walking metaphorical streets with our bare chests on show screeching that our former lover had “turned the weans against us”. It hit us hard. It wasn’t just a latin arrow smith’s missile we contended, it was a betrayal and shock none of us saw coming. Pain, rage and bemusement on a foot long torpedo roll. Choke on that – and choke we did.

However, if back in 2019 someone had said that in 2023 my disdain would dissipate and turn to love – aided by a red head in Rotterdam I’d have assumed I was in my very own version of The Hangover, but maybe, just maybe the enforced juxtaposition that evening in the De Kuip Stadium, then a few days later in the facetiously named Tony Macaroni Arena, bore witness to a very serious proposition that this could be the genesis of a new generation of success, forged by an ex affiance who realised that they loved us more than they realised and this time it’s for good – or 3 years at the very least.

Admittedly, my first impression of ‘The Brodge’ (© Noel Gallagher) was from a distance. Of a man slightly out of his depth. A David Brent-type character with echoes of Alan Partridge surveying his 5-bedroom bastard house. I refer to the ‘Being Liverpool’ documentary that thrust Brendan Rodgers further into a spotlight he can’t have imagined.

To my memory, it felt that the naive Rodgers had studied Shankly and practiced in front of the mirror such was the apparent need to deliver edified greatness in every sentence rather than be himself. It came over as trying too hard and inadvertently looking like a competition winner in parts, nonetheless on revisiting I have changed those thoughts entirely. Knowing what I know now after the years that have passed I can say with confidence that Brendan Rodgers is a genius and I posit will go down in history as one of the true greats of football.

The paraphrased quote that follows him most is the one about the ‘mince’ – “I love to run on the streets around here [Melwood, Liverpool’s legendary training ground]. I love seeing the people going about their business. These are our people. I love running late in the afternoon, when the doors are open and the dinners are on, and you can smell the mince cooking”.

Rodgers was routinely mocked for it and, had it been said by Gervais or Coogan whilst in character you wouldn’t have batted an eyelid, however if we take it in context, Rodgers is speaking in nostalgia and reverence and connecting himself from his childhood, from himself to his place of residence and work and saying that ‘we are the same’. I understand you because I’m from the same cloth and hold the same values and care. It showed he means it and that’s to be applauded and appreciated in a period where homogenised, tepid and beige rhetoric is the norm.

When Bill Shankly first walked through the door at Anfield in 1959 it was to a decrepit, run-down club languishing in Division 2, fresh on the back of an FA Cup exit at the hands of the mighty Worcester City. The only way was up. Rodgers had a different, more modern expectation, to restore Liverpool to their perch taken mercilessly by the dominance of hated rivals, Manchester United. Under the added scrutiny of a fly-on-the-wall documentary and social media not yet invented in the boot-room era of success.

The first episode is named ‘The Silver Shovel’, taken from a quote by Brendan on describing his upbringing where he explains that although his family didn’t have a great deal in terms of generational financial affluence, it was more than balanced by the hard work of his parents to ensure he had everything he could wish for. Not so much a silver spoon, but a silver shovel. A well brought up boy and this shines through the more we get to know him.

“I grew up knowing how to work and what work was,” said Rodgers and the swashbuckling brand of football he restored at Anfield could not have happened without graft to match the firebrand guile he came to produce as his signature dish. In his second season he almost won the league, finishing 2 points behind a rampant Manchester City and markedly improving the likes of Sterling, Can & Sturridge as is his de rigour.

“It doesn’t matter where someone sits in an organisational chart or where people are in the rankings. They’re human beings. It’s about respect”. It’s clear that Rodgers is from good stock, from proud working class roots that’s had the very basics taught and instilled. Just the same as myself and I bet every single person reading this. He’s a good guy and one of us. In the relatively short time he’s been back he has handled things impeccably.

In his first spell at Celtic Park, he brought in Scott Sinclair and Moussa Dembele who made instant positive impacts, also elevating incumbent playing staff like Kieran Tierney to another level. Ditto Stuart Armstrong and the mercurial Tom Rogic received a similar career makeover in the sense of consistency and minutes on the pitch. Kolo Toure was an inspired addition, however possibly his greatest masterstroke was the reinvigoration of captain, Scott Brown, who seemed to be heading for pastures new before The Brodge (© Noel Gallagher) sprinkled his magic dust and created a 5 years younger, lean, mean midfield machine.

And let’s not forget Dorus De Vries, in fact let’s do forget Dorus De Vries (smiley face emoji).

The most recent and tangible proof of Brendan Rodgers’ genius are conformed by the unquestionable improvements of 3 key players this season – one of which was the surprise of all surprises.

Liam Scales is a Baresi-esque adonis in an awkward, red headed Gaelic man suit who could ably pick the pocket of a field mouse wearing oven gloves and deliver it on a platter to anyone he chooses.

Matt O’Reilly is an actual adonis in a handsome, catwalk model man suit and Reo Hetate is Modric from the land of the rising Sun in a red mouth guard.

All 3 are gems polished by the returning prodigal – his quiet work behind the scenes bearing early fruits that promises much more to come.

The improvements of Celtic’s 3 rapidly rising stars is just the beginning. I can see a burgeoning sense of demand that Celtic, our Celtic, push on into areas yet undiscovered in the modern era. We are a huge club, one of the best-supported and well-respected globally. I don’t need to tell you that, but The Brodge does to those that don’t get it yet. Thats what he does best. Make things better and cooly, calmly and with quality. Providing all of us with our very own silver shovel.

Iain Conroy.

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