James Milner backs Brendan Rodgers to come through tough times at Celtic

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Brendan Rodgers gives thumbs up to the Celtic fans after victory over Partick Thistle


As he beat a retreat from Athens last week, Brendan Rodgers may well have felt his own plight was beginning to resemble that of a famous figure from Greek mythology.

The son of the master craftsman Daedalus, Icarus’ attempt to escape from the island of Crete with wings made by his father from feathers and wax floundered because he flew too close to the sun.

As any football manager will testify, the only certainty about scaling great heights is that, at some point, you will inevitably fall back to earth.

Brendan Rodgers gives thumbs up to the Celtic fans after victory over Partick Thistle

Brendan Rodgers gives thumbs up to the Celtic fans after victory over Partick Thistle

The only man in the history of Scottish football to win back-to-back Trebles, with successive Champions League qualifications to boot, Rodgers, it may well be argued, simply hit the glass ceiling far sooner than he had any right to.

This is the nub of the current angst around the club: the only real way the Northern Irishman could possibly improve upon his first two seasons up here was to make a real impact in the Champions League.

That kind of thing costs unquantifiable sums of money. The sort of resources no side operating in the Scottish environment has. Thus the friction that has ensued.

Hard on the heels of a defeat to Hearts in the Premiership, Celtic’s elimination from the Champions League at the hands of AEK Athens, coupled with a strong start to the campaign by Steven Gerrard’s Rangers, has irked the Parkhead support like no time since their manager came to town.

In such moments, throwing the baby out with the bathwater seems to be the national sport.

For James Milner, though, there is not a shred of doubt that the man who signed him for Liverpool three years ago will blow away whatever storm clouds are presently over his head.

In the eyes of the England man, Rodgers was, is and always will be, the steadiest of hands on the tiller. A man to block out the background noise and see things through a logical prism. Just the man Celtic need at this trying moment, in fact.

‘That’s what happens when you’re at a big club,’ Milner said of the angst that came with those back-to-back losses.

James Milner believes his former boss at Liverpool can come through the tough times

James Milner believes his former boss at Liverpool can come through the tough times

James Milner believes his former boss at Liverpool can come through the tough times

‘You have to deal with those expectations but Brendan has been there before and I’m sure he’ll cope with that.

‘Celtic are still in with a chance of qualifying for the Europa League group stage and keeping that going until Christmas at least.

‘He’ll be a better manager now for his experience at Liverpool. The success he’s had in Scotland suggests that but Liverpool are also strong at the moment, so there won’t be any regrets from either side. 

‘Brendan did a good job at Liverpool and he’s doing a good job at Parkhead.’ Signed by Rodgers in the summer of 2015, Milner arrived on the Merseyside scene when the manager was trying to salvage his reputation.

By that point, the enormous credit Rodgers had gained from taking the Anfield club to the cusp of the title 12 months previously had faded into the background.

While the departure of Luis Suarez to Barcelona weeks after Gerrard’s infamous slip against Chelsea was certainly an enormous blow, few expected the Reds to fall from second to sixth. And absolutely no one countenanced 2014-15 concluding with a 6-1 loss to Stoke.

Milner arrived at Liverpool when the heat was on Rodgers like never before. By the start of October, the crisis around him had intensified and after drawing the Merseyside derby, Rodgers was hurtling back to earth after being sacked.

But the player’s recollections of a man who was in the dying embers of his reign when he joined remain overwhelmingly positive.

‘My impression of him was that he’s a very good manager,’ said Milner. ‘He was one of the main reasons I signed for Liverpool.

‘From speaking with him before I joined and then working with him, I could see how well prepared he is, how good he is tactically in training and how impressive his man-management is.

‘It was unfortunate I didn’t get to play under him for longer but it’s pleasing to see that he’s come to another big club and done so well.’ 

For long enough, Liverpool’s decision to sack Rodgers made little sense. Jurgen Klopp guided the side he inherited to eighth and then took them to fourth in successive seasons.

Rodgers brought Milner to Liverpool on a free transfer from Manchester City in 2015

Rodgers brought Milner to Liverpool on a free transfer from Manchester City in 2015

Rodgers brought Milner to Liverpool on a free transfer from Manchester City in 2015

But the swashbuckling style of play, coupled with the small matter of making two European finals, has gradually won virtually every Kopite over.

Still, though, many privately wonder: would Rodgers have taken them closer to the Holy Grail of a first title since 1990 had he not been shown the door?

‘Would he have turned things round if he’d been given more time?’ Milner asked aloud. ‘I’m sure he would have done.

‘You don’t come as close as he did to winning the league without doing something right but the club chose a different path.

‘But he came here and he’s won every trophy so far. No matter what level you’re playing at, that takes some doing.’ 

The infuriating thing for Rodgers is that for all his side seemed to run into a perfect storm in Athens – untimely injuries, squabbling over transfer budgets and the Dedryck Boyata saga – the tie was still eminently winnable.

Alas for Celtic, Lithuanian champions Suduva must now be overcome if the consolation prize of the Europa League is to be had.

It may not have been anyone’s stated ambition but, as Milner points out, it is a tournament with no little pedigree either.

‘I’m sure they’ll be pushing hard to get into the Europa League group stage – that is a great competition, as well,’ he said.

‘Unfortunately, I lost to Seville in the final with Liverpool. Thinking about not winning that European trophy still hurts.

‘There is quality in the Europa League from the start, even before the clubs from the Champions League drop in. It’s a very good tournament to do well in.’

James Milner and Stiliyan Petrov have joined forces for A Match for Cancer which will take place at Celtic Park on Saturday, September 8. 

Tickets are now on sale priced £14 for adults and £6 for concessions.

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