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Wednesday 13 December 2017

Rodgers leads the Bhoys to paradise with ease

First title for Irishman and more should follow

Brendan Rodgers
Brendan Rodgers

If Ronny Deila was something of a gamble for the Celtic board, Brendan Rodgers came with a guarantee.

However, even the Hoops faithful could not have dreamed of their manager's impact on Celtic and Scottish football. The man from Antrim has won his first Scottish Premiership title with eight games to spare after a 5-0 thrashing of Hearts at Tynecastle.

The Parkhead side are unbeaten domestically since the start of the season with 28 wins and two draws in the league. And, with the Betfred Cup already in the trophy room and a William Hill semi-final against Rangers to look forward to, they are on course for the treble.

The Northern Irishman is a Hoops hero.

Around 13,000 turned up at Celtic Park on May 21 last year to see the anointment of Rodgers as successor to Norwegian Deila, who won two titles but failed to build on a promising finish to his first season in charge.

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And the former Watford, Reading, Swansea and Liverpool boss has justified the hype following an embarrassing false start.

A 1-0 Champions League qualifying first-leg defeat away to Lincoln Red Imps of Gibraltar in his first game in charge raised eyebrows but the result was overturned in Glasgow and Rodgers side made their way into the lucrative group stages of the competition.

Even a 7-0 defeat by Barcelona in the Nou Camp failed to leave a mark on the Hoops boss who preferred to focus on the two draws with Manchester City in a campaign which ended with the Scottish champions bottom of their group.

Europe will have to remain a work in progress, but on the domestic front Rodgers demonstrated his prowess although it must be noted that his task was made easier given the lack of challenge from their traditional rivals Rangers. There were no wholesale changes to the squad left by Deila. Rodgers brought in the experienced defender Kolo Toure to help out at the back in the early stages of the campaign.

He tempted the exciting 20-year-old French striker Moussa Dembele from Fulham and he has gone on to score 17 league goals, plus 15 more so far in other competitions and is on the cusp of a call-up to the France senior squad.

Scotland striker Leigh Griffiths, who scored 40 goals last season, has been often been consigned to the bench. although he, like Dembele missed the Tynecastle game through injury.

Rodgers has rejuvenated the career of former Manchester City and Aston Villa attacker Scott Sinclair since bringing him north of the border last summer and he once again showed his worth in Gorgie with a hat-trick to take his tall for the season to 20 so far.

However, it has been the work with a squad which too often under-performed under Deila which has impressed as much as his recruitment.

He has given a new lease of life to Stuart Armstrong by bringing him in to centre midfield to the point he gained his first Scotland cap against Slovenia.

Veteran keeper Craig Gordon's form earned him a new deal. Left-back Kieran Tierney, still only 19, has kept his standards high and winger James Forrest has improved his consistency.

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Belgian defender Dedryck Boyata was a forgotten figure at Celtic Park before Rodgers restored him to the side on a permanent basis at the start of the year. There have been valuable contributions from players like Patrick Roberts, Callum McGregor, Nir Bitton and Tom Rogic.

Celtic have swept all before them in Scotland. On the domestic front, the Parkhead club can bank of more success.

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