Brendan Rodgers is a manager prepared to take risks. When the stakes are high, the Celtic boss knows what it is to reach out and throw the dice.
Neil Lennon led the Parkhead club to the group stages of the Champions League three years ago to secure a guaranteed £16million.
The rewards are higher now. A near £900m broadcast deal signed with BT Sport last season has increased the market pool payments to clubs substantially.
Brendan Rodgers has acknowledged the importance of qualifying for the Champions League
Rodgers is preparing his players for their game against Hapoel Be’er Sheva on Tuesday
Rodgers’ side goes into the game already 5-2 up on aggregate and favourites to progress
The figures have yet to be set in stone.
But triumph in Israel over Hapoel Be’er Sheva on Tuesday will guarantee a minimum of £21m before a ticket is sold or a point is won. The final sum could feasibly touch £30m. For any Scottish club this is uncharted territory.
‘There are big rewards,’ Rodgers acknowledges. ‘The differences in this game between winning and losing are very marginal. The consequences are massive but you can’t afford to think of the consequences or you wouldn’t do it.
‘I remember going into one of my earliest games, the play-off final, which was deemed the £100m game between Swansea and Reading. That is a life-changing game.
‘As a coach, if you get through, you get to the Premier League, your career takes off, the players get to a much better position financially, so these types of games are important. But for me this is about prestige. The money is irrelevant.
‘Of course, the bonus for the club, the bonus for all clubs, is the financial package you can get in the Champions League and everything which comes with it.
‘For myself and the players it is about operating at the highest level you can. We fought so hard all pre-season, we now have that one final step to take and I believe we are ready to take it.’
The 2011 English Championship play-off final was a launchpad for Rodgers. Within a year he was manager of Liverpool.
Securing a Champions League group stage spot will bank Celtic at least £21million
It might be expected of Celtic but Rodgers emphasised the job needs to be finished
Reaching the Champions League is less of a deal to Celtic. It’s expected.
Yet the significance of ending two years of European mediocrity can’t be overstated. The task for Rodgers is to proect his players from the expectation and pressure that brings.
‘I think everyone recognises that because of the hardship of the last few years, it’s been three years since the club has been in the Champions League and for everyone it means a lot.
‘But if you think too much on the emotive side you would drive yourself mad.
‘You just have to focus on the process of winning and getting through. That’s all I’ve ever done. When we lost the first game of qualification I just said ‘stay calm’, it’s about staying calm and getting through, and it’s the same thing now.’
He admits qualification would be a milestone. The first box ticked as Celtic manager.
‘Yeah it is,’ he added. ‘It is a huge milestone for the club because it’s where the club wants to be and for some clubs with a much greater financial output throughout Europe winning the Champions League is what they are in it for.
‘But for clubs like Celtic, and where they are financially, reaching the group stage is success.
‘That is very, very important to make that equation and realise how realistic it is and how difficult it is. So for us this marks success.
Scott Brown wheels away in celebration after scoring in the first leg of the tie
‘It was the same when I went to Liverpool.
‘Liverpool hadn’t been in the Champions League for five-odd seasons.
‘I went in there when the club was in eighth position in the league. I signed a three year deal and my primary objective was to get the club to the Champions League.
‘We did it in two years. And went on a wonderful journey of football, it was great.
‘So I have been brought in here to get to the Champions League. If I can do it in three months I would be happy…’
In initial meetings with major shareholder Dermot Desmond, the importance of qualifying was never laboured. It never had to be. Celtic were never offering the Northern Irishman a £2million salary to win the SPFL.
‘It wasn’t something that was nailed to me.
Qualifying for the competition was one of the objectives give to Rodgers on his arrival
The former Liverpool boss likened reaching the group stages to winning promotion to the Premier League with Swansea in 2011
‘I think we are all clever enough to understand what the objectives are.
‘It’s to qualify for the Champions League, which is not easy. And to win the Scottish league. These are objectives we have set ourselves.’
The heat in Israel is intense. Temperatures in day-time hours are over 30 degrees centigrade. Yet the late kick-off time will assist.
‘It’s not going to be as warm as I thought it might be,’ added Rodgers. ‘Kick-off is quarter to 10 and, from what I felt walking about last night, the real heat in the day will have come out of it.
‘The heat isn’t going to play such a big factor.’
Under Ronny Deila, the mental strength and physical fitness of the Celtic players was repeatedly called into question.
Rodgers appears to be in good spirits during a training session in the build-up to the game
Leigh Griffiths was among the scorers for Celtic in their 5-2 victory in the first leg
In more ways than one they look more resilient now, yet the proof comes tonight.
‘I can only talk from what I see and that is that they are operating at a very good level and the beauty of it is is that it will only get better,’ states the manager.
‘When we roll it out even more and get a fraction more time to work on the field it will get better.
‘I’m happy with the physical condition of how they are lasting in games. I said when I came in that the hallmark of the team is the first 20-25 minutes.
‘We have scored early, just before half-time, just after half-time and late in the game.
‘You can only do that when you are physically and mentally strong. If that’s a measure then they are at a really good level.’
Rodgers does not feel the Israeli heat is going to play a factor on the game
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