Pursuing the Pep Guardiola blueprint is paying off for Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers


One hails from the ancient town of Santpedor in Catalonia. The other from the fishing village of Carnlough in Country Antrim.

If Pep Guardiola and Brendan Rodgers are the products of different cultures, when it comes to their footballing philosophy, the two men very much speak the same language.

The fact that the Celtic boss and his Manchester City counterpart share the same passion for possession-based football is no mere accident of birth.

Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers is an admirer of Pep Guardiola's approach to management

Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers is an admirer of Pep Guardiola’s approach to management

The Hoops manager approves of Guardiola's aesthetically pleasing style of football

The Hoops manager approves of Guardiola’s aesthetically pleasing style of football

Growing up in Northern Ireland, a love of aesthetically pleasing styles of football was passed down to Rodgers by his late father, Malachy. In particular, Rodgers Snr held special affection for the revered Brazil team of 1970, and the great Johan Cruyff-inspired Dutch sides of that decade.

For his son, though, it was love at first sight as the tiki-taka style overseen by Guardiola at Barcelona shaped Rodgers’ coaching future.

Vowing to mirror Guardiola’s approach, possession would forever be king in a Rodgers team. Players, including the goalkeeper, would build up from the back and patiently tease out openings. And whenever the ball was lost, players would work their socks off, hunting in packs to win it back quickly.

Brendan Rodgers is set to meet Pep Guardiola for the first time on Wednesday

Celtic face Manchester City in the Champions League

Two two managers are set to meet for the first time in the Champions League on Wednesday

So successful was Rodgers in importing tiki-taka to the valleys of south Wales that as his much admired Swansea team took flight to the English Premier League they became known affectionately as ‘Swansalona’.

Keen to meet Guardiola in person, over a year before Swansea’s 4-2 Championship play-off Final triumph over Reading at Wembley in 2011, Rodgers arranged to fly to the Catalan capital to study his methods close up.

But those plans went up in smoke, literally, thanks to the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in April 2010. 

Wednesday’s Champions League meeting at Celtic Park, then, will be the first of two like-minded managers.

‘I’m a huge admirer of Pep Guardiola,’ said Rodgers recently. ‘But I don’t know him. I was supposed to have met him a few years back. I was flying out to spend four days with him in Barcelona when the ash cloud kicked in. I was waiting to board my flight when it happened.

Premier League leaders Manchester City travel to Celtic in the Champions League group stage

Premier League leaders Manchester City travel to Celtic in the Champions League group stage

‘I didn’t get the chance to meet him but he’s a wonderful coach and I know, even without meeting or knowing him, that he is a wonderful man.

‘I’ve been hugely impressed with his work. He was an outstanding footballer himself but he’s gone away and done the dirty work as a coach.

‘I like his love and passion for football, his great principles and ideas and the confidence he gives to people. I’ve admired him from the outside looking in, at the courage he has shown to play the modern game.

‘My influences are pretty much the Spanish influence – not just from Guardiola, but a fusion of the European giants. For me, Spain, Holland and the British mentality put together can be hard to beat. My feeling was always to make a fusion between them.’

City thrashed German club Borussia Monchengladbach 4-0 in their opening Group C fixture

City thrashed German club Borussia Monchengladbach 4-0 in their opening Group C fixture

These days, Rodgers and Guardiola are working in two different financial stratospheres. Yet there are still distinct parallels to be drawn between the two managers and the effect on their respective new clubs.

Guardiola has hit the ground running since arriving in Manchester from Bayern Munich, with six wins from six in the English Premier League. His ultra-attacking side has hit 18 goals, an average of three per game.

But that trails Celtic’s 23 goals in six games – five wins and a draw – which represents an almost four goals a game return for Rodgers’ rampant outfit.

Key to Celtic’s attacking potency has been Rodgers breathing life into players, old and new.

Celtic suffered an embarrassing 7-0 mauling at the hands of Guardiola's former club Barcelona

Celtic suffered an embarrassing 7-0 mauling at the hands of Guardiola’s former club Barcelona

Scott Sinclair, who was relegated to the shadows at Manchester City, has emerged blinking into the limelight in Scotland. He has scored in each of the six league games to date, a feat not achieved by a Celtic player since the legendary Jimmy McGrory in 1934-35. 

On the right flank, meanwhile, James Forrest has been re-energised by the new manager from the peripheral figure he had become under Rodgers’ predecessor, Ronny Deila.

Guardiola is working similar magic on Raheem Sterling, a player pilloried after England’s miserable Euro 2016 campaign but who now looks to be back to the form that saw City pay £49million to land him from Liverpool.

Rodgers, meanwhile, took the unpopular decision to drop Scotland international goalkeeper Craig Gordon in favour of Dorus de Vries, a keeper deemed to be more comfortable playing out from the back. 

Rodgers will be hoping to see a response from his players after the defeat at the Nou Camp

Rodgers will be hoping to see a response from his players after the defeat at the Nou Camp

The Dutchman has lost questionable goals to Barcelona’s Neymar, Billy King of Inverness and a 43-yard effort by Kilmarnock’s Souleymane Coulibaly on Saturday but appears to retain Rodgers’ confidence when fit.

Down in Manchester, Guardiola took the equally quick and bold decision to loan England goalkeeper Joe Hart to Torino and instead buy Barcelona’s Claudio Bravo. A keeper deemed to more comfortable with the ball at his feet than Hart, Bravo endured a torrid debut against Manchester United but Guardiola stood by his man.

With their new managers at the helm, fans of Celtic and Manchester City are dreaming big. After just six games, Celtic already look unstoppable in the race for six in a row.

City fans harbour hopes of conquering England and Europe. Should their side win at Celtic Park they would equal the best start to a season ever by an English club, the 11 straight victories recorded by Tottenham in 1960-61.

Brendan Rodgers has dropped Craig Gordon at the start of the season

Joe Hart has been sent out on loan to Torino

Both managers have replaced their goalkeepers, Craig Gordon (left) and Joe Hart, this season

But both men are hard task-masters. Following a 6-1 win over Kilmarnock, Rodgers was telling on-form striker Moussa Dembele – scorer of 10 goals from seven starts – that he ‘still has a way to go’.

At the same time Guardiola was warning his record-threatening team they are nowhere near the levels he wants them to reach.

For Bayern Munich midfielder Xabi Alonso, it is that relentless pursuit of excellence that has underpinned his old manager’s fine start at the Etihad.

‘Pep Guardiola has a natural talent to understand football and to then transform that understanding on to his players,’ Alonso said. ‘He likes to have the ball and for his players to show courage and you can just feel this.

‘The desire his players have to prove themselves to the fans and the coach is the result of Pep’s work. He is very demanding and methodical. What he has done at Manchester City over the past two months is amazing.’

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