BRENDAN RODGERS admits he faces a headache over how to fit Scott Brown into his on-form Celtic side.
But as the Hoops boss prepares to trade the high of Euro victory over Leipzig for the “auld claes and porridge” of a domestic trip to the Tony Macaroni Arena today, he insists the sooner it comes the better.
In the absence of their talismanic skipper, the Hoops have positively thrived, with the performances of Callum McGregor and Ryan Christie in deep-lying midfield – the area Brown patrols when fit – receiving rave reviews from fans, pundits and professionals alike.
Rodgers himself likened McGregor to the great American football quarterback, Tom Brady, for his ability to direct the team’s play last week.
And after watching Christie turn in a performance of breathtaking energy and drive to shut down Leipzig’s key men last Thursday night, he was equally effusive about the man who plays alongside him, just in front of the back line.
“You see the level Ryan has gone to,” he said.
“He needed a moment and, for me, that moment came in the Hearts semi-final where he grew into becoming a Celtic player.
“He played with that personality, went into the game and affected it. He was efficient in the game.
“He has been a good player but lots of good players have been at big clubs and it hasn’t worked out.
“He stuck with it, showed resilience, went on loan to Aberdeen and got experience and his ability to learn to take on board instructions is great.
“You add in Callum and the likes of James Forrest, and I think you can be very proud watching the Scottish players against what was a high-level Bundesliga team.
“Now we have a bunch of players playing at a really high level. The guys behind that are going to have to work really hard to affect that.
“It’s what you want as a coach. We want all the boys back.
“The guys who have come into the team have been brilliant.
“When that happens, everyone will know you can’t be off your game because if you do, someone else will be waiting to come in. That is where we want to be.
“But I don’t forget what the guys have given me for two-and-a-half years.
“Scott Brown is an amazing player, a big personality, so it will be great when he gets back. Olivier Ntcham is a top operator, too.”
The strength of the Hoops’ recent renaissance has surprised many who felt the wonky displays of August and September, both at home and abroad, to be evidence of a malaise at the core of the double Treble winners.
“What you can’t have is doubt,” said the Celtic manager, who does a convincing job of persuading that his faith never faltered.
“I am very much an attacking coach and that is without compromise.
“But people forget that to attack, you have to be really good defensively.
“Our identity is to be really aggressive and press. Back then, we were searching for that. We were winning games but it wasn’t quite the same team you were watching.
“But you can’t get frustrated with the players.
“You just have to keep working, analysing and looking at performance and know, and trust, that they will get back to the level.”
Because getting them back on song falls under Rodgers’ remit – not just for the games against the likes of Leipzig but also Livingston, this afternoon’s opponents.
“That’s your job as manager and coach, to provide a stimulus for players to keep having the hunger,” he said.
“Part of that was to bring players in. We wanted to do that but it didn’t happen. Because you can be as good a coach as you want, but sometimes the best stimulus for players is competition.
“However that’s OK – let’s keep working to how we want to play, and as you saw against Leipzig, they’ve been fantastic.
“Whether we’ve had good, bad or indifferent results in Europe, domestically, these boys have been a credit to the club.
“They’ve never switched the engine off.
“We never allow them to, because the next game is the most important one.
“Of course, it won’t be as free-flowing and slick as it was against Leipzig, because we’re on an astroturf pitch against a team who’ve started the season great.
“It’ll be a tough game – but we’ll be ready for it.”