BRENDAN RODGERS has revealed the steel behind the smile as he steps up the process of constructing a Celtic side in his own image.
Heading into the second week of the Hoops pre-season training camp, the Northern Irishman is relishing the opportunity to get intensive work done in the forests of Slovenia.
Yet for all his easy chat with staff, players and media alike, he knows, too, there is a necessary culling process to be carried out.
A squad bloated by some dead wood was just one of the legacies from his predecessor, Ronny Deila.
And it was as he discussed one of the most-sensitive issues a manager has to deal with – how to move players out of the side or, indeed, out of the club – that he admitted to a ruthless streak which should serve him well in the weeks and months ahead.
“For me, it is always about the team,” said the 43-year-old.
“That is the most important thing. There is no individual player bigger than the club.
“Take what happened with Steven Caulker and Garry Monk five years ago when I was at Swansea.
“We had just got promoted to the Premier League, and Garry was my captain, the man who had led us there.
“He had been brilliant for me over the course of a few seasons.
“But I dropped him and put a 19-year-old kid, Steven Caulker (who at that time was on loan from Spurs and is now being linked with Celtic), in his place in central defence.
“I made that choice because I knew he could help the team. You take that emotion out of it and you just focus on that one question – will this action help us?
“And, of course, it did. Steven came in and was terrific for us. He went to the Olympics, he played for England and, subsequently, for Liverpool.”
While happy at the positive impact of that change, the new Celtic boss stresses he was not oblivious to the potentially devastating effect on a man who remains, to this day, one of his closest footballing allies.
“It was tough for Garry, and I knew silence would have been the death sentence in this case,” said Rodgers.
“So I explained it so he could understand exactly why I was dropping him.
“He still had a very important role as the leader of the group. He was then able to get involved with the other side, which was coaching.
“Since then, of course, he has gone on to be a manager himself, at Swansea indeed, and now he is in charge at Leeds United.
“But listen. If the same situation arises here at Celtic, then I will do the same thing again.
“If I feel the 17-year-old is better than the 27-year-old, then it will be the 17-year-old who plays – because it is for the best of the team.”
Rodgers admits the fact he grew up a Celtic fan was a big factor in him heading north to take the manager’s job.
He believes potential signing targets who head to Glasgow’s East End for a look round will quickly be bitten by the bug
“I see Celtic as one of the great institutions in the world,” he continued.
“We all know the league is different to the one down south, and the market is not the same.
“However, the experiences players can get with us, well, there are not many clubs in England who can give them that.
“Which is why there may come a day when these young players we have on loan – the likes of Patrick Roberts – might want to return to us on a permanent basis, which would be great.”
The key for Rodgers, though, as outlined by his use of the example with Monk and Caulker, will always be that the needs of the many
outweighing the needs of the few.
“Players who come to us, be it in the short term or on a permanent deal, have got to buy into the responsibility of being part of what we are trying to achieve for all the time they are with us,” said Rodgers.
“I don’t want those who think this is just a loan.
“Those who do come are always given a document from me, outlining the fundamentals of how we play in terms of offensive organisation, defensive organisation, offensive transition, defensive transition.
“And they get the rules and regulations of how I work, outlining what is expected in their relationships with people down to what happens if they are late.
“It is something I have picked up from all the years I have been in the job, from the days when I was coaching kids as young as eight years old to the great players at Chelsea.
“It’s details. Or as they say in Spanish: ‘los detalitos’ – the small details.’
“Things like everyone wearing the same kit, not having people walking around in different brands of shorts.
“That is something which has never been a problem for me, but I know it can be.
“If everyone is in the same uniform, and you have a way of working as a unit, then everyone feels part of it.
“You then see the magic begin and, over time, it evolves in front of you.
“And so far the guys have been unbelievable. They smile, they run, they work. They press, they pass. And they have the humility.
“It’s great. It takes time but you put it in place at the beginning, you see it develop and it’s beautiful.”