Celtic: Brendan Rodgers' Champions League record 'suggests he too has a lot to learn'
When Celtic crushed Anderlecht 3-0 in Brussels in late September, part of the analysis of the victory involved leafing through the record books to place it in context.
It was Celtic's biggest ever Champions League group stage win, their first clean sheet away from home, their first win in three years in European group stage football and their first away win in the Champions League in five years.
What we did then, we do now. Everything that is said about Celtic's Champions League campaign has to be put into perspective - they targeted Europa League football and they achieved it. That's the bottom line. They did what they set out to do.
The scrutiny of their last six games has to be about more than the end result, though. Rodgers has said that he has seen clear signs of his team maturing as a Champions League side and yet, in the wake of their second-rate 1-0 loss to Anderlecht at Celtic Park on Tuesday, he showed more exasperation with his players than at any point in his season and a half in charge.
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The reality of the team's situation dynamites the belief that Celtic are getting better on the biggest stage. The 5-0 and 7-1 losses against the excellence of Paris St-Germain is one thing, but backing up their 3-0 win over Anderlecht with a lacklustre 1-0 defeat against a less-than-stellar team is quite another.
Rodgers can legitimately argue that his side cannot be compared to the financial superpowers of Paris St-Germain and Bayern Munich, but Anderlecht are different. There is no fiscal gap between the Scots and the Belgians. Over the course of the last three seasons, Anderlecht have sold the core of a team for about £53m and have spent modestly in trying to replace the ones who have left.
Their biggest outlay was on two Romanian internationals, neither of whom played on Tuesday. Celtic had already beaten them 3-0 away from home, so this was the night for them to turn up and put on a professional performance that supported what Rodgers was saying about their European development. It was a game they could afford to lose while still making the last 32 of the Europa League, but they had to win if they were to retain the belief that they're growing up in Europe.
Celtic have now gone more than three years without winning at home in the group stages of the Champions League or Europa League. They haven't won a Champions League group game at home in four years. This season's campaign has seen them lose all three home games for the first time in their Champions League history. It's also the first time that any British club has lost all three home games.
Before Rodgers arrived in Glasgow, Celtic had lost just three games at home in the Champions League proper. Rodgers' team has lost five out of the last six at home and haven't scored in four of them. As Celtic and Liverpool manager, Rodgers has been involved in 18 Champions League matches and won only two - Ludogorets and Anderlecht.
In his one Champions League campaign at Liverpool, his team had Real Madrid for company. At Celtic, over two seasons, he's had Barcelona, Manchester City, Paris St-Germain and Bayern Munich. You wouldn't judge him on games against those sides, but what about some of the others?
Liverpool couldn't beat Basel home or away under Rodgers. The Swiss progressed to the last 16 of the Champions League ahead of Liverpool, where they were promptly routed by Porto 5-1 on aggregate. Liverpool went into the Europa League, where they made an immediate exit, on penalties, against Besiktas, who then got knocked out by Brugge 5-2 on aggregate.
At Celtic there have been tough but winnable games against Borussia Monchengladbach, the ninth best team in Germany last season, and Anderlecht. Four opportunities and one victory. It could be argued that Celtic's best European performance under Rodgers was the stirring 3-3 draw with Manchester City in the second round of games in last season's group stage. It could equally be argued that instead of maturing in Europe, Celtic have gone backwards since then.
Rodgers said on Tuesday evening that his players have a lot to learn before they can call themselves Champions League level players. His record would suggest that the same could be said of him on the managerial front.
There is no disputing his pre-eminence in Scotland, no arguing with Celtic's incredible dominance on the domestic front. He has won every trophy on offer. He has rewritten history.
He has also made Celtic a fortune with back-to-back qualifications for the Champions League and that's another large tick in the box. His team has brought the fans and the feel-good factor back in massive numbers. Europe is the one quandary. They'll take comfort in the fact that they're in the Europa League, but little they have done so far this season at the highest level suggests that they're going to prosper there.
They need investment, not just to give themselves a proper shot at the Europa League but to help them navigate the increasingly choppy waters of Champions League qualification. From next season, they have another round of games to reach the group stage. Everything is going to get harder for them.
Rodgers spent £4.5m on Olivier Ntcham in the summer while also plunging for Patrick Roberts on loan. The former is in and out of the team and the latter has done nothing to warrant the club fanfare that greeted his return to Glasgow. Rodgers also spent £3m on Eboue Kouassi.
He, like Ntcham, is young and could well kick-on, but Rodgers needs front-liners not project players if they are to move forward in Europe. Nobody is saying it's easy to recruit these guys - it's actually murderously difficult - but that's the challenge.
The Europa League draw takes place on Monday. Rodgers could do with going on a bit of a run in the competition, for his team's credibility outside of Scotland as well as his own.