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19th Oct 2017

TV pundit’s criticism of Brendan Rodgers and Celtic is harsh and bizarre

"Football suicide"

Robert Redmond

“Such naive play, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”

Celtic lost 3-0 to Bayern Munich on Wednesday night in the Champions League. In other words, one of the richest teams in Europe beat a club from a country where there’s barely any football television money on offer. The result is Celtic’s second loss in the group stage of this year’s competition, after they fell to a 5-0 defeat at home to Paris Saint-Germain last month.

It turns out that a club owned by an oil-rich state are much better than the champions of Scotland.

Celtic were outclassed by Qatar FC… sorry, PSG, and were put to the sword by Bayern in Bavaria on Wednesday night. Thomas Muller, Joshua Kimmich and Mats Hummels got the goals for the German champions. In the other game in the group, PSG beat Anderlecht 4-0 in Belgium. A quick scan of the Champions League results will show that the richer team wins in almost every game, so there’s no shame in a side from a non-elite league losing. It’s to be expected and the competition is structured to ensure there are no big-name casualties before the real business begins in the knock-out rounds in the new year.

However, Kenny Cunningham clearly didn’t get the memo. The former Birmingham City and Republic of Ireland defender launched a harsh, and rather weird, criticism of Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers and his team immediately following their defeat to Bayern. Cunningham labelled their approach to be “football suicide.”

Rodgers set his team out in a 4-2-3-1 formation, choosing to mirror Bayern’s formation rather than play an extra midfielder. Celtic didn’t opt to play with eight defenders like Jose Mourinho did against Liverpool, but tried to play their natural game. They lost, but regardless of their approach, they probably would have lost. Bayern are at home, they have better individuals players and are back in form after replacing Carlo Ancelotti with Jupp Heynckes. This was a free hit for Celtic, and they are on course for a place in the Europa League after their impressive 3-0 victory over Anderlecht last month.

But Cunningham didn’t see it like that.

“I think we should expect more from Celtic in possession of the football,” the former Premier League defender said on Eir Sport in Ireland.

“Brendan Rodgers speaks about the Celtic way, his kind of philosophy. For me, his type of philosophy doesn’t stand up at this level of football. His want for his Celtic team to play the ball up the pitch, possession through the thirds, is the equivalent of footballing suicide at this level. They got mugged-off time and time again in the second-half, such naive play, I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing. And I think that comes from the manager. Some people may applaud how he wants his team to play, but you have to have the players to implement that philosophy of football. And Celtic don’t have the of footballers of that quality to play that type of football he wants in his own half of the pitch. He needs to recognise that and he needs to find a different way at this level of football.”

Cunningham didn’t specify what other approach Celtic should take against better teams in Europe and the pundit’s claim that Rodgers’ “philosophy doesn’t stand up at this level” was a particularly strange thing to say. It’s not that Rodgers’ philosophy doesn’t stand-up, but the fact his players simply aren’t as good as Bayern or PSG because Celtic aren’t as rich. Rodgers’ possession-based idea of play has been practiced in different forms by teams from Spain to Barcelona to Manchester City to Bayern, and it has brought success.

It has brought Celtic success and to this stage of the Champions League. Why would Rodgers change now? What were Celtic supposed to do, put 10 players behind the ball and lose anyway? They’re effectively playing for third place in the group and they’re currently in third place, after a fine away win over Anderlecht. The result on Wednesday had an awful lot more to do with finance than Rodgers wanting his team to pass the ball, and it’s staggering that Cunningham can’t see that. The Celtic manager’s insistence on trying to play football is also admirable, and should be welcomed instead of criticising him for not approaching the game like he’s Tony Pulis.

You watch Cunningham here: