Top Line Summary

  • Injury updates
  • 'narrative' talk
  • Liel Abada situation

Everything Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers said to the media, ahead of Saturday's game against Kilmarnock...

How is your squad for the weekend and how is Alistair Johnston now you have had more time to assess and look at his injury?

He is still not available. We are hoping that he might be involved in the next week to ten days. We are assessing that as we go along but he is doing work out on the pitch. He is keeping up his fitness. We just have to be mindful of the contact. Greg Taylor is back and he trained all week. He comes back into the squad. Cameron Carter-Vickers will rejoin the squad next week. We are getting there.

Is Alistair one that when he does return he could be wearing a mask or sporting some sort of protection or permission to play?

I don't know. He doesn't need it but again we will assess that and his level of confidence out on the field. Both we and he haven't decided yet. It is just about seeing how he goes over the course of the next week, more importantly.

It is tight at the top of the table. From your experience what do you think will be the deciding factor in who finished top come the end of the season?

There are still a lot of games to go. I think it is great for the league. You never go into any league or any league title and think it is going to be a procession. It is hard work and hard graft. Over 38 games the best team will always win the league. For us, it is all about ourselves and our own attitude and mindset. In that aspect, it is very, very good. We just have to focus on each of our games and worry about ourselves. Let's see where that takes us.

READ MORE: Celtic's Ralston notes the 'good bond' he has with Johnston

When there was a management change across the city the lead was seven points. Is there any part of you that thinks we had it in our control and let it slip a little?

No, not really. I have seen that lots of times but the actual reality is the most we would have ever been in front would have been five points. If you take away the two games. We were never seven points clear. There were still two games that they had to play and they have now played them. We have dropped five points but I'm not kicking myself. It is what happens throughout the season. I think our response from the two games where we conceded early in December has been absolutely brilliant. Probably in any other country eight wins out of nine is a very good return. I have been here in Scotland and I know that eight wins out of nine is a disaster when you are top of the league. I just focus on what we need to do.

You spoke last weekend about a narrative being built around the club, outwith the club, what narrative do you think has been built up? What do you think is the perception of Celtic this season?

To be fair, I don't care. My focus is with the team. I understand and I get the feeling that you have to create that. I understand this city in that the two teams cannot be doing well. When I was at Liverpool, both Everton and Liverpool could be doing well at the same time. That can't happen here. One has to be pushed down. For us, it is us because we are at the top. We slipped up in early December but that narrative has continued right the way through even though the players have won eight games out of nine. They have won some tough games and drawn one game. I can't control that. What I can control is the mindset of the team, the attitude of the team and knowing that over this next period of games, we will be really focused and really aggressive and attack the game. What everyone else says or writes, I couldn't care less.

Has it lit a fire in you a little bit?

No, not at all. I don't need what you guys say to spike me up.

Liel Abada you said last weekend wasn't in the right frame of mind. Have you had discussions with him since and is he ready to be involved again?

Yes. It is still the same situation. I've had lots of conversations with Liel. I'm really empathetic towards the issue that he has. It is more than football, it's real on a human level. I have to respect that. He's training and he's working away. This period is all about the mind and if you are not quite right or ready then first I can't take any risk with him as a player as we will always support him. I also have to protect the squad as well.

Is that an ongoing thing?

Yes, it is ongoing. We will just assess it this weekend and see where it is at.

How tough is that to deal with as you say it is a lot more than football and he is a young man. How much responsibility do you take in his care?

I take a great responsibility. That's why we are here. My job is not just a football manager. It is to look after players. This is a young guy who is 22 years of age, far, far away from home. People can talk about what is going on there and then they can forget about it. This is the reality for him, it is his life. Every single day, every night, families in a war. It is a really, really tough situation for him. On a human level, I have real empathy for him. It is my job and we will do that like I have done with many players before and take the human aspect and look after him and whenever he is ready, if he is ever ready then he will be able to give us everything.

READ MORE: Celtic questions answered: Has the board backed Rodgers?

You know the city well. At times there feels like there’s nothing more important than football, but this is one of these circumstances where it shows there is.

Family is more important than football. That’s ultimately where it’s at. This is family, and this is life. This is an incredible profession and it’s a great job but it’s not more important than life.

Have you had to deal with anything like this before? Is this a new one?

Add it to the list! There are many situations that I’ve had to deal with as a manager over time and in lots of them you don’t have to get on the coaching courses, but this is where experience and being empathetic to the situation. You have to understand and sit in his shoes as a very young guy. He’s done great for this club and it’s the sadness of it where he resigned for us because he had that great belief that he could go on and develop. Then he had a period out injured, which was a shame and then now having come back he’s found it a real challenge. I’m here for him to support him and everything else is secondary to that. 

Could it be the situation that he might have to look elsewhere - even for a loan?

It’s a possibility, but we’ll see. We’ll work together on that.