The year is 2025, and Celtic are struggling their way through Champions League qualification for the ninth season in a row. They have just slumped to a 1-0 away defeat to Aberystwyth Town and – with an ominous double header against Shamrock Rovers ahead of them – their chances of feasting at Europe's top table look bleak. Brendan Rodgers comes out for his post-match press conference, and is instantly pelted with rotten vegetables by a gaggle of incandescent Glaswegian journalists. Under a hail of rancid cabbage, Rodgers settles calmly into his seat. "There is obvious disappointment, but there is no embarrassment," he says. "We dominated and created enough chances to score."
While this vision of the future has not yet come to pass, those were Rodgers' exact words in the aftermath of Celtic's defeat to the Lincoln Red Imps on Tuesday night. The Hoops went down 1-0 to a semi-professional team from Gibraltar, whose players moonlight as military policemen, customs officers and firemen. For obvious reasons, this is highly embarrassing. Not according to Rodgers, however. According to Rodgers: "It was a tough game in tough conditions. We didn't take our chances... sometimes it can happen."
Celtic fans may have felt a rush of excitement when they secured Rodgers' services earlier in the summer but – in light of his first real test as manager – that might soon become a creeping sense of unease. The problem is not that Rodgers is a bad manager, far from it. Nor is the result particularly disastrous, given that Celtic will still most likely thrash the Red Imps at Parkhead. Their hopes of Champions League football are anything but dashed, even if the qualifying defeat was a sharp blow to the club's pride.
The problem, in essence, is that Rodgers' manner of dealing with setbacks is impossibly unimaginative. Even if he were to lead the Scottish champions to a defeat against a seniors' pub side from Suffolk, he would staunchly defend his players before claiming that it just wasn't to be, on the day.
It's this sort of uninspired excuse-making which really cost Brendan his standing at Liverpool. There's only so long that fans can be fobbed off with mitigating circumstances, and sometimes supporters need to hear the hard truths. His handling of poor results – praising his players, lamenting the other team's good organisation and citing, dare we say it, some form of "great character" – is the inspiration for the numerous Twitter parody accounts, the silly memes and the general piss taking he elicits. That might not seem particularly consequential, but the business of football management requires personal authority. Amongst supporters, mockery soon turns to disdain.
Rodgers' reaction to the Red Imps defeat was beyond parody, really. "Of course you are disappointed to lose," he said. "It was difficult, of course. They set up 5-4-1, and it doesn't matter the team, the level. Teams have good organisation, 11 players behind the ball." That all makes some sort of sense, until you consider the fact that – wait a minute – this was a bunch of semi-professionals from an overseas territory with a single viable football stadium. Celtic have a squad made up of highly paid professionals, and it really isn't too much to ask that they break a compact defence down.
"Throw the pitch into it, and it's very, very tough for the players," Rodgers continued. "But we created enough chances, and their keeper made fantastic saves." Now, these ludicrous justifications might not matter too much when it's a two-legged tie against the Lincoln Red Imps, and the situation is salvageable. When it's a narrow defeat to Rangers at Ibrox, however, similar attempts to deflect blame will send supporters utterly spare.
If Rodgers is going to maintain positivity amongst the fanbase, he either needs to rewrite his personal book of stock platitudes, or take a different approach to critiquing his side. While there's little point in lambasting the squad, he has to at least seem genuine in his appraisals. From Celtic's perspective, losing to a team of Gibraltan public sector workers is unacceptable. There's no shame in saying so. Indeed, to claim otherwise is transparently insincere.