Brendan Rodgers says his players now have the "belief" to play at the highest level

The Celtic boss says performances in the Champions League show that his side can mix it with the best in Europe

Brendan Rodgers

Image: Mike Egerton PA Wire/PA Images

Brendan Rodgers says that Celtic's performances in Europe this season are proof that his side can perform at the highest level.

Celtic suffered a humiliating 1-0 loss to minnows Lincoln Red Imps during their first qualifying game of the competition, but came through an arduous campaign to reach the group stages. Here they were drawn against Barcelona, Manchester City and Borussia Mönchengladbach.

Despite an initial 7-0 drubbing to the Catalan giants, Rodgers pointed out just how far his players have come in that time.

"If I look back to when I first came in and look back at that first [Champions League] qualifier in Gibraltar, it's not that long ago, and take into account the performances that we've had especially away from home, you've seen the real growth in the team," he said.

"You can see it in terms of the quality of the football, how composed they are at that level and the belief they have at the level which is very, very important. And also the quality of their game both technically or tactically. That was always going to be a key component for us this year. Could we learn? Could we improve? Could we get better?

"Once you get the taste for it, then it really motivates you and inspires you to go on so. We're obviously disappointed to not have the competition after Christmas but over the course of the six games, I think we represented Celtic as well as we possibly could at this stage."

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers consoles his players after they are beaten 7-0 in Barcelona. Image: Nick Potts EMPICS Sport

The key now, he insists, is to develop the team to compete at a high level in a sustainable way, so that players will be attracted to the club.

"We keep developing to see how we can be better on the pitch and better off the pitch. That's very, very important. In the modern game now you can never stand still. You've got to keep developing. We also have to be realistic as well, it's always going to be a real challenge for us [to qualify] and we have to be different because we don't have the resources of all these other teams.

"The three teams in our group this year had astronomical budgets compared to ours. We have to find a way of being different and to us that has to be our model. Our systematic approach in terms of young players coming through, getting in the quality players when they're available and then looking to develop the club and the team. 

"We're always having to plan forward and it's something that we're very conscious and aware of. Again, we always have to keep an eye on what you're planning on today."

He also made the point that having Champions League football may be enough of a positive to attract players to the club in the future.

"I think we've shown them that it's been a great advert for Celtic as a club and what it can do for players. If you're working in any of the European leagues or in England, there's very few opportunities you will have to play Champions League football."