Shocking, indefensible, weakened Celtic – some of the terms used to describe the decision made by Brendan Rodgers in playing the centre half from the start last weekend.
Before I continue, my view here is not about Boyata and what he has done; my view is solely about the manager’s decision to start him.
Great leaders in all industries make tough and unpopular decisions, that’s what makes them leaders, that’s what sets them apart from the ordinary guy in the street, they have the foresight and the courage to stand behind their decisions.
When Brendan Rodgers was hired, Celtic hired not only a tactically astute manager, a great coach an extremely eloquent individual, they also hired a leader. The fact that he grew up supporting the club would have made the Boyata decision, and perhaps even more tellingly, the ones he might have to make with Dembele, even more difficult and risky.
He’s built up a reputation here at Celtic that’s up there with the greats, not quite yet Jock Stein but one of our greatest managers. The Boyata decision could have, and still might, backfire on him should the player do the same again; that’s why, in my opinion, it was the most courageous decision he’s made since joining our club.
By selecting Boyata to play from the start in the last two games, leaving alone that injuries may have forced him into it, I believe the manager achieved two things.
First, at a time when we need leadership more than ever, he demonstrated that he will live and die by his decisions, and didn’t make the easy choice that thousands wanted him to; in fact some displayed their displeasure at Boyata for all to see.
Secondly, he’s shown that he can be loyal to his players no matter what view the majority hold. That for me then gives him enormous loyalty in return, not from Boyata he may still go, but from a dressing room who know that they have a manager who won’t hang them out to dry when they’re not the most popular in the Celtic world at any given moment. Dembele will test him further, but I expect him to pass that test as well.
Just to clarify, I’m not comparing Dedryck Boyata’s worth or skill to the genius Eric Cantona; I’m saying that the way both Alex Ferguson and Brendan Rodgers handled these situations have striking similarities.
You have to remember, too, that Brendan had to handle one of the biggest egos in the game, in Luis Suarez, and a similar situation to the one Dembele is in now. This is why I believe he’ll deal with that as deftly as he has dealt with this.
Both Brendan and Sir Alex stood by their players when it was not the popular thing to do; they were even able to put aside their own feelings on the matter, for the good of the team and the club as a whole. That’s a rare thing in a sport full of big heads.
Ferguson was rewarded in spades. Rodgers will hope to reap the same benefits.
Mark O’Rourke is a Celtic fan who believes Brendan has made a decision based on courage, not fear. This is his first ever article on The CelticBlog.