BRENDAN Rodgers has assured Leigh Griffiths he is a major part of his plans for the future of Celtic in the wake of their touchline spat during the Ladbrokes Premiership game against Partick Thistle at Firhill on Thursday evening.
Rodgers revealed he had received an early morning text message from the contrite and concerned player – who had publicly mouthed off at his manager after he was substituted in the second half of the 5-0 victory – yesterday.
He spoke to the striker, who has been second choice behind Moussa Dembele for the majority of the 2016/17 campaign, following the Partick game to explain his reasons for replacing him and they had a “kiss and a cuddle” .
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The pair talked again yesterday at Celtic’s training centre outside Lennoxtown and the Irishman admitted he could appreciate the Scot’s frustration at being taken off given the difficult season he has endured.
“Bless him, he is a good boy,” said Rodgers. “I totally understand where he was at. He knows what is acceptable within our ethos and how we work, but I have empathy for him and it has been a difficult season for him in terms on injury and illness.
“He has been ill a lot this season and he hasn’t trained as much as he would have wanted to. You think last year all the goals and he was out there every week, but this year has been a bit more difficult for him.
“When he is in the team he wants to play every single minute of every single game to show his worth and the point I was re-iterating to him this morning is that he is such a big part of my thinking here.”
Rodgers explained to Griffiths he was being rested ahead of the final league game of the season against Hearts at Parkhead tomorrow – when Celtic will be presented with the Premiership trophy for the sixth season running – and the William Hill Scottish Cup final against Aberdeen at Hampden a week today.
“What he didn’t realise in his thinking was the reason for taking him off,” he said. “He is probably thinking that he wasn’t playing well enough. But he was fantastic again. The idea was to give him a rest knowing that he will start at the weekend and get some game time in and be totally ready for the game against Aberdeen.”
Asked if the player would be dropped, he said: “No, not at all. He knows there’s a line and if I thought there was something more sinister than that in this I’d cut it straight away. Make no bones about it.
“This is about a unified group. Whatever you feel you keep it inside the changing room. We always do that. But I also have empathy for if I was sat in his shoes. If I’d his little head I’d be thinking ‘maybe I didn’t play and I’m trying to show my manager something’.
“But make no bones about it, he’s very much part of what we are doing here. He’s a wonderfully talented boy, and for me it’s about helping him mature. This about having to accept these kind of scenarios because you can’t play every minute of every game.
“Listen, I’d a message from Leigh this morning at seven o’clock. The message will always be private. We spoke in the office and it’s all done now. There’s absolutely nothing. He’s a really good young guy. I’ve a lot of time for him. He just wants to show me and the supporters because he’s been out a lot of the time that he can be fit and playing.
“Unfortunately for him, it’s my job to protect the team and the whole group, not just one player, in order for us to succeed. He understands that totally now. He was apologetic, but, like I said to him, it’s gone. Just let it go with the wind. It’s gone.”
The set-to was reminiscent of the training ground fall-out between Rodgers and Raheem Sterling when he was in charge at Liverpool – which was captured on the fly-on-the-wall documentary “Being Liverpool” in 2012.
“They are young aren’t they,” said Rodgers. “I don’t waste time on telling (players something). I won’t wait six months to tell someone something I can tell them now. But like his (Sterling’s) our relationship is strong.
“I just think sometimes when we were growing up we’d have been told and outside of football you’d have had a clip round the ear. You can’t do things like that of course. But my point is you still have to tell people right from wrong and hopefully you get the right behaviours then. Whether they accept it is up to them.”