In Slovenia

A COMPETITIVE ball has not been kicked in anger, a stomach-churning gasp at another Efe Ambrose calamity is still surely weeks away.

But today, June 30 2016, will be marked as a landmark day in the recent history of Celtic Football Club as Brendan Rodgers takes charge of his first ever match as manager.

His new set of players have had two days’ worth of training in at their base in Maribor, Slovenia, and face around a 50-minute trip to nearby Celje.


It is far from the steeply-banked swathes of green stands that Rodgers will become used to at Parkhead over the coming campaign, a cauldron of noise that he told reporters only yesterday that he hopes will be filled to the brim every second week.

Instead, the Northern Irishman will stand in the modest shadow of the Arena Petrol main stand, examining how this new clutch of players under his command perform.

Rodgers will be content if they show the same application tonight at the 13,000-capacity stadium that he says he has witnessed at their Maribor base.


It has been an idyllic setting for the players as they look to get to know their new manager. Sitting beneath the Pohorje – a high mountain range – their hotel and training camp offers privacy from the nearby Maribor city. A couple of other teams from Romania and nearby Croatia are also at the same hotel.

Only a five-minute taxi drive away, it is fair to say city life is slow here. Filled with ancient buildings, cafes, bars and restaurants, life here takes a more laidback approach. There isn't much hustle and bustle around here, just quiet streets with seating for street cafes and bars filled with customers while live bands play in the background. Err, so I've heard anyway...


The place is currently in the middle of its Lent festival. Along the Drava river bars, stalls and stages have lined the promenade since our arrival late on Monday night (or that should be Tuesday morning). Over half a million people are expected to attend before it comes to a close on Saturday night.

By then, the Brendan Rodgers era at Celtic will be in full swing.