JUST about the last people on earth who deserve our sympathy, even those of us with the kindest of hearts, are well-paid professional footballers.

They live the dream, have no idea what a mortgage is and the term "insufficient funds" is never flashed in front of their eyes when they punch in their pin number.

This is their time. They are young, fit, famous and live in a rather lovely bubble which keeps them away from the real world, which is pretty grotty. It is footballers who should feel sorry for the rest of us.

But every so often, it is OK to feel some pity for them. None of them are digging roads in the rain of course, but Uefa doesn’t make it easy for clubs from the small countries to give themselves they best chance of success in Europe.

It’s almost as if they don’t want the likes of Celtic.

In a plush hotel on the outskirts of Dublin, Brendan Rodgers has most but not all of his squad with him. Tom Rogic and Christian Gamboa are still off, both were on World Cup duty, while Mikael Lustig and Dedryck Boyata were still in Russia.

The rest got some good rest but nowhere close to what players who through luck and fortune play their football in countries where Uefa reckon more money can be made.

Rodgers’ team travel to Armenia today to take on NSI Alkashert who won’t be great, but as the Celtic players are some way from being up to speed in terms of being back to full fitness, and it is going to be roasting hot, this is far from a gimme.

Celtic deserve better than this. They have made the group stage two years in a row, the last 16 under Neil Lennon and knock-out stage of the Europa League last time out. They don’t deserve to be seeded and put right into the group stage, but then neither do the fourth-best teams in England, Germany, Spain, and Italy and, yet, that’s what happens now.

The rest certainly know their place.

“Down south you have a five-six week block to get the players ready for that first game of the season,” Rodgers said. “So, you normally put them through 45 minutes, building up to 60, 70 and then, towards the end, 90. My sympathy is for the players.

“We are literally a couple of weeks in and we had to play two 90 minutes games in Austria. Now the players aren’t ready. It shouldn’t be the case but it’s something we have to do.

“We had to put them through the 90 minutes in that heat and look to get them all through it. This is why conditioning and fitness is so important in the modern day. That’s why I preached about it from day one.

“The players came back at a very good level of fitness and then it’s our job to top them up and make sure they are aggressive for the games. It is tough. But I try not to overthink it.

“In the first season I really saw how difficult that was. You just have to take it. There will be people in these federations who are looking at it. We know we are never going to be perfect at this stage but if we can get through it will be a great boost for everyone.”

Should Celtic get past all four qualifying rounds, and it is possibly the dangerous Rosenburg next, it would be up there with almost anything else Rodgers has pulled off in two years at Celtic Park.

"It's clearly going to be more difficult this year,” Rodgers admitted although he appeared calm and confident when talking about his team’s task. “It's always difficult and Neil Lennon and Ronny Deila will tell you that three ties were difficult.

"If you think that there is this game and after that, touch wood we get through, then we have Rosenborg in the next game which is not easy. And then you have two more ties after that. It's an extremely challenging period early on in the season. If we had these games in October and November it would be completely different. We have to find a way."

Celtic should be better than they were a year ago. Players such as Callum McGregor and James Forrest moved up several levels last season when it came to the biggest stage and their manager has confidence these academy graduates will once again prove their worth in, he hopes, the group stage of the Champions League.

“When you go into that environment you are looking for players with that personality,” Rodgers said. “When you see some of Callum’s earlier performances, for example, and then look at the level and authority he now plays with. It is a huge change.

“He now has a really important role for us. You are in among the best players in the world and you need to go and find a way to compete against it. The players embrace it - they take the test and the challenge and Callum is one of a number of players who have been fantastic.

“James Forrest was the best player on the pitch against Bayern Munich. Outstanding. So that’s great for his confidence. Ultimately, when they go into the international arena that’s good for them.”

If only it wasn’t so difficult to get there.