Mark Burchill on Celtic: Rodgers, experience & the ‘young Drogba’

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A key part of Celtic’s late-1990s side, Mark Burchill burst onto the scene at Parkhead as a teenager, going on to net 25 times in 63 games for the club.

He scored against arch-rivals Rangers, broke the record for the fastest hat-trick ever in European competition and made his Scotland debut in the process.

So when Ladbrokes News caught up with the former Hoops hero, we had to get his views on everything from Moussa Dembele to the Brendan Rodgers revolution and Celtic’s quest for an incredible unbeaten campaign in the Ladbrokes Premiership…

Ladbrokes News: The Hoops have been sensational under Brendan Rodgers this season, winning 19 and drawing one in the Ladbrokes Premiership so far. What – in your view – have been the key factors behind that success?

Mark Burchill: I think Brendan himself is the biggest factor. He’s got the team playing in a fantastic attacking style which really chimes with the club’s traditions, and which the fans want to see.

He’s also made some unbelievable signings. But not only that – we’ve also seen a resurgence for the likes of Scott Brown and Stuart Armstrong, both of whom have been magnificent this season. So it’s a very exciting time for the club.

LN: We’re currently offering 2/1 for Celtic to finish the league season unbeaten. It would be a quite incredible feat, but they’ve looked imperious so far. Do you think they’ll manage to end the campaign without a loss?

MB: For me, the big question of any side looking to do that is motivation. Celtic look likely to win the title early, so it’s a case of not losing focus. However, they look so determined to keep winning that maybe they will see them do it. It’s just a case of keeping those levels up week-in, week-out.

LN: Perhaps the biggest headline grabber is a man doing much the same as you did at Celtic Park, breaking onto the scene as a prolific young striker. What makes Moussa Dembele so hard for defenders to handle?

MB: He’s got everything about his game. He’s been mentioned a lot up here as a young Didier Drogba, and I think that’s spot on. If I was writing down everything I’d want in a striker, Moussa Dembele has everything – height, speed, strength, and fantastic finishing. That’s without even mentioning his close control!

I keep forgetting he’s only 20. It’s an amazing bit of business from Celtic to get him.

LN: On the flipside, you’ve got those experienced guys like Scott Brown and Leigh Griffiths, who have so much pedigree in winning trophies with the Hoops. How important are players like that in the dressing room?

MB: I think it’s huge. Celtic have a tradition of keeping top players with the club for many years, and they’ll pass on a lot of experience to the younger players. Much like we saw at Man United when they were dominating in England.

The desire and skill of players like Scott and Leigh really epitomises what Celtic are about as a club, and they both have a huge bond with the fans. I think those two also help the young guys around them play better, by seeing the work rate and the decision-making of these guys who’ve got so much pedigree.

I also think that anyone who comes into the club without maybe knowing the club’s history, will quickly learn from the senior guys what it means to pull on those green and white hoops. And I think that’s a massive boost for Celtic.

LN: There’s a conveyor belt of new talent coming through the Parkhead youth setup – the likes of Callum McGregor, Liam Henderson, Kieran Tierney, and Calvin Miller who recently made his debut. Do you think that signals Celtic continuing to dominate in the long-term?

MB: I certainly think so. Celtic have always brought through good young players, but they also look to have a pretty healthy budget for bringing in new players.

A major part of that is being involved in the Champions League group stage this season – and the Europa League in other years –, so there’s an added financial benefit to being in the continental competitions.

When you combine those emerging talents – and I’d add [right-back] Anthony Ralston to that list – with the fact they’ve been able to afford and attract the likes of Scott Sinclair, and now Kouassi Eboue who’s just joined [from FK Krasnodar].

If they continue to progress as they have so far under Rodgers, I can see Celtic dominating Scottish football for years to come.

LN: Next up for the Hoops is a trip to Albion Rovers in the Scottish Cup on January 22. Is there any danger of Celtic underestimating their opponents and having trouble in this tie, or will they certainly sweep their hosts aside?

MB: I can’t see any sort of an upset in this one, to be honest. Albion Rovers are playing some good stuff in Ladbrokes League 1, but they’re a part-time team. It’s hard to see them coping with the energy and fitness that Celtic have, for starters…

Whatever XI the manager plays, you will see a strong side out. If he switches things up, there are some excellent squad players who will be extremely hungry, and wanting to prove that they’re deserving of a regular spot in the starting line-up.

For me, the only question here is ‘how many’? Personally, I can see Celtic winning this game by a big scoreline. There’s just a huge gulf in class.

LN: There’s a flurry of league games coming up around the end of January, including the visits of Hearts and Aberdeen to Celtic Park. Do you think they’ve got the strength in depth to continue playing at such a good level during that period?

MB: I think it says everything that they won at Rangers in the last game with Leigh Griffiths – a player who scored 40 goals last season – on the bench. Brendan has so many options to choose from, especially up front, that he can chop and change without too many worries.

I think Celtic’s squad players are at a higher quality than the first names’ on the teamsheet for the other Ladbrokes Premiership clubs, so I’ve no doubt they’ll go on and grab another pair of wins in these two games.

LN: Finally – it’s the transfer window. Rodgers made a number of excellent buys last summer, and has now added Eboue. Do you think he’ll add more names this month, or are the club more likely to wait until the season ends, with the title seemingly in the bag already?

MB: I personally think he’ll bring in another one or two players. I don’t think there’s any position where they particularly need to strengthen, but if there’s any good young talent available, then it’s a good time for Celtic to buy.

They’re very comfortable in the league, so blooding a new 19 or 20-year-old arrival and giving them minutes in the first-team isn’t a risk for the club right now. There’s no real pressure on the side right now, and that makes it so much easier for a new player to come into the team.

But I’m sure identifying new talent is an ongoing process for the club. At places like Celtic, they’re not only looking at this window, but two or three windows ahead. They’re always ahead of the game at Parkhead!

Next up for Celtic is that trip to the Excelsior stadium to face Albion Rovers in the Scottish Cup. The Hoops are 1/11 for victory, while it’s 10/1 that the Hoops match the 5-0 scoreline they recorded last time the sides met…way back in 1976.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing

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Dave Burin

Dave graduated with an MA in English Literature at Durham University, and worked in marketing before joining the Ladbrokes News team. A Man United fan and avid groundhopper, he’s also an ardent follower of Rugby League. You can usually find him at a ground near you, clutching a big cup of tea.