BRENDAN RODGERS has admitted Celtic are still some distance away from properly competing in the Champions League.

His side may have dominated Scottish football for two seasons but their performances in Europe over that time have been disappointing once they reached the group stage.

Qualification to the Champions League proper remains a fine achievement for Celtic given they operate with a fraction of a budget compared to even more modest Champions League clubs, and this summer they will have to overcome four rounds to reach the group stages.

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Should Rodgers lead his team through qualification, it would be the first time since the Champions League was formed in 1992 that the club reached the group stage for a third successive season.

“A lot of great work has been done here but there’s still a long way to go to be anywhere near competitive at that level – and that’s the real world of football," said the Celtic manager.

“Even the Europa League is like a Champions League Two now when you look at the teams, resources and everything in that.

“That isn't to quash any hope but I am here to try to fight and keep the club moving. But it has to be step-by-step. We are in a real exciting period at the club.

"There are a lot of things that we need to develop and improve and unfortunately that won’t happen overnight as Celtic don’t have those resources. It will be something that is a year-on-year improvement.”

Celtic earned an estimated £30m from television revenue alone which in Scotland puts them in a different stratosphere from everyone else.

But their standing on the European scene has not hugely improved.

One win, away to Anderlecht in the campaign just ended, from six group matches over two seasons is a not a great return, and heavy defeats to Barcelona and Paris St. Germain did little to suggest things were about to get better.

What Rodgers will say, and rightly so, is that his young squad has gained invaluable experience and knowledge of how to approach games against teams which are far stronger.

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Third place, which was achieved last time out, is the goal again because European football after Christmas is not something which is won easily.

“For us, the Europa League was the most realistic target to get,” admitted Rodgers in an interview with the Celtic View. “It was always going to be difficult but we did it.

“Everyone will say it doesn’t matter how you get there but, of course, we wanted to do it in the best way we possibly could.”

Rodgers made the point that his team played more games than most and, indeed, no player in a recognised European league chalked up more minutes than James Forrest. The player second in that table was Kieran Tierney.

That was always going to take it’s tool and the hope for the next campaign is the manager will be able to rotate his squad far more than he has been able to previously.

“We didn’t achieve all of our goals but certainly we achieved our main ones, in terms of qualification for the Champions League. That was a good focus for us at the start of the season.

“We had a fantastic season in terms of winning the trophies, but there’s no doubt the effects of last season meant there were some moments when we didn’t defend well enough or run hard enough; not every player, but some players.

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“We didn’t press the game as well as we wanted. We were able to find a way to get through the games when it didn’t happen – but it won’t happen next year. We know we need to play at a greater intensity more often.

"We’ve done it in big games, and we’ve done it in a lot of games, but there were certain others we could have been better in.

“I understand we have a lot of fixtures. This season we played 61 competitive matches and that’s excluding friendlies and internationals.

“It’s a hell of a lot of games but, at the same time, I will need to push the team ever harder against in order to get more points and to score more goals.”