WHEN Celtic were drawn against Feyenoord, Atletico Madrid and Lazio in Champions League Group E at the end of last month, my eyes lit up. Not at the dazzling star power of their opponents, but at the realistic opportunity for progress from the section.

In the twilight zone between the successfully negotiated Premiership victory over Rangers at Ibrox and Tuesday night’s Champions League curtain-raiser against Feyenoord in Rotterdam, Parkhead manager Brendan Rodgers’ buzzword, in public anyway, was “personality”.

“The glue that keeps us together is personality and togetherness,” Rodgers preached. “What we are bringing is the strength of the team. Even though there are players missing, the ones coming in will understand what they need to do.”

In their opening match away to the section’s top seeds, “discipline” was probably the buzzword within the confines of the dressing room. So, given that two of those players coming in, centre-back Gustaf Lagerbielke and second-half substitute Odin Thiago Holm, were both sent off at a raucous De Kuip, does this ill-discipline point to a lack of personality within the dressing room?

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Glasgow Times: Gustaf Lagerbielke is sent offGustaf Lagerbielke is sent off (Image: Getty)

While those dismissals left their team-mates with a near-impossible task of getting back into the match after conceding on the stroke of half time, in truth Feyenoord confirmed my suspicions on Tuesday night that they are a particularly flimsy “pot-one” side. Despite bombarding the Eredivise with 17 goals in their previous three matches, Arne Slot’s outfit do not operate on the same level as Real Madrid, who swatted Ange Postecoglou’s team aside at this stage last year, or anywhere near it for that matter. If Celtic had kept 11 players on the park, let alone lined up even close to full strength, the outcome could have been much different than the 2-0 defeat inflicted by the Dutch champions.

That’s what will be frustrating Rodgers this week. Celtic were not outclassed, outplayed, or outfought. In many ways, the Feyenoord match played out like the black mirror of that recent derby victory; in the Netherlands, they practically defeated themselves with moments of ill-discipline.

A daft error from Matt O’Riley gave away a cheap free-kick in a dangerous area in first-half stoppage-time with the score at 0-0. Cue Kyogo Furuhashi’s decision to duck inside the defensive wall as Calvin Stengs’ 30-yard effort sailed over his head and bounced in front of Joe Hart before crashing into the net.

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Glasgow Times: Calvin Steng celebrates after opening the scoringCalvin Steng celebrates after opening the scoring (Image: Getty)

The normally unshakable veteran goalkeeper was left sporting the look of someone who had swallowed a wasp, the sting depositing enough venom in his oesophagus to restrict his breathing.

Perhaps that’s the only viable explanation for the striker not receiving a stinging earful from the former England goalkeeper at half-time. If Yang Hyun-jun’s account of the dressing-room reaction to Lagerbielke and Holm at full-time is anything to go by, it was an arm round the shoulder rather than the riot act that was dished out. Maybe that's the personality and togetherness Rodgers was talking about before the match.

But was that an appropriate response? O’Riley, Lagerbielke, Holm – they should be left in no doubt whatsoever about the error of their ways at this elevated level. Dressing rooms used to be a place for dressing downs: the hairdryer treatment, the half-time rollocking – a conclave hidden from the glare of the public where private grumblings could be aired between players fighting for places and a common goal (and not just the one cludgie with a functioning flush).

OK, so it’s 2023 and the days of senior players manhandling, berating and scolding their junior boot-cleaning colleagues are mercifully over. There have been many leaps forward in workplace conditions since the dark ages at the turn of the millennium.

No one deserves to be verbally abused at work, an ethos I have tested to the limit with the sports editor while writing this column, but equally, if you were sitting at your computer station on the second floor of the office building and Mike from accounts came bounding out the lift lunging towards you in a slide tackle to retrieve the stapler you borrowed from him last week, you’d probably make a call to HR. Clearly, the football pitch is no ordinary workplace.

You couldn’t condone the infamous stray boot to David Beckham’s forehead flung from the furious foot of Sir Alex Ferguson, but didn’t Golden Balls go on to have a decent career after the butterfly stitches dissolved into his scalp? That team famously clinched Ferguson’s first Champions League triumph back in 1999. A Vulcan death grip on Aiden McGeady was perhaps an overreach by madcap Polish goalie Artur Boruc when the pair famously fell out, but they were part of Gordon Strachan’s team which twice reached the last-16 of the Champions League.

Thankfully in 2023 flying footwear and neck compressions are not used to get a point across, but who in the Celtic dressing room at present is steadfastly unwilling to accept mistakes on the biggest stages? If Feyenoord manager Arne Slot watched Rangers’ disallowed goal back from that recent derby match, he would have been licking his lips at how Lagerbielke floundered under pressure from his former Feyenoord striker Cyriel Dessers. Did anyone in the Celtic dressing room politely, without the aid of their boot or fists, explain to him that such dithering simply won’t cut it at a club like Celtic? A first-half yellow card for the 23-year-old at De Kuip suggests that targeting the young Swede had been well-observed by Slot’s side.

When Lagerbielke, already on a booking, brushed the throat of Igor Paixao inside the penalty area, the Brazilian may have gone down like he’d swallowed a turpentine-infused bee, but those dark arts are also par for the course in Europe.

Daizen Maeda, meanwhile, can be commended in the fair play stakes until the cows come home, but when he was clipped inside the box in the first half, the winger needs to learn that a foul is a foul, and if going to ground is the only wy to make that clear, then do it.

Glasgow Times: Daizen Maeda is challenged against FeyenoordDaizen Maeda is challenged against Feyenoord (Image: Getty)

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As for Lagerbielke's fellow Scandi novice Holm, inexplicably raising his studs after going to ground in a challenge with Mats Wieffer, you didn’t need Google Translate to comprehend what the supporters at De Kuip were shouting: “That’s an assault, referee. If you did that in the street, you’d get arrested!” But it’s not the street, it’s the biggest stage in club football.

Inexperience, as Rodgers put it, cost Celtic on Tuesday night. Celtic need their most battle-hardened players to step up, the likes of Hart and club captain Callum McGregor. As leaders in the team, their test will be to ensure no one inside the dressing room is in any doubt of what is required at this level, even if they do have to raise their voices to get the message across.