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Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers described the departure of Liel Abada as “desperately sad” but best for both parties after the Israel international moved to Major League Soccer side Charlotte FC.

Abada last played for Celtic in a 2-1 win over Hibernian on February 7, after which Rodgers felt he was not able to focus on reaching his peak.

The 22-year-old had come under major pressure in his homeland amid Celtic supporters’ backing for the Palestinian people with even an international team-mate publicly advising him to move on.

The winger signed a new four-year deal in September last year, just before suffering a thigh injury which kept him out for the best part of four months.

Rodgers bemoaned the loss of the opportunity to work with a player who scored 29 goals in 112 appearances.

“Firstly, it’s desperately sad, the whole situation,” the Celtic boss said. “A fantastic young player, came here as a 19-year-old, to another country and lit up the field with so many fantastic goals and had a really successful period.

“Whatever doubts he had in the summer, he was really happy to commit and sign a new deal.

“And now, through probably no fault of his own or the club’s, he has had to leave to take his career elsewhere.

“I spoke to Liel on Monday evening, we had him round the house, because I knew he was going to be travelling the next morning.

“It’s desperately sad because I was really, really looking forward to working with him over a period of time and seeing if we could develop his game.

“But if you look back, he has created some wonderful memories here at Celtic and I’m sure Glasgow will have a big place in his heart, and we wish him all the very best over in America.”

The situation flared up the day after the October 7 attacks in Israel when banners among Celtic fans which read “Free Palestine” and “Victory to the resistance” drew anger in Israel, including from former Hoops midfielder Nir Bitton.

Abada was given a huge ovation when he made his comeback against Rangers on December 30 but he did not rediscover his spark and he disappeared down the tunnel at Easter Road while his colleagues celebrated a last-gasp win after what proved to be a quiet, final appearance for Celtic.

Liel Abada
The winger won five major trophies in two seasons (Andrew Milligan/PA)

“It was really, really difficult for him,” Rodgers said. “He was training every day, committed to his work, he is a top professional. But the situation, how it evolved, it felt very difficult.

“And football is a game very much of the mind. If you’re not quite focused or if you can’t put something aside, something as big as this, then of course it becomes very, very difficult to be at your very, very best. Sadly, that was the case for him.

“We spoke most days, just checking in to make sure he was OK, seeing him in his training, but ultimately he wants to play football.

“And when it got to the situation where I felt there was no chance, we both looked at it, and as a club as well, felt that the best possibility would be for him to move on.”

Brendan Rodgers
Brendan Rodgers could not find a solution to keep the player (Andrew Milligan/PA)

When asked whether pressure from Israel was weighing heavily on the player, Rodgers said: “It’s clearly a situation that was unplanned, and wherever it comes from, there were multiple reasons not to be in that frame of mind.

“But, listen, it’s done now. He has moved on, had a great two-and-a-half years, done very well, and we have to move on.”

Abada earlier posted a lengthy farewell message on Instagram where he thanked the Celtic fans who had stood by him.

The former Maccabi Petah Tikva player thanked Rodgers, his coaches and the Celtic board for their “overwhelming support” and added: “Their unwavering faith during these times won’t be forgotten but cherished forever.”

He added: “Reflecting on my journey here brings a smile to my face, the trophies lifted, goals celebrated, electric atmospheres and moments of pure bliss will forever be etched in my memory.”

He thanked his team-mates, family, girlfriend and Bitton plus the “incredible Israeli community in Glasgow”.

“And last but not least, thank you to all the Celtic fans,” he said. “Recent times were very difficult for myself and my family but I want to say thank you to all the Celtic fans that stood by me, supported and respected me as a Celtic player and I hope that I have given you few moments to remember me by.”