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Had things gone differently, Declan Rice could have been a Celtic player during Brendan Rodgers’ first spell in charge in Glasgow.

The England internationalist was all set to make the switch from West Ham to Celtic before an injury derailed the process.

The 24-year-old went on to establish himself in the English Premiership with West Ham before his record breaking £105m switch to Arsenal this summer.  He could have had a spell in the Hoops had Rodgers got his way.

“I remember when I was here the first time, we spent about three months looking for Declan Rice to come in,” said Rodgers.  “Declan was all set to come in and then all of a sudden they had an injury, he stayed and got in the team and the rest is history.

“That’s not the club’s fault – it’s just the way it goes. We have a number of positions we want to prioritise; there are other positions where we won’t be able to do anything until the summer, I know that.

“But what I do know is that we want to improve the squad and the club are very happy to support that.”

Meanwhile, Rodgers believes that Celtic are looking far more like the team he wants them to be.

December defeats to Kilmarnock and Hearts brought forth a furious response from supporters as Celtic allowed their lead to diminish at the top of the table.

However, there was a strong finale to the festive period with the win over Rangers pivotal to restoring a sense of calm. There were also composed wins over Livingston, Dundee and St Mirren with Celtic now in the positioning of welcoming key players back into the fold while new faces are expected in the current window.

“I just think it’s being really clear what the demands are,” said Rodgers.

“It was a different point when I first came in, and naturally there can be a little dip with players, but I think a big part of it for us were the injuries to a lot of players, those dynamic players that make the football look different.

“But either way, we needed to be better. It’s just a case of keeping patience, and I think that is where your experience comes in.

“I love working with this group because they are such an honest group of players. There is not an idiot amongst them.

“They know that they weren’t quite at the level, especially against Hearts, but I looked at that and it was a bit more fatigue on the back end of a Champions League game and because a lot of players were having to play continuously.

“But you have to perform, and that is what it takes to be a Celtic player. You need that mentality to win, and to win in a way that will make the supporters happy.

“So, they have done that. Against Livingston, we suffocated the game really well. Dundee, our best performance against a back five. Rangers, a big game, and a big game mentality.

“Then coming here, everyone would probably have looked at St Mirren as a tricky game, but actually the quality of our football and the hunger in the team was there.

“So, it’s heading more towards where I want it to be.

“When you have young players who are learning and growing, you’re going to get that. From what I see in the team and what I want to bring in, there’s still a way for us to go, but it’s starting to look more like how I want it to look.”

Rodgers also applauded the mentality within the team following the win over Rangers, insisting that he stressed there was no point in banking three points over the Ibrox side without following it up with a similar outcome in Paisley.

“There is the aspect that you’re always having to drill home, because it would have counted for nothing if we hadn’t got the performance and result against St Mirren,” he said.

“You’ve then got to do it. I said to the players that they beat Livingston then three days later had a great performance against Dundee, you’ve now beaten Rangers and three days later we need the same mentality, the same hunger, and we did.”

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