Zenit St Petersburg defender Branislav Ivanovic has spoken of his respect and admiration for Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers, ahead of the two sides meeting in the Europa League later in the week.

The Serbia international was coached by the former Liverpool boss when he first arrived at Chelsea back in 2008, and went on to make a total of 377 appearances in all competitions for the Blues.

Rodgers was the reserve team manager when Ivanovic arrived at Stamford Bridge, and was given his first outing at that level by the Northern Irishman.

The Celtic boss left Chelsea to forge a career for himself in the hotseat at clubs such as Watford, Reading, Swansea City and most famously of all Liverpool before getting the big job in Glasgow, and the Serbian defender was quick to point out why he has so much respect for the Bhoys leader.

“I actually made my debut for Chelsea with Brendan as my coach.” Celtic Quick News quotes him as saying.

“He was reserve team manager at the time and he picked me for my first game at the club.

“I was really impressed with him straight away. When I first encountered Brendan, he was something new for me.

“He was completely different to what I’d seen before in football.

“Brendan was so precise with everything. He went through every movement you made and was very focused on every single situation during a game.

“Even then, I was so impressed with his work. After he left Stamford Bridge, he’s gone on to build a big career for himself and be at some really great clubs like Liverpool and Celtic.

“He’s a very good manager and so passionate about the game. He takes care of everything for the players, he understands football.

“And he can build teams because he always gives young players a chance. That’s why I respect him.”

Celtic will take on Zenit over two legs for a place in the last 16 of the Europa League. The first leg is at Celtic Park on Thursday night, with the return in Russia a week later, and Ivanovic knows his side are in for a tough tie.

“For Zenit, this will be a big challenge. The Celtic game will give us a real indication of where we are in Europe at the moment,” he said.

The Scottish champions should have an advantage over their Russian opponents, as Zenit have not played a competitive fixture since December 11 last year.

While they have played a number of friendlies since then, they will not have carried the same intensity that a trip to Celtic Park will, so Bhoys fans will be hoping to see their side progress over the two legs.


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