Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers revealed yesterday he used the inspiration of Jock Stein to motivate his players before their 5-1 thumping of Rangers in his first derby encounter.
The first such occasion at Celtic Park in four years fell on the 31st anniversary of Stein’s death. With a quirk of fate, the slaying of Mark Warburton’s team also included the first league hat-trick – netted by Moussa Dembele – in the fixture since the legendary Celtic figure’s first full season as manager in 1965-66. It also coincided with the fifth anniversary of Rodgers’ father Malachy’s passing, and the two men were firmly on the Irishman’s mind across an afternoon to savour for him and his club.
“I spoke about Jock Stein in my team talk,” he said. “There were two today. My father is five years dead today so it was ironic we scored five goals. And obviously Jock Stein was 31 years today. One of his quotes talks about how football is only ever about getting the two points. Back then that’s what you got for winning.
“But when I spoke to the players before the game I said ‘for us it’s about getting the three points’. But when you beat one of your rivals it’s a wee bit sweeter, and that was the message. But it was primarily about the guy looking down, the man who set the tone for this club, the template. We said that if he is looking down make sure we do him proud.”
Rodgers could be proud of the contribution of Dembele, who came into the side for Leigh Griffiths after the Scotland striker could not shake off a hamstring problem that will now keep him out of Tuesday’s visit to Barcelona for the club’s Champions League opener. Captain Scott Brown is also a doubt after he was substituted 16 minutes from time with a knock.
“We will see how he is. Obviously we want him playing on Tuesday,” said Rodgers. “You saw Scotty’s performance today. Scott Brown does his talking on the field. He leads the team and is a very respectful guy. He bossed the game in the middle of the park today. He showed his power and strength and his qualities. Of course I want that in every game but if he is not able to play then someone else will have to come in. But let’s wait and see.”
Rodgers’ ability to compensate for the loss of big players was evidenced in the performance of Dembele. “What I said when I first came in here was that we are trying to build a squad that can compete in every competition and you can’t do that with one striker but then you have to have quality,” he said of the £500,000 summer signing from Fulham. “Moussa could play every week, but I have to make the team work and work with him. Sometimes he will play, sometimes he won’t. Leigh is a wonderful finisher, but it wasn’t his day to day. It was a day for the Moussa and the rest of the guys. Three great goals and a 20-year-old guy – it is a great performance. He is a great young talent and he has come to a club that can hopefully develop that talent.
“First of all I have to congratulate his agent. When we heard he was available, I spoke to a number of people who knew him and heard there was a possibility we might get him. Some players follow the money. And believe you me, he could have got a lot more money than he’s getting here. But he’s come here and his attitude has been refreshing.”