Brendan Rodgers: My empathy for Mark McGhee

Motherwell manager Mark McGhee was sent to the stand against Aberdeen. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS

Motherwell manager Mark McGhee was sent to the stand against Aberdeen. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS

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The idea of being a coaching
novice was promoted by Brendan Rodgers yesterday. The Celtic manager sought to do so because he is completely inexperienced in one sense when set against the man whose Motherwell team his champions-elect will host tomorrow.

Mark McGhee’s meltdown that led to him being sent to the stand in the Fir Park side’s 7-2 defeat at Pittodrie – and seems sure to be the catalyst for a whole heap of trouble with the SFA – was filmed on a mobile phone. As a result, it went viral. In two decades of coaching for Rodgers, the past nine of them in the frontline across 358 senior games – to add to hundreds at youth and reserve levels – the 44-year-old has never gone that viral.

Mark McGhee was involved in an argument with the fourth official. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS

Mark McGhee was involved in an argument with the fourth official. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS

“I’ve never been sent to the stands before – but I am still young… Mark’s managed a lot more games than me so come back to me when I’m his age,” Rodgers said of the 59-year-old who is approaching 1,000 games in 27 years of senior management.

“Every manager is different and of course it’s a challenge being back at your old club [in Aberdeen]. I have empathy for him, especially in the modern day when you get people catching you on phones. I don’t think that’s right.”

Yet, much as Rodgers may try to defend McGhee – who seems to be in danger of racking up a pile of fines and touchline bans from an SFA that employs him as assistant to Gordon Strachan – it is no accident that the Irishman has never been banished from his technical area.

Rodgers cultivates the image of a man with a clarity of thought about how he sees football, on the training pitch and in games. His ability to retain a certain grace under pressure is evidence that he doesn’t just talk the talk but can actually walk the walk – precisely because he never has to walk to the stands under the instruction of a referee.

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers says he has never been sent to the stand. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers says he has never been sent to the stand. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS

There has been only one coaching set-to involving Celtic
 this season. That also involved McGhee, who had angry words with Rodgers’ assistant Chris Davies at the end of the dramatic 4-3 win for Celtic when the two sides last met, in Lanarkshire in December. It was significant that when McGhee sought to explain a situation that initially was thought to involve both management teams, he made a point of stating that Rodgers was “good as gold”, as always as dignified in victory as he is in defeat.

“Personally, I try to stay as calm as I can,” the Celtic manager said yesterday. “I ask the players to stay calm so I can’t be jumping up and down on the sidelines like a lunatic.

“It doesn’t help me make tactical decisions during games so my own ethos has been to remain cool under pressure so I can make those decisions to impact the game. You can’t be too emotional. Even though I am young in terms of age, I’ve stood on the sidelines for hundreds of games.

“I go back to my experiences as a young player.

“ When I looked over I didn’t want someone threatening me. I wanted support and someone who wasn’t going to put you off the game. It’s experience and practise but it’s about thinking clearly because you can’t afford to get caught up.

“It’s fine for some managers. We’re all different and there are games with an edge to them, others you are in control. I like to push the players and never let them get 
comfortable.

“But it’s a British thing, having a certain type. We would be deemed as not coping with the pressure while a foreign manager is just charismatic. The narrative is different but it’s each to their own.”

It might be said that Rodgers hasn’t had any occasion to lose his cool with his team unbeaten in every one of their 30 domestic games this season and currently on a 24-match winning streak.

However, the Celtic manager
noted that he had to handle the indignity of being on the receiving end of a 7-0 slaughter in the Nou Camp.

“It didn’t go so well in Barcelona. I made the point after the game. I’m not smashing things, I’m not that way. I’d rather work with the players but they will see various sides, whether is pre or post games or at half-time.

“I’m not a shouter and bawler in life. I try to find the hook that taps into their emotions, that allows them to work on a process. Of course, I won’t waste six months of my time when I can tell them something now.”

Were he a manager who felt he had been there and done that it is pretty obvious that the T-shirt would be emblazoned with: Keep calm and carry on.

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