Brendan Rodgers refuses to get caught up in derby hype

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers, left, jokes with summer signing Cristian Gamboa in training. Picture: SNS Group
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers, left, jokes with summer signing Cristian Gamboa in training. Picture: SNS Group
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It is to be hoped that something genuinely did pass into history with the liquidation of Rangers in 2012. That is the capacity for social unrest and – latterly questionable – changes in the law to be precipitated by a game between a team playing in blue, hailing from Ibrox, and a side in green and white hoops that calls home Celtic Park.

The tedious and sometimes bigoted songbook probably won’t change as two such clubs meet in Glasgow’s east end on league duty for the first time in four years and another convention was continued as Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers prepared his squad for his first derby experience. In the form of a visit that sets apart a game against Rangers from all others that his club play.

The, now, standard police briefing appears an aspect of the pre-derby build-up that the Irishman, in line with his presenting of the fixture as not so out of the exceptional as it is hyped, took in his stride. It wasn’t new to him as a football manager, he maintained.

“The police [were] just reminding us of responsibilities. Whenever you are a player at Celtic and, with these games in the past always being tough encounters, that is important,” he said.

“They had a chat with the players and then [we had an] individual chat with them and our security. It’s fine. They have a responsibility, of course. There was a law passed here in terms of what happens if you misbehave. We generally hope in games between Celtic and Rangers or any games that it never ever comes to anything like that. But, of course, they have to protect the land and protect the law. Players accept it, I accept it and we get ready for a great game, a wonderful game.

“Sometimes emotion and the stress of playing in the game can override that [responsibility you have]. But I think it is important for social life. And also understanding that players aren’t machines, they aren’t robots, they have emotion as well. I am sure the two sets of players are highly competitive, which you can expect. I’ve had it before. Swansea-Cardiff, and other games, it is normal.”

In the broadcast media, Rodgers was reported to have said that playing Rangers had no more brought him north of the border than playing Alloa, and the build-up for tomorrow’s game was not bigger at this part of the season than for playing Hearts or Aberdeen. The former Liverpool manager was asked in the written press if he was trying to “put Rangers in a box”, presenting them, claimed the questioner, as no bigger than other teams.

“Listen, I respect it is a big game,” said the Irishman, with the baggage-carrying fixture placed off limits by his parents in his Celtic-supporting youth “Of course. But when you are on the professional side and the coaching side you are having to respect it as another game. The question asked was did you come to Celtic because of Rangers and I said no, I came here to be manager of Celtic. And that [the job] was going to bring up many games that I would be proud to represent Celtic in...whether it is Aberdeen or Rangers. Whatever. Of course it is a great game to be involved in and obviously the first Celtic v Rangers for four years but when you are a manager you have to untap yourself out of the emotion of it and prepare for the game. That was the point.”

A point not to be lost on Rangers manager Mark Warburton is that if there are home wins across the board in the Premiership tomorrow – and it will be a major surprise if Rodgers’ team do not provide their rivals a serious dunt in his first derby – the Ibrox side could drop to sixth. As Rangers recalibrate their status in the upper tier after a four-year absence, the plain truth is that they appear no more a threat to Celtic’s title ambitions than Aberdeen or Hearts.

“I think it is our rival, a big rival – as were our first four games. If you can get a win against one of your rivals early on, it puts a good marker down,” added Rodgers.

“I think because of how Celtic were only a few months back in the [penalty shoot-out defeat in the Scottish Cup] semi-final, for me it is a good measure to see where the team is at.

“In the last match Rangers were the better team. It is a different team and certainly a different mentality [at Celtic]. You will have seen in the performances that it has been different – so this is a good measure of where we are at.”