An absent friend will again drift through the mind of Brendan Rodgers if his Celtic team can seal the deal and clinch the title with a victory at Tynecastle this afternoon. A predecessor in the Irishman’s role who would have thanked the heavens to experience the championship success that effectively Rodgers had banked – with golden returns – months ago.
“I think of the great man Tommy Burns, who never ever won a title here [as a manager]. And you think of the commitment he gave to the club and the privilege it is for me to lead the club when we actually do get over the line,” said Rodgers, pictured above. “There will be many thoughts for many people and hopefully they can be proud of the work we have done. Yeah, it’s been a great season so far but we want to get the job done as quickly as we can.
“If we can, to then win the league while unbeaten is a great achievement. Then we can really focus on the [Scottish Cup] semi-final. That’s why I can’t really give the players too much rest. Because they lose rhythm and we have to be careful of that. We want to arrive at the semi-final in the best possible place we can be.”
In arriving in Edinburgh today unbeaten in 36 domestic games, Celtic can be the first team to secure the title without losing a game since Rangers in 1900. They have already posted the longest unbeaten run since the start of a season in the post-war age courtesy of also winning the League Cup, and after qualifying for the Champions League for the first time in three years last August, Kenny Dalglish has said that were Celtic to do the domestic clean sweep with a Scottish Cup success, really that would represent a quadruple to all intents and purposes. Indeed, it is worth imagining the different light in which Rodgers’ work across his nine months in Glasgow would have been viewed had Celtic conceded one more goal to Hapoel Beer-Sheva in Israel after going 2-0 down inside 48 minutes of the return leg of their Champions League play-off.
“Absolutely,” said Rodgers. “For my own feeling and where I wanted the club to go and all the things you see, that’s why Champions League football is important. For my legacy here I want to create a team that’s a joy on the field for supporters to watch. One with an attacking and aggressive idea to win.
“But I also want to help the club off the field in every possible way I can. Of course that’s finance and the only way you can do that is qualification of the Champions League.
“A lot of people told me when I came in that Celtic had won the double but they all referenced they hadn’t qualified for the Champions League. So there is no doubt it’s a huge measure here and I’m sure if that time ever comes for myself then I’m sure I’ll get reminded of it. It’s certainly something that is an absolute huge achievement. It may not be for other teams, for clubs in the south who have more revenue.
“But it’s a successful measure of where Celtic are at. It’s not a Celtic team from years ago that automatically qualified after winning the league. You really, really have to earn it and it’s all relative.”
Celtic could finish the Premiership job at a ground where they started it in August, with the 2-1 win earned with a late goal by substitute debutant Scott Sinclair important for Rodgers in setting a tone. As were many moments across the campaign.
“In the opening games we had Hearts, Aberdeen and Rangers. It was a stiff test for us in what was a formation phase for us. It was immense focus from the players who have never once slipped off their concentration.
“They have never once had a lazy day. Normally with players they want an excuse. No matter what it is there will always be excuses. These boys have never ever looked for one. When you win it helps but they feel self-improvement.
“It is rare. I tend to like to work with players who still want to improve, no matter whether it is youth players or senior players. They have an honest approach to their work. There are no big-time Charlies. They are a champion because they can walk the walk and talk the talk at the same time. I have worked with many players like that but this is a real special group we have fostered here.
“There’s been lots of moments in lots of games when I feel the players now tactically understand the game. They understand the style we’re looking for and then it’s about consistency. When the question has been asked, they’ve answered it. That’s what makes me proud. You look at going into the League Cup final having lost in a Champions League game against Barcelona where you run as much as you’ll ever run. They go in and play with quality and composure, and win.
“There have been lots of moments in the season where we’ve maybe dipped a little and recovered. That happens to the best teams.
“We started very quickly, some great games in the middle, some not so good and the idea is now to finish strong.” Celtic’s domestic strength has never been in doubt under Rodgers.