Unbeaten record doesn’t motivate me says Brendan Rodgers

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers celebrates his side's 2-0 win over Rangers in the Scottish Cup semi-finals.
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers celebrates his side's 2-0 win over Rangers in the Scottish Cup semi-finals.
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Brendan Rodgers insists writing a remarkable new chapter in Scottish football history is “not the be all and end all” for Celtic as he prioritises winning the Scottish Cup over achieving the unprecedented feat of completing a domestic season unbeaten.

he Scottish champions stretched their undefeated record in the current campaign to 41 matches on Sunday with the 2-0 Scottish Cup semi-final victory over Rangers. Celtic have five Premiership fixtures remaining before they face Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup final on 27 May.

Since the introduction of professional league football in 1890, no team in Scotland has ever gone through a full domestic campaign undefeated in all major competitions. Celtic and Rangers have both previously completed unbeaten league seasons, in 1897-98 and 1898-99 respectively, but both lost in the Scottish Cup during those campaigns.

In Rodgers’ first season as Celtic manager, the club are now on the brink of matching a feat only previously achieved in top-level British football by Preston North End’s iconic “Invincibles” side of 1888-89 who remained unbeaten in winning the English league and FA Cup double.

Celtic face three away games in their top-six, post-split Premiership schedule, starting with Saturday’s trip to face Rangers at Ibrox. They also play Aberdeen at Pittodrie and Partick Thistle at Firhill, while they have two home games against St Johnstone and Hearts.

But Rodgers is adamant the prospect of remaining undefeated offers no additional motivation to his team in the build-up to the Scottish Cup final in which they could land only the fourth domestic 
treble in Celtic’s history.

“We won’t need that [unbeaten run] to keep our focus on the final,” said the Celtic 
manager.

“We go into the remaining games to try and produce the maximum and get us the wins. If it does? Great. If not, then fine.

“It’s not a massive priority of mine but that doesn’t say we don’t go into every game to win. We’ve shown that over the course of the season – but it’s not the be all and end all.”

Rodgers is considering resting some of his key players ahead of the cup final but only after this weekend’s sixth Old Firm showdown of the 
campaign. “You can’t do it so much ahead of Ibrox,” added Rodgers. “We want to go there and perform well and then there’s a bit of breathing space. I’ll sit down with the staff and see how we can periodise it. Clearly the final is the big focus and we will periodise the team to be ready for that one.

“We’re high in confidence and we have been all year. We want to finish the season as strong as we possibly can and we still have work to do.”

Rodgers stressed that he is not seeking to play down the historical context of Celtic’s season but is simply wary of the potential for his team to slip up over the coming few weeks if they spend too much time contemplating it.

“I am fully aware of it - I can’t get away from it,” smiled Rodgers. “I’m just going to put ear plugs in for the next month!

“Listen, I just don’t tend to think too much about it. When you win games there is a consequence of that, so if we beat Aberdeen in the final it’ll be ‘okay, it’s nice.’ But I’ve said before, it’s very dangerous to think otherwise. Never get too carried away in this game. I’ll repeat it, a slap on the back is only six inches from a slap on the arse.”

Celtic cruised to a 3-0 victory over Aberdeen in the League Cup final earlier this season and Rodgers expects Derek McInnes’ men to be highly motivated to improve on their display that day when the teams face off again at Hampden next month.

“Probably, probably,” said Rodgers. “Derek has done an amazing job there. He has got his team really organised and playing well. Of course, they will want to come down and make a better showing.

“But that’s three times we’ve played at Hampden now this season and we’ve played at a really, really good level. So the players are happy and have good energy. Thankfully they play the game like they know what they’re doing.

“When I came in to Celtic, everyone complained about the Hampden record. People said it wasn’t a good place for us. But I have to give credit to the staff at Hampden and say congratulations to them because I thought the pitch on Sunday was brilliant.

“That was our downfall in the home game against Rangers recently when we drew 1-1. But the pitch was perfect at Hampden and you could see the speed in the ball and how quickly we can move it. With the speed of the team it’s a much better tempo for us.

“When you come to Hampden and you want to win things you have to be able to play. You have to be able to perform and deal with pressure. As the season has gone on we’ve got better and better and better at that.”

to be ready for that one. We’re high in confidence and we have been all year. We want to finish the season as strong as we possibly can and we still have work to do.”

Rodgers stressed that he is not seeking to play down the historical context of Celtic’s season but is simply wary of the potential for his team to slip up over the coming few weeks if they spend too much time contemplating it.

“I am fully aware of it – I can’t get away from it,” smiled Rodgers. “I’m just going to put ear plugs in for the next month!

“Listen, I just don’t tend to think too much about it. When you win games there is a consequence of that, so if we beat Aberdeen in the final it’ll be ‘OK, it’s nice’. But I’ve said before, it’s very dangerous to think otherwise. Never get too carried away in this game. I’ll repeat it, a slap on the back is only six inches from a slap on the arse.”

Celtic cruised to a 3-0 victory over Aberdeen in the League Cup final earlier this season and Rodgers expects Derek McInnes’ men to be highly motivated to improve on their display when the teams meet at Hampden next month.

“Probably, probably,” said Rodgers. “Derek has done an amazing job there. He has got his team really organised and playing well. Of course, they will want to come down and make a better showing.

“But that’s three times we’ve played at Hampden now this season and we’ve played at a really, really good level. So the players are happy and have good energy. Thankfully they play the game like they know what they’re doing.

“When I came in to Celtic, everyone complained about the Hampden record. People said it wasn’t a good place for us. But I have to give credit to the staff at Hampden and say congratulations to them because I thought the pitch on Sunday was brilliant.

“That was our downfall in the home game against Rangers recently when we drew 1-1. But the pitch was perfect at Hampden and you could see the speed in the ball and how quickly we can move it. With the speed of the team it’s a much better tempo for us.”