Rangers manager Pedro Caixinha changed his pre-match team talk at Hampden after being warned by his assistant, Helder Baptista, that his players were too uptight ahead of the Scottish Cup semi-final defeat to Celtic.
Caixinha said his team failed to follow the game plan he had set out for them in training during the week but does not believe they did not understand what he asked of them.
Rangers appeared timid and passive for much of the afternoon, only bringing a genuinely competitive edge to the tie in the closing stages when Celtic had already established a comfortable 2-0 lead.
“We gave the opponent too much respect, especially in the first half,” admitted Caixinha. “By respecting them, we dropped off too much. It was not what we were preparing during the week. Celtic deserved to win the game overall but we could and should have done so much better. We were expecting more from our team, definitely. The way we prepared for the game and the way we performed in the game was totally different.”
Asked if the players had not taken his message on board, Caixinha replied: “That’s something I have to speak with them about. It is possible. If that’s what happened, then I need to admit my own mistakes.
“But I’m a guy who is totally clear in those sort of situations, so I don’t believe that.
“What I really believe is that my assistant Helder came to me after the warm-up and said ‘Please, in your speech before the beginning of the match, don’t be that strong, don’t be so tough. They need to feel a little bit more freedom.’
“When you don’t feel that freedom you don’t enjoy it and you don’t perform the way you need to. So we were a little bit blocked and if you are blocked, even if you have the best ideas in the world, you cannot perform.
“Helder felt they were really tense. They were really focused on the idea of playing the game but totally focused without enjoying what was going to happen.
“I need them to be focused but I also need them to be open-minded in order to let my ideas and strategy flow.
“It’s not a question of being frightened. It’s a question of letting things flow in the right direction. When Celtic scored the second goal they played as if they were getting pleasure from the game. But the penalty gave them that momentum. We needed something to give us that kind of momentum but we could not get it. Celtic had the game under control and we could not change it.”
Caixinha and Rodgers embraced at the full-time whistle and will go head-to-head again next weekend in the final Old Firm Premiership fixture of the season at Ibrox.
“We just saluted each other,” said Caixinha. “I just congratulated him.
“He said we will meet on Saturday and I invited him to drink a good Portuguese wine after the match that I have in my office back at Ibrox.”