The spoils of success for Brendan Rodgers last week included being wined and dined at a three-hour lunch at a top London restaurant… on the tab of Dermot Desmond. “Great boss,” the Celtic manager joked the other day of the club’s largest single shareholder.
Beyond heavier investment in the club than any other individual in its history, there is nothing great that many Celtic supporters see in the Irish billionaire now into his third decade as a club powerbroker.
Desmond is perceived by them as a shadowy, ruthless, free marketeer who rarely sees his way to plotting a course for Parkhead in his private jet. In his rare interviews, the 66-year-old has maintained that Celtic is the one emotional investment of his business portfolio with which he would never part.
And that, wherever he is in the world, he spends a disproportionate amount of time on Celtic newsfeeds and forums because his interest in all club matters is obsessional. The sort of fella who, as he did at Hampden after Sunday’s League Cup final victory, would even let himself go by celebrating in the privacy of the dressing room with the players.
Across his six months in charge, and between mouthfuls of his haute cuisine last week, what Rodgers has come to know is the self-proclaimed Celtic nut Desmond – a man of whom he is entitled to be appreciative, of course, after Desmond sanctioned a remuneration package that runs to over £2 million to make Rodgers the best-paid manager in Scottish football history by a distance.
There is the feeling that Desmond – who will tell you he has the biggest say in Celtic because he has the biggest stake – and his emissary, club chief executive Peter Lawwell, have been re-energised in the fashion of the ordinary supporter by Rodgers’ work. But the former Liverpool manager contends he would not have been sold on Celtic had he detected any dilution of their drive to push the club on. The club is not a plaything for Desmond, Rodgers insisted.
“I don’t think it is a toy to him. It’s his life. He has lots of other business interests but the thing that struck me when I met him and Peter for the first time in London, was the actual passion he has for the club.
“And it hasn’t diminished at all. There have been difficult times for them but I think they recognise it and they want to improve. And football, over time, will change. But as long as we’re there at the forefront of it and trying to be up there as one of the leading lights, he’s very much engrossed in what’s going on.
“He’s very engaging. I love spending time with him. Every message he’ll ever send me or every conversation we have, it’s uplifting. He’s a real custodian of the club. He’s really, really Celtic daft.
“And just because he’s not there doesn’t mean he doesn’t care. He has a board of directors of high intellect who represent him. It’s not as if he’s not showing up.
“He knows what’s going on every single day at Celtic. From his first waking moment to his last thought at night, it’s Celtic.
“He empowers the great board we have with trust and the operation of Celtic is first class, I have to say. Trust is a big thing and he trusts people to work. He has really impressive football knowledge. When I talk about the game or about players, he gets it. I always learn any time I talk to him.
“He’s been first class, as has Peter. Peter and I have worked very closely looking at ways we can take the club forward. They’re obviously relying on my experience to take the club on and I’m privileged to be able to do it with the two of them and the rest of the board.
“Peter, both from a professional perspective and as a person, has been very impressive because sometimes that job, it’s a no-win situation.
“You can never always do what everyone wants you to do. But how he leads, his intention is always to do his very best for Celtic.
“To sit in the positions he’s in [on the European Club Association board and the SPFL board], it’s not just for Celtic’s benefit, it’s for the whole of Scottish football. He understands and he’s right at the forefront of all these things going on within UEFA and having that knowledge is important for both Celtic and Scotland.
“We’re lucky to have him working that diligently. And as a person, he’s a great fella. Very calm, very positive, always open with communication, enthusiastic for the club and a supporter.”
The two no doubt thank their lucky stars for Rodgers. Six months ago, squeals about the ways of the Celtic board were at fever pitch. Now these are barely audible.