Brendan Rodgers shows Celtic toll as opens up on doubters and explains specific hotel visit

The championship-winning manager hopes title has rebuilt some bridges

Never mind trading immortality for mediocrity, would Celtic fans now consider swapping Brendan Rodgers for Ange Postecoglou? Surely far fewer compared to just a few months ago.

It will be interesting to see what the tifo wing of the Green Brigade produce for trophy day on Saturday as the Parkhead side celebrate another title, their third in two spells under Rodgers. It might have taken 37 league games but hearing fans sing the manager's name again felt significant on Wednesday following the decisive 5-0 victory over Kilmarnock.

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Rodgers knows he will never win everyone around. “Nights like that, performances like that … builds the bond back closer again,” he said. “There might be some guys who might never understand and might never turn but I’ll cope with that the best I can and, in the meantime, I’ll prepare this team to win and be successful.”

Celtic played excellently at Rugby Park.Celtic played excellently at Rugby Park.
Celtic played excellently at Rugby Park.

Maybe a few are still pining for the somewhat gruffer charms of Postecoglou, although it's possible even some Spurs fans might now be interested in a swap deal involving Rodgers, with the Australian sent back to Glasgow. Postecoglou is not winning friends with his recent outburst and a fan was ejected from the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium after an altercation with the manager during Tuesday’s 2-0 defeat to Manchester City. Postecoglou has apparently been upset at the ‘losers’ mentality he has identified at the club, something which reared its head in the Spurs fans' attitude to the City clash. The fear they might actually win the game and hand rivals Arsenal the initiative was palpable.

No such problems at Celtic, where Rodgers is amongst those who share his opinion that second is nowhere. “See you back here in May,” he told the doubters in June. “I put myself under pressure but I’m happy with that,” he acknowledged on Wednesday. “It’s never bothered me and I feel it’s when I’m at my best. Thankfully I was able to make that true and bring it home for them.”

It’s taken a toll on Rodgers, who blinked back tears as he spoke to the media afterwards. “There’s no doubt. I was tested, under lots of pressure. I think the awkwardness of it ... I totally respect that of the supporters and the feeling they might have had and that lingered on. There were moments in the stadium ... I knew my job was to somehow pull this together. We’ve been able to do that.”

He has had all sorts levelled at him, over and above the swapping potential legendary status for English also-rans accusation from the Green Brigade, something Postecoglou was spared last summer. The Australian's shadow loomed large as Rodgers’ tactics were questioned. The team was not swashbuckling enough. The football was laboured and one-paced.

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers applauds the fans at Kilmarnock.Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers applauds the fans at Kilmarnock.
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers applauds the fans at Kilmarnock.

“When I look at the titles, they’ve all been special,” he said. “But this has been the most challenging for so many reasons and some out of football,” reflected Rodgers, who endured a storm of his own doing when clumsily concluding an interview with BBC Scotland reporter Jane Lewis with a sour-sounding 'good girl' comment. But perhaps what really stung him was the criticism of the football Celtic were playing, which came from their own supporters as much as anywhere. “I’ve never had my style focused on so much," he said. "As a coach who broke through and became a manager at 35, my key reference has been my style. So to come here and have the accusation about my style not fitting felt strange. But I knew from what the team was missing it would come. We now look like we are at the start of the season. I don’t think anyone could complain about the style on this (Kilmarnock’s) surface.”

Celtic had saved one of their best performances for (nearly) last. Just two more games are left, one of which is a Scottish Cup final when Rodgers has the chance to improve an already extraordinary Old Firm record. First comes Saturday's celebration day against St Mirren, and Rodgers has challenged his side to maintain the high standards. They won't reach 100 goals, like last season, but they could come close. They are now on 92, fewer than his first season, in 2016-17, but already 19 more than the following campaign under him.

"I don't like losing on trophy day," said Rodgers. It's happened once, he recalled, when Aberdeen dampened the atmosphere with a 1-0 win in 2018, his second season in charge. Providing Celtic finish with a victory they will have exceeded their points total in all but six of the 18 titles they have won this century.

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Rodgers is alert to history. He even had the chutzpah to turn to the Celtic supporters, having heard his own name sung, and try to help with the rehabilitation of Neil Lennon during an on-pitch interview following the final whistle at Rugby Park. Lennon was working at the game as a Sky Sports pundit. Rodgers turned towards the supporters and pointed to Lennon, who completed the job of winning the title after his compatriot’s February flit to Leicester in 2019 before subsequently suffering his own relationship breakdown with supporters.

Rodgers can be shameless, but it’s often endearing. A Celtic manager should always possess at least a streak of romanticism. He has it in spades, as outlined by his decision to head to Seamill Hydro, Celtic’s traditional pre-match base in West Kilbride stretching back to the 1960s and beyond, prior to the Kilmarnock game “I used to look at pictures of Jock Stein and those players,” he said. “They used to do pre-season there. Then coming to the stadium knowing it was a tribute to Tommy (Burns),” he continued. “Ironically, he’d have been 67 ... To get the victory, in the style of which he’d have loved watching, was really special…”

Although he might never become a favourite son like Burns, Rodgers remains on course to complete the ultimate redemptive arc at Hampden next weekend.