Celtic's Brendan Rodgers basks in Hampden glow - but it wasn't always like this

Manager detected a ‘trepidation’ within the team when he first arrived at Celtic Park

Brendan Rodgers has told his players to embrace the pressure and relish the chance to continue Celtic’s recent impressive form at Hampden.

Rodgers is back at the national stadium as manager on Saturday for the first time since winning the League Cup final there in December 2018 with a 1-0 victory over Aberdeen, who Celtic face in the Scottish Cup semi-finals this weekend. The Northern Irishman enjoyed nine wins at Hampden during his first spell in charge at Celtic – he also led his side to a Murrayfield semi-final win over Hearts – before his perfect domestic cup record in Scotland ended at the first hurdle this season at Kilmarnock.

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Rodgers was installed first time round soon after Celtic suffered defeat to Championship Rangers in the 2016 Scottish Cup semi-finals and the Hoops won 11 of the 15 major finals since. “When you come to a club like this, there’s an expectation to win,” he said. “I know now the feeling is much greater now than when I was first here. I felt, leading into that first League Cup semi-final, there was a wee bit of trepidation around playing at Hampden. But if you’re going to become winners, we’ve got to start enjoying it. You enjoy it by playing well and winning. So that’s always been my focus getting to these games – looking to perform.

Brendan Rodgers' Celtic team take on Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup semi-finals on Saturday.Brendan Rodgers' Celtic team take on Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup semi-finals on Saturday.
Brendan Rodgers' Celtic team take on Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup semi-finals on Saturday.

“Of course, there’s big anticipation around them and there’s big pressure. But go and embrace that and look to perform. But in the end, any time I’ve won there, I’ve always felt the team has performed to a really high level, on a technical level and tactical level. So, same message. We go there, we respect Aberdeen. It’s not been a great season for them in terms of the league and changes of management, but any semi is a tough game and we’re ready for it.”

As well as losing to a then second-tier Rangers, Celtic had also suffered Hampden defeats against Ross County, Inverness, St Mirren and Hearts in the five seasons before Rodgers first arrived. Their only defeat since came in a 2022 Scottish Cup semi-final against a Rangers side who were on their way to the Europa League final.

Rodgers said: “I just sensed a wee bit of trepidation around it when I first came in, with the players and even staff, from everything that had happened for the team there. As long as you can control what you can and go into it with that confidence in your preparation, and not overthink it, just play your game, we know when we can do that, that football can bring success for us.

“That was it really, from that first semi-final, we played really well, and went into the League Cup game and were absolutely outstanding. So that gave the players a good feeling and we went back there later in the season and played well, and the final game of that season was a historical game (to clinch an undefeated treble against Aberdeen). After that season, we started to enjoy it and most importantly the supporters then went and had that expectation of winning. That expectation, going and playing – you look forward to it and see where it takes you.

“I’ve loved all the games there. The semi-finals have been great atmospheres, the finals – there’s that edge on it to get your hand on the trophy. To win that first League Cup in that first season was so special. To then go on to the Scottish Cup final, I’ve got so many memories of that having grown up with it as a child and knowing what it means to this club and always with ambition to add to the trophy haul.

“So I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve missed it this year as I’ve not had the chance to go with Celtic. I went to see Scotland playing there but now is a chance to be on the sidelines, which is what I want.”



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