Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers has admitted he and Rangers boss Steven Gerrard will never be able to enjoy the relationship they had at Liverpool until one or other of them leaves Glasgow.
As manager and captain at Anfield the pair worked closely together, but while a mutual respect remains, Rodgers believes it will always be difficult to replicate the same sort of affinity now they are on opposite sides of the Old Firm.
“It’s different now,” he said. “It’s hard to have the relationship we had before when we’re now direct rivals.
“That always makes it difficult and it will probably remain like that until one or both of us move on from these roles.
“It’s hard for it to be the same as it was at Liverpool. But the respect is always there, for any manager, because it’s a tough job.
“When you manage a big club, there’s always pressure. So I’ll always respect that and I respect his work at Rangers.
“We’re in such unique positions. If we were at different clubs there would probably be a lot more communication. But I have to respect the job he has there and the one I have here.
“Maybe at some point in the future, the dynamic will change again. In the meantime, you have to focus on your own club.
“He’s a former player who was great for me. He’s done a very good job there and he’s brought in good players. They’re up there on merit and it’s up to us to continue with our good work.”
Although Celtic ended 2018 with a defeat by Rangers, the first he had suffered in 13 outings against the Ibrox club, and ahead at the top of the table only on goal difference with Kilmarnock only a point adrift, Rodgers declared himself satisfied while predicting an exciting few months ahead.
He said: “After the summer we had, if we could have had the position we’re in and Europa qualification – albeit with areas we need to improve on like away from home – I’d have taken that. It sets us up for a period of the season we know well.
“Our consistency will be important in the second half of the season.
“There’s a lot of noise around at the moment and when you lose a game to Rangers, things are said. But you have to stay calm and focused on the field. The method is key for us, the way we work, and the continuation of that.
“We’ve shown consistency over the last couple of years and we don’t need to change that.
“There’s no doubt that there’s a challenge there now. I try not to overthink it and just focus on ourselves.”
To that end Rodgers insisted he was viewing this season as no different to his first at Celtic Park when the gap was 20 points.
“I concentrate on improving our standard,” he said. “That’s what it will be about, ultimately. Rangers have invested well, they’ve brought in good players. Steven has done really well bringing them together.
“Other teams are also up there and the standard of the league has improved, which is great for Scottish football.
“For us, the challenge feels really good. And it’s what these players have always responded to.”
While many see a genuine threat to Celtic’s title aspirations for the first time in eight years, Rodgers was adamant his players won’t be deflected by such talk. He said: “The focus has to be on us. I can’t affect what Rangers do, only what my team does on the field and getting consistency will be important.
“I don’t get too up or down with the noise and the words. If you listen to everything that’s said, you suffer emotionally.
“I’ve got experience in the game now to understand that it’s about winning games.
“When you win games, you get the plaudits. Sometimes even when you win, you don’t get the plaudits. But you have to win. And you have to respect the other teams.
“The standard we’ve set has opened the eyes of other clubs to improve and be better.
“That’s been great for the league. But for us, it’s all about ourselves. It doesn’t mean we’ve dropped our own standards.
“We’ve lost big players and the argument is, have we replaced them?
“If we go on to win the title this year, which is the plan, it won’t be any different or any more important than the previous ones.
“My first one felt important for different reasons and last season was great.
“It’s my job to do it again this year and it should be an exciting end to the season.”