Time flies when you’re making history. As Brendan Rodgers approaches yet another milestone in his relentlessly successful tenure as Celtic manager, he finds little time to draw breath and reflect.
The Scottish football record books have been steadily re-written by Rodgers’ all-conquering domestic force, who followed up an unprecedented unbeaten treble of trophies in his opening season by becoming the first team to retain all three pieces of silverware for a second campaign.
Tomorrow at Hampden there will be a personal element for Rodgers in the significance of a victory over Aberdeen in the Betfred Cup final. It would see him equal the all-time record of seven consecutive Scottish domestic trophy wins by a manager set by Walter Smith at Rangers from 1992 to 1994.
“It’s very hard for me to look at it in that context,” insists Rodgers. “Walter Smith was a brilliant manager up here and hugely successful. I suppose I have always just tried to look to the next experience with Celtic, as opposed to from a personal perspective.
“Of course, it means you have something tangible to show for your work. What we have created in the two-and-a-half years here so far has been special. For me, Sunday is another great opportunity to experience that winning feeling again.
“When I first came in to the club, I said that our objective was to win and to do it in the best way we can. We have always tried to do that.
“Personally, it has all gone pretty quickly. Two years ago, we won the League Cup final against Aberdeen which was my first trophy here and the club’s 100th trophy in its history. It was great to show it to the fans back at Celtic Park that evening.
“Now, very quickly, we are going for the club’s 106th trophy. So we have worked well over these last couple of years but you have to keep looking forward. Thankfully, the hunger in our training and within our players is still very strong. We want to keep the feeling going.”
If Rodgers has made the business of collecting silverware in Scotland appear routine, he has a quick retort for those observers from south of the border who suggest it is simply too easy for the former Liverpool manager.
“I’d say ‘try it’,” he adds. “Okay, before I arrived here Celtic had won five titles in a row but my feeling was to try and win in the best way we could. I wanted to make sure the stadium was full, that we could develop the club on and off the field.
“People in the game know it’s not easy. It doesn’t matter if you have the biggest budget or not. The consistency to keep winning, our players have shown incredible appetite to do that. To keep performing and winning, with all the physicality they have to put in, is impressive on their part.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s Bayern Munich or Manchester City or any other team – they will always have that. All you can do is win in the best way you possibly can and build something that allows it to continue.
“I think we all recognise that, for as long as we all are here, we want to win as much as we possibly can – and not just winning but also playing in a manner which Celtic is synonymous with.
“My teams always play in a really attacking, aggressive way so I don’t think we need to magnify the occasion any more than it already has been – it’s a cup final and we want to win it. The players are hungry to do that, which is a consequence of playing well and winning. Our concentration is always on the performance and there will also be some ways we can hook the players emotionally to help them focus but the main thing is how we play.”
Celtic are understandably the hottest of favourites to prevail tomorrow and claim the League Cup for the 18th time. Rodgers’ men have found a smooth and effective run of form to put a turbulent start to their season firmly behind them. “Yeah, it’s a good feeling, certainly a lot different to what it was at the beginning when there was a lot going on on and off the pitch,” agreed Rodgers. “We’ve given stability back to the team again and, step by step and day by day, we’ve got better and better. We couldn’t arrive into the final in a better moment. We’re playing well and confidence is really high.”
Rodgers’ team selection will be intriguing as he makes the call on whether to recall club captain Scott Brown to the starting line-up after his brief return from injury as a substitute in Thursday night’s 1-0 Europa League win at Rosenborg.
“The level of performance from the boys recently has been exceptional and it’s all started from that defensive base and how we press the game,” he added. “That’s allowed us to create lots of opportunities. But it’s great when you have guys like Scott and Olivier Ntcham coming back into contention. That’s what you want and it’s what we need when we’re playing so many games, that freshness.”