Sanguine Brendan Rodgers backs his excited Celtic team but bluntly tells them to deal with 'small print'

Manager keeps his cool amid firestorm around him and tells players you simply have to deal with pressure

Keep calm and carry on. Those T-shirts have gone out of fashion but perhaps Brendan Rodgers should wear one, given he refuses to be ruffled by the storm raging around him.

Celtic are no longer top dogs in the Premiership after last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Kilmarnock allowed Rangers to leapfrog them, yet there are no signs of panic from Rodgers. A serial winner during his first spell in charge at Parkhead between 2016 and 2019, he faces the sternest test of his time north of the border. Rejuvenated under Philippe Clement, many make Rangers favourites to win the title. The revival across Glasgow has left Celtic fans anxious and angry, particularly after a quiet January transfer window. Criticism is coming at Rodgers from all angles. However, there were no signs of a flustered man ahead of Sunday’s trip to Motherwell.

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Rodgers does not shy away from the enormous pressure he and his players are facing right now. But the Northern Irishman is not bowing to the hysteria. At 51-years-old, he’s got more than 700 matches under his belt, has been involved in winning championships, trophies and fighting relegation. “I’ll be fine,” he stated. “For me it’s about 38 games. I’ve heard this throughout my career, that I’ve never had this before or that before. That’s normal, the world we’re in. Can we find a bit of negative news that sells? But it’s not my story.”

Celtic needed a late winner to defeat Motherwell last time they visited Fir Park.Celtic needed a late winner to defeat Motherwell last time they visited Fir Park.
Celtic needed a late winner to defeat Motherwell last time they visited Fir Park.

With 12 games remaining in the league for Celtic, Rodgers is confident he can pen another successful chapter. Drawing upon past experiences and the fact that the football landscape can change quickly allows him to stay grounded. He is acutely aware that his team needs to play better, but he also points to Celtic’s recent record of eight wins and two draws in their past ten games. This is not a team struggling to get points on the board. They just need to find an extra ten per cent against a resurgent rival in Rangers.

“You have to reflect on it,” Rodgers said on the current situation his team finds itself in. “For a lot of these guys, coming into a team which has won eight and drawn two, they can’t understand it. Because in any other league that’s okay results wise. But you learn quickly it’s more than that here. We have openly and honestly analysed everything and taken the players through where we can be better without forgetting some of the good elements of the game which can get lost in the result. My job is to analyse the performance as well as the result.”

Celtic have not blown many teams away this season and have frittered away winning positions, the latest being against Killie when David Watson levelled in stoppage time. Rodgers shows a protective side to his players, especially those who are at the start of their Celtic careers. “You can prepare and can create an illusion of what it might be and might feel like,” he said of life as a Celtic player. “But not until you actually feel it yourself and go through the process do you really understand it. That’s why I give huge admiration to players who come here. Because the expectations are so high in this environment, as high as anywhere I’ve ever been in my career. That’s why I’m always keen to support the players and bring them through that. Every man and his dog will criticise them now. It’s my job and that of the coaching staff to help these players, especially when a lot of them are young players.”

Rodgers does not need reminding that what is being portrayed as a bad season could turn into a fine one. Celtic can still win the league and Scottish Cup, a prospect that rouses the manager and his players. “I don’t need to remind myself that we can still win the double, I know that’s the case,” Rodgers continued. “To do it, you need to step up and meet the challenge. I can see the players are excited by that, as we all are. You never take anything for granted in this game. But this title race is going to be brilliant for the league. The challenge will make us better so you take it on board and when it’s still in your own hands, you can be happy. We know what we have to do. The key thing is focusing on the next game. People will try and build 12 games into each one you play and look too far ahead. In my experience, that certainly doesn’t help.”

Brendan Rodgers gives Odin Thiago Holm instructions during a training session ahead of facing Motherwell.Brendan Rodgers gives Odin Thiago Holm instructions during a training session ahead of facing Motherwell.
Brendan Rodgers gives Odin Thiago Holm instructions during a training session ahead of facing Motherwell.

Motherwell are up next for Celtic. The Steelmen are facing their own troubles but have caused the defending champions problems this season, drawing 1-1 at Celtic Park and taking them right to the wire last time at Fir Park, when Celtic needed a 97th-minute winner. It was put to Rodgers that it may help his team playing away from home right now, given Celtic Park is becoming an agitated venue. Rodgers’ answer was to the point: you are at Celtic, you have to handle the pressure.

“You have to be able to deal with both, playing home and away,” he said. “In my experience here of our home games, Celtic Park has been an amazing place to play. But it’s in the small print – there’s pressure and you have to deal with it. For players coming here, it’s great when you can look on Youtube and see 60,000 fans singing You’ll Never Walk Alone at Celtic Park or Champions League games. But in the small print it says, by the way, there’s big pressure. Deal with it. You have to accept that. As a Celtic player you have to play where you’re asked to play.”

And right now, Celtic are being asked to play in the furnace of a title race, be it in Lanarkshire or Glasgow. On Sunday afternoon, they must show they can cope with that heat.