Time never stands still for Brendan Rodgers and his Celtic roadshow. Never mind the occasion that awaits his team at Tynecastle tomorrow where a victory will secure the title. The Irishman is already thinking about what lies beyond the league and the Scottish Cup semi-final with Rangers later this month. Considerations for June and July had started to turn over in his mind before even March left us.
The fact that Celtic now make up the backbone of Gordon Strachan’s national side is an issue that affects more than Scott Brown. Following the fillip his six-strong contingent provided with their contribution to a win over Slovenia that allows World Cup qualification hopes to flicker, Rodgers suddenly seems at ease with his captain taking his place at the heart of the Scotland midfield against England on 10 June – and doing so alongside Celtic team-mates Craig Gordon, Stuart Armstrong, Kieran Tierney, James Forrest and Leigh Griffiths.
On that weekend, smack bang in the middle of an off-season that gives way to crucial Champions League qualifiers, Mikael Lustig is likely to be involved with Sweden, Dedryck Boyata away with Belgium and Erik Sviatchenko on Denmark duty. Celtic are scheduled to reconvene on 22 June before their assault on the Champions League begins three weeks later but Rodgers is prepared to ensure that a mini-break arrives for senior squad men before the end of the current campaign – which Celtic hope will be with the Scottish Cup final on 27 May. Rangers will seek to deny them that in the semi-final six days before Celtic travel to Ibrox for the final derby league fixture on 29 April. Expect to see Celtic players enjoying time off immediately after that, with Rodgers placing their conditioning for the start of next season and international commitments ahead of the pursuit of an unbeaten domestic season he stated was “not a priority”.
The Celtic manager’s stance yesterday would have been music to the ears of Strachan. “I am proud that so many [of our] players were in the [Scotland] team,” he said.
“That is where you want them to be. They are footballers for a very short period. I am not one who is going to stop any player playing for his country. Thankfully here all the Scottish boys love playing for their country and want to go.
“My responsibility is for Celtic. This is the club that is paying their wages and paying them good wages. I need to make sure that availability is right for us. But I respect that these guys are international players. That is where they should want to go in their careers – to represent their country. If I can help them and assist that on and off the field I will happily do that. It has been nice for them to get the win, to play with a real good aggression and a real good tempo and energy. It sets it up nicely for a few months’ time.”
That includes the 31-year-old Brown, whose body appeared battered beyond repair a year ago. “We’ve spoken on it. I asked to speak to him on it. I don’t know if he wanted to talk to me or not…” said Rodgers, pictured. “But I wanted to remove any sort of burden that might have been on his mind, to make sure he was fine. We had a good chat, which will be private, and on one or two other things within that.
“But it’s a big game, this, and it could be a real defining game. If he’s played in the England game away and he’s played in the last one it’s difficult not to play in the other ones. It’s about helping him, giving him the confidence that ‘OK, play in it, but this is how it’s going to look before and after’.”
Brown, and a raft of others, will put their feet up in the fortnight following the Rangers double-header to prevent any “danger “of “breaking rhythm” before the semi wherein their treble hopes will go on the line.
Rodgers’ team seem in such a good rhythm they can take that for granted – but never will despite their extraordinary campaign, said the Celtic manager.
“I have always said to them that you have to be careful. You can never get too carried away,” said Rodgers. “I was once told by a very intelligent man that a slap on the back is only six inches from a slap on the arse.”