When it comes to putting together unbeaten runs in all competitions, perhaps none have ever carried greater significance than the 45-match sequence compiled by Sir Alex Ferguson from December 1998 to October 1999.
Not only did it encompass Manchester United winning a famous treble of Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League, it also earned Govan’s famous son his knighthood and the Freedom of the City of Glasgow.
The standards he set during his extraordinary career are now regarded as the benchmark for all managers and Brendan Rodgers has revealed that he refers to one of Ferguson’s maxims as he looks to extend Celtic’s current undefeated run.
The Scottish champions have now gone 41 games in all competitions without tasting defeat, stretching back to a 2-0 loss at home to Barcelona in the Champions League last November.
Rodgers, who attended a Street Soccer Scotland charity dinner in Glasgow with Ferguson on Thursday night, is determined that his players will approach today’s Premiership trip to Kilmarnock with the same intensity they showed in their 5-0 win over Astana in the Champions League play-off round earlier this week.
“Sir Alex was incredible with what he formed, developed and cultivated all the way through his management career,” said Rodgers. “His enthusiasm, drive and hunger – you always have to keep the complacency away and that was one of the things he mentioned the other night.
“He actually said that complacency is a like a disease, it’s contagious. We speak about that every day here. The last time we played Kilmarnock we beat them 5-0. We played Astana and beat them 5-0. But we have to stay hungry, we have to go and fight. Whoever we give the baton to in the team, then they have got to run like hell and fight to get results.
“That’s how it was for Sir Alex and to lead like he did, at that level, for so long is incredible. He’s a very inspiring man and has obviously got a real brain full of wisdom and knowledge of top level management.
“I love listening to him on Jock Stein, especially. Jock was clearly a huge mentor and I’ve heard Sir Alex talk about him on numerous occasions. He did a half hour at the Hydro, at the Lisbon Lions event at the end of last season, on what Jock Stein meant to him.
“It was great to see him again this week. Any time you spend with him is gold dust, really. He is the big boss of everyone in this business. He’s up there as a beacon for every manager. I remember when I got the sack at Reading and I received a letter of support from him. I didn’t really know him at that time. That meant a lot to me.”
As Rodgers seeks to maintain his domestic invincibility as Celtic manager this afternoon, he may do so without Jozo Simunovic. The big defender is often spared duty on artificial pitches such as the one at Rugby Park. It may mean 19-year-old Kristoffer Ajer, who spent the second half of last season on loan at Kilmarnock, facing his erstwhile team-mates.
“If Jozo doesn’t play, I’ve got replacements,” said Rodgers. “We have cover there. It’s a management issue with Jozo. With two games on the spin – and we trained on astro today as well – we have to look at it.”
Rodgers, meanwhile, has hailed the early impact at Celtic of French midfielder Olivier Ntcham, claiming the 21-year-old has all the attributes to play for any of Europe’s elite teams.
“At his age, he is fantastic,” added Rodgers. “He wanted to come here to play and to develop. He needs to play in a certain way and he is a real player. You see his physicality and if he turned up playing for Barcelona or Bayern Munich, you would say what a good player he is. He is in a Celtic shirt and he will develop and grow here into a top-class player. Thankfully, the supporters will see him develop here.
“He isn’t the finished article yet and needs to go where he is coached and to get the chance to perform under pressure. The environment was vital for him and I think one of the reasons why he has come here from Manchester City is to develop, get better and to see where his career takes him.”