Celtic’s Brendan Rodgers will confront a polar opposite of a manager in Kenny Miller when battle commences in the Premiership this afternoon.
The Scottish champions’ flag day will be a red letter day for the new Livingston player/manager, who will embark on a league campaign with the promoted club in the most testing of environments.
The 38-year-old is unlikely to have many easy days in combining a first frontline coaching role at the most modest top-flight club with a 21st senior playing season. Rodgers has encountered all sorts in his quarter of a century in coaching that followed his injury-forced senior retirement. Miller’s career trajectory is alien to him, though.
“I was coaching for 15 years before I took a job at 35 and experienced a lot. Then you go into management,” he said. “Kenny’s pathway is totally different, but that doesn’t make it wrong. He has a lot of playing experience and still wants to play. Now he’ll manage an on-field scenario.
“He’s on an experiential curve now and it’s right at the very beginning of coaching and managing. He’ll see the difficulties, he’ll learn from them and then he’ll be better if he wants to continue doing it in five or ten years’ time. You have to start somewhere and I’m delighted for him that he wants to step in and help Livingston, who have had a great last couple of years. What you need is to ensure your assistants around you are top class because they’ll be doing a lot of the coaching, planning and preparing and you’re still playing. You are focusing on your body and being inspirational for your team.
“You don’t see [player/managers] so much now because it’s such a difficult job and everything has evolved in management, but he feels he can do it and that’s a great feeling that he obviously had for the job. I wish him all the very best.”
It might seem that the domestic scene at the moment is monochrome compared to the technicolour challenges and incentives on offer in the Champions League qualifying phase. Indeed, Rodgers’ selection this afternoon is likely to reflect the fact that a third qualifying first leg against AEK Athens at home awaits on Wednesday. Dedryck Boyata is likely to be reintroduced after a late return following the World Cup to get him up to speed, with such as Leigh Griffiths and Ryan Christie utilised to give integral European performers such as Odsonne Edouard and Olivier Ntcham a breather. However, he stresses that the title is the club’s “bread and butter” and is enthused by the ceremonial aspect of an afternoon wherein the double-treble success will be savoured as part of a seventh straight flag day as club luminary Danny McGrain – still a member of the backroom team – performs the formalities.
“Your first aim is to win your league and that allows you to savour everything that comes after that,” he said. “It’s a great honour for us to have Danny McGrain taking the team out and unfurling the flag.
“It’s a great day and brilliant for the supporters. In my first year here I felt a bit of an outsider because I had absolutely no part in winning it. So I will enjoy watching Danny unfurl it and then we will get on with trying to secure a good win.
“I see Danny, and see guys like George McCluskey around the club and I’m like still a big child. This is my childhood and I’ve grown up a little bit. Seeing guys like Roy Aitken back in. We just need Anton Rogan showing up…
“These are the fellas who have made the great club what it is and are wonderful symbols of our past, yet very much part of our present because they are real icons of the club.
“In that era, you look at the appearances they had. The likes of Danny, Roy, TB [the late Tommy Burns], bless him. These guys were real contributors to the status that Celtic is and I tap into that.
“I speak with Danny virtually every day he’s here. Have lunch with him and sit for 15 or 20 minutes and I always get a wee nugget from him that I can relate somewhere in my life to football because he’s so humble. These guys never knew how good they were. Daniel Fergus McGrain. It’s brilliant to have him.”