It is not often that, even for a moment, Brendan Rodgers has been lost for words. The Celtic manager was the other day, though, when asked what it would mean to him to join Jock Stein as men to have delivered the treble to the club.
Aberdeen in Saturday’s Scottish Cup final is all that is standing between the Irishman and the clean sweep in his first season in Scotland. Before that, though, Rodgers’ side have the small matter of seeking to complete a league programme unbeaten. That will be achieved if they avoid defeat at home to Hearts this afternoon, with no team having managed this since Rangers in 1898-99.
The fact that Scottish football’s first full domestic unbeaten season is in their sights after 45 games without defeat means Rodgers would warrant his place as Celtic’s third man. Stein’s trebles in 1966-67 and 1968-69 and the 2000-01 clean sweep by O’Neill’s men is what has set these two men apart.
“It’s a bit surreal really. It’s an incredible thing. I’ve not thought so much about it to be honest,” he said of keeping company with Stein and O’Neill. “It’s a notion you don’t want to go too far into or you can start to wander. I’ve tried to retain the focus on winning games and playing the way we’ve been playing.
“I’ll think a little bit more about it and what it means if it actually happens. To be anywhere near that in terms of achievement of what those guys did at such a big club with all the history and its status worldwide, to be up there I would be very privileged.”
It is little wonder that Rodgers’ focus isn’t wandering to Hampden when the prize of an unbeaten league campaign on the day the club are handed the trophy is up for grabs this afternoon.
If the landmark is brought up it will be laughed at by football pundits beyond these borders but, even if we are living through a lowly age in Scottish football, Rodgers’ input has taken it up a notch from where it was when he arrived a year ago.
“Everything is relative in every country but any manager will tell you about all the extremes and difficulties you go through in a season,” said Rodgers. “All the psychological twists and turns that take place. To go through it and at this point having equalled the record of 33 wins and four draws… for us, in front of 60,000, we’ll be as intense and aggressive as we’ve been all season to get the result.”
Comparisons between the lording Celtic of today and the Lisbon Lions in this time of the 50th anniversary of their European Cup is best avoided. It is merely enough to say, as Rodgers does, that setting such phenomenal domestic standards this season represents a fitting tribute in this special anniversary year. “If you look back at that team, the football that they played, the creativity, the togetherness, the spirit, and the behaviour really –it’s all quite fitting of the team and how they’ve played this year,” he added.