Celtic have earned more sobriquets than silverware on a journey that yesterday ended with an incredibly dramatic Scottish Cup final triumph that allowed Brendan Rodgers’ men to become the country’s first domestically undefeated treble winners.
By popular acclaim “the invincibles”, the Irishman last week pitched for his team to be recognised as “the infrangibles” after 47 games on the home front without loss. Yesterday he took a fondness for a new word: “invince-trebles”. Yet, ultimately, after overcoming Aberdeen despite going a goal down inside nine minutes, Celtic’s achievement in winning 43 games and drawing only four as they hoovered up the title, Scottish Cup and League Cup could make them the unsurpassables. What was witnessed with Celtic’s 2-1 victory over an inspired Aberdeen was a feat unlikely to be seen again.
“I don’t think so,” Rodgers said of whether it would be surpassed. In the week that the club celebrated the 50th anniversary of their 1967 European Cup win, the Celtic manager said the current side’s feat was a “monumental achievement”.
“I wanted to impose a clear identity on how we played and we’ve created that. Now we can build from that. We’ve shown that from this way of working, you have something tangible to show for it.
“So we’ll go away now, some of the players will rest, some have internationals, but we’ll be back in again and we’ll look to go again. You’ll find the right words – it’s very difficult for me to describe it at the moment – but what the players have done is make history. I said to them before the game what we’ve celebrated being unbeaten in the league, we’ve celebrated the great Lisbon Lions on Thursday night, but today we have to make it. No one will write about it if we don’t do it, and the players showed remarkable courage to get the result.”
It was only the sixth game of the 47 in which Celtic found themselves behind. They restored parity within two minutes but then lost Kieran Tierney midway through the first half after he sustained damage to his mouth from Jayden Stockley’s swinging arm.
Rodgers replaced the full-back with an attacking midfielder in Tom Rogic who would go on to score the late winner. “We’re elated,” the manager said. “It was a very tough game and to win it like we did was special. To come from behind, to play like we did in the second half, to adjust to Kieran coming off… You have a choice there, do you put a defender on or do you stay offensive and reshape to get your attacking players in the game?”
Rodgers revealed that Thursday proved a pivotal day in preparations after he took drastic action at Lennoxtown.
“We’ve had one bad training session since I’ve been here and that was on Thursday. The players will tell you that I cut it short. The standard, the level and the quality wasn’t good enough of what we demand.
“Maybe there was something floating around in their minds about how we had won the league. Maybe there was a wee celebratory feeling. But the session was cut short. I walked in. That’s not how we work. So we set a standard right at the beginning that has only fallen short in one training session. In every game we have found a solution.”
Rodgers said it was “a huge honour” to join Jock Stein and Martin O’Neill as treble-winning Celtic managers.
“You see the great history of the club and the great managers, the players who have been here before me. It’s still a very difficult thing to do. So to have achieved that in our first season, alongside everything else that we have done, it’s very humbling. I still get a funny feeling… it doesn’t sit quite right with me when you think about it. Jock was a real pioneer and led the club the way he wanted it to go. Martin did an incredible job here. History will judge me. I’ve only just begun really. When I leave here people will look at what I did. It’s been truly enjoyable and a privilege to manage this club. It’s a real special feeling today.”