Funniest thing I’ve seen recently on YouTube? That would have to be Brendan Rodgers talking about his encounter with the blue half of Glasgow.
“So there I am and out of nowhere 50,000 Rangers fans come up the street,” he says. “They’re singing ‘There’s only one Brendan Rodgers’ as they lift me up and throw me into the air. All of a sudden the Rangers team come along and their manager says: ‘I don’t want Rangers to win anything. I want you to win everything because you are the most beautiful human being that has ever come to this city.’”
It’s not Rodgers, of course, but the mimic Darren Farley. I don’t know if the Celtic manager has seen the clip, or any of Farley’s other take-offs (“Lincoln Red Imps are one of the greatest teams in world football… We’ve shown great human being awareness and I just don’t know how Barcelona have won 7-0”). I hope he has because they’re hilarious.
I’m sure Rodgers would have a wry smile to himself over them. He’s done stirring things at Celtic and the supporters love him. But, unless he’s possessed of an ego as big as those stadium flags the faithful raise to him, and I’m sure he isn’t, then he might occasionally think the adoration a bit over the top. And there’s no need for Rangers fans to look so smug. They know perfectly well how circumspection and objectivity can fly out the window when the team are doing well. Scotsport’s Jim White forgot all about Walter Cronkite rigour, and some other things he learned at the same journalism college your correspondent attended, when he began an interview with Brian Laudrup: “Why are you so great?”
Lee Wallace, the Rangers captain, pictured right, reckons pundits are tougher on his manager Pedro Caixinha than they are on Rodgers and the player wonders if this is because he’s foreign. Now, I think that in the BT Sport post-match interview which sparked the issue it was perfectly valid for the Portuguese to be asked to justify his belief that Rangers have a superior squad to Celtic because it’s a bold statement and Caixinha will have anticipated a challenge. But do foreigners in football get a hard time compared with their home-grown counterparts? Of course they do.
This has always happened. It’s more pronounced in England because the leagues have more foreigners. Pundits, commentators and journalists used to jump on players from abroad for gamesmanship, a lack of bulldog spirit and assorted erratic behaviour until they realised that good Anglo-Saxon men and true were themselves perfectly capable of simulation.
But, there and here, we’re still quicker to criticise a foreign player than we are one of our own. He’ll find himself marked down and singled out. In an all-round dismal performance by a team, the local lad at full-back might be portrayed as honestly sticking to his task, no matter how many times he hoofed the ball straight out of play, while the import on the wing will have his game microscopically analysed for silly dribbling, Gallic shrugs and operatic hand gestures.
Why do we do this? It’s not racist but there remains a worry that football in Britain is losing identity. This is quaint, even sweet, but also as regards England’s elite clubs, hopelessly outdated. These teams have been dominated by foreigners for a while, Arsenal and others sometimes fielding entirely foreign line-ups. Now, none has an English manager or owner. All of which makes continued failure in the Champions League really quite baffling. Stout English yeomen can’t be held responsible for the inability to retain possession because there are hardly any left.
In Scotland we may have the same moral concerns about a dilution of character. Obviously our game attracts fewer foreign superstars and we can get frustrated by the quality of our imports. We’re suspicious they won’t be sticking around, just passing through, and often this turns out to be the case, which makes criticism of them easier. I don’t think we’re alone in doing this. Foreign players in Caixinha’s Portugal, for instance, may be required to jump through almost as many hoops. But it does seem that we – and I’m back to meaning British – view football from a loftier perch, and you sense the old imperialist attitude about how we invented the game is never very far away.
In Scotland, Efe Ambrose when he was at Celtic would be condemned for every dilly-dally or dangerous pass across the back line. This was circulated to the masses. “Bombscare,” everyone nodded. “Should be in a circus.” Well, how’s the defending going at your club? Are the home-grown guys always impregnable every single week?
At Hearts, Malaury Martin arrived promising French flair. Principally because he was French for one thing. Soon, though, sceptics were asking: has he ever hit a corner-kick before? Yet over at Hibs, corners – which are taken by the plucky Scots – are an ongoing problem.
So the view persists, among Rangers fans and now the skipper almost concurs, that to impress, Caixinha has to stand on one leg, juggle and sing, while Rodgers can just smile his toothy smile to waltz off with the bouquets, the warm headlines, the cruise for two, the Crackerjack pencil – the lot.
Well, maybe not always. The same Chris Sutton criticised Celtic’s performance against Paris Saint-Germain as “embarrassing”. The team had been timid, he said, and not any bolder in the transfer window, suffering for their failure to buy a central defender.
Rodgers’ fault? Disgruntled callers to a tabloid’s hotline – a sound barometer of mood, and presumably these were Celtic fans – were careful not to mention the manager by name. Perhaps Brendan’s not God after all. Or maybe he is, or rather He is, and Celtic will win 6-0 in Paris. Either way, it’s best not to get too worked up about such matters. Football, as they say, is all about opinions – and they probably say that in Portugal, France and Spain as well.
Best just to enjoy the comedy of Rodgers trying to buy a cheese and onion pasty and the Gers-supporting vendor insisting, because of his magnificence, that he takes two.