Arespect agenda has been pursued to the nth degree as Brendan Rodgers and Steven Gerrard have dealt with the issue of their past relationship at Liverpool ahead of entering into new territory through facing each other on the sidelines amid the frenzy of a derby day in Glasgow.
It can feel they have protested too much about the cordiality that exists between them. The forthright nature of the former Anfield captain on Rodgers’ handling of the club’s title challenge in 2013 lends that impression. His line in his 2015 biography that the Irishman was guilty of “over confidence” in expecting to “blow Chelsea away” on the day the title was blown, in part by Gerrard’s infamous slip, never goes away. Not least the damning last line in that passage “I feared it then and I know it now”.
Context adds to the incendiary nature of those comments. They entered the public domain as Rodgers found himself under pressure after an indifferent start to his fourth season at Anfield. He was sacked little more than a week later.
As the Celtic manager prepares for a test of coaching wiles with his former Liverpool captain, he required to manage delicately Gerrard essentially blaming him for Liverpool’s failed championship challenge in 2013-14.
“They’re Steven’s feelings, aren’t they?” the Celtic manager said. “I’m no different. I’m always the same going into games. One thing, I’m not fearful of any game. But that’s what he thought, there’s no right or wrong in it. There was certainly no over-confidence from my perspective though.”
Rodgers’ feelings on the remedial work that novice manager Gerrard has carried out over such a short period at Ibrox could not be interpreted as other than wholly positive, and admiring. His “humility and “calmness” have allowed him to transfer his playing skillset into management, and underpinned Rangers demonstrating character to hold out against Ufa for a Europa League group place with only nine men in Russia on Thursday.
Gerrard was a “winner” who Rodgers said was “brilliant” for him and a man he found it “difficult” to leave out as “nature” took its course in the ageing player’s latter years at Anfield. In his new career, Gerrard has also impressed his old manager by how he has made the transfer market work for him.
“He’s been able to do that well and bring in some good players,” said Rodgers. “I liked Scott Arfield when he was at Burnley. Young [Connor] Goldson is a good player who I remember seeing at Brighton and it was unfortunate he was out the team for a little while. I always liked his quality. I know young Ryan Kent and Ovie [Ejaria] has come into midfield. I know Jon Flanagan well too [with all three from Liverpool]. So he’s signed some good players which gives them a bit of physicality.
“We expect a tough game. I always go into these games expecting nothing less than that. When I watched these games over the years it didn’t matter how each team was doing. They were always tense affairs and aggressive affairs so I don’t expect anything different.”
As a man who has won nine and drawn two of the 11 derbies he has been in charge for – a number of crushing victories among the successes – Rodgers certainly will hope that today doesn’t throw up anything too different.
Off the field, Rodgers seems to have been thrown a raft of curveballs during a trouble and strife transfer window – during which the club failed to reach the Champions League group stages for the first time under him. Player insurrection that helped Moussa Dembele force his £19.7m move to Lyon but didn’t quite manage to deliver Dedryck Boyata a desired departure, coupled with player signing failures, have made for the most fraught period in Rodgers’ two-and-a-bit years of unparalleled domestic success in Scotland.
“Listen, this is management, it is not always smooth and everything going nice. Things sometimes happen,” he said. “At the big clubs it normally does. So you just have to deal with it and focus and concentrate on what you do which is the coaching, the preparation of the team and sending them out there to perform at the best level that they can. Experience tells me that is all that is important.”