Brendan Rodgers urges his Celtic players to make history

Scott Sinclair and Scott Brown look relaxed in training ahead of Celtic's game with Rangers. Picture: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
Scott Sinclair and Scott Brown look relaxed in training ahead of Celtic's game with Rangers. Picture: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
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Brendan Rodgers has often stressed he is too consumed by the task of creating his own slice of history at Celtic to pay much attention to the myriad glory days which went before.

But as he approaches tomorrow’s final Old Firm assignment of the season at Celtic Park, the potential significance of the occasion for his club’s support simply cannot be ignored.

Not since a dramatic Monday night in May 1979, when a ten-man Celtic side beat Rangers 4-2, have the Parkhead club clinched a league title by defeating their oldest and greatest rivals.

That is a match still regarded with misty-eyed reverence by a generation of Celtic followers, just as there is a special place in the memory banks of Rangers fans for the Sunday night in 1999 when a 3-0 win in the east end of Glasgow secured a title triumph for the Ibrox side.

These are the kind of circumstances which have rarely presented themselves to either side of Glasgow’s footballing divide since league football began in Scotland almost 120 years ago and it is an opportunity Celtic supporters urgently want Rodgers and his players to seize this weekend.

“I was only six back then,” smiled the Celtic manager at the mention of the 1979 epic. “So it was a long, long time ago. Of course, you want to win the league as soon as you can. Last year, we clinched it away at Hearts.

“If you can do it in front of your own supporters against one of your big rivals, then great. But the job is to get it done. It’s like winning the treble last season. It’s one of these things which people talked about not having happened for a long time.

“So we can only affect modern history. We respect the great history and values of the club but our job is to create our own. If we can tick another box and make history this weekend, then great. We have four games to win the title and if we can do it in this one, it would be a special day. But I don’t go overboard on it [as a 
motivation].

“It’s similar to last year when people talked about whether it might be the last opportunity for this squad to win a treble. I don’t see it like that. If you say that, then you are telling guys they might never do it again. It’s a great opportunity. In the big games it’s about staying calm – don’t feel too trapped by all of the stuff around it.

“When we started out at the beginning of the season we started out to win all three competitions. The League Cup, we were able to do that. Scottish Cup? We are in the final with a great showpiece game to come next month and we now go out to complete the league and we have an opportunity to do that at home.

“I am sure it is going to be a great occasion. The noise, the atmosphere will be electric on the day like all of the games against Rangers are.

“There will be that special added factor that we can win the league. But we have to stay calm, stay focused on the game and that has been my approach in every one of these games. They are always full of emotion, full of passion but within all of that you have to perform and hopefully we will hope to do that as we have done in the previous ten games.”

In that ten-match unbeaten sequence in Old Firm games since Rodgers arrived as manager, Celtic have appeared as dominant and comfortably superior to Rangers as they have ever been. That was underlined emphatically by the 4-0 drubbing Rodgers’ men inflicted upon Rangers in the Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden a fortnight ago.

The tactics deployed by Ibrox manager Graeme Murty that afternoon were widely criticised in the aftermath but Rodgers insists that view does a disservice to Celtic.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “We’ve played ten times now and there’s been different elements and tactics to all of the games. You can only cope with what’s in front of you and prepare your players for different scenarios.

“What got lost a wee bit last time was that we actually played really well. There were a lot of reports about how Rangers played tactically but we played well and sometimes that can nullify an opponent.

“Their tactics might have worked well on a different day but we were aggressive, we weren’t timid in the game and we had the calmness to play football.

“That’s what we will be looking for again. We will be ready for whatever Rangers throw at us. We just try to impose ourselves on the game. We come in every day to work hard and train hard, we can’t worry too much about what the opponent is going to try to do.

“If we bring our game, then we know we have great chance of winning. Of course, the longer you go, it can get more difficult. Our priority is to forget about what came before and look forward to this one, which we all are. There’s certainly no complacency. No matter the ten games previously, you need to go and prove yourself in the next one.”

Moussa Dembele, scorer of seven goals in nine Old Firm appearances, is fit to return to the Celtic side after missing last Saturday’s 2-1 defeat at Hibs which placed the title-clinching celebrations on hold. Midfielder Stuart Armstrong is also available again.