Rodgers: If run was easy why didn’t Rangers do it in lower divisions?

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers. Picture:  Craig Williamson/SNS
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS
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Seven days on from that first domestic defeat in 19 months, Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers was at pains to find a benefit in the 4-0 drubbing by Hearts while also emphasising the magnitude of racking up 69 consecutive games without suffering a loss.

His defence of that record was certainly more robust than that mounted by Jozo Simunovic and Dedryck Boyata at Tynecastle last weekend.

Critics have carped about the lack of serious competition to the champions and used their superior financial muscle as a stick with which to beat them and undermine their feat. Try telling that to Jose Mourinho after Manchester United’s Carabou Cup defeat by Bristol City on Wednesday.

Rodgers is certainly having none of it, insisting it should be recognised as the towering achievement it most certainly was, pointing out that Rangers (with the second-highest wage bill in the country) couldn’t come close to it when they were playing against part-time opponents in the lower leagues.

“Is there an upside to the run ending? Yes, but only because it gives you the chance to be better,” he said. “I always think you are defined by disappointment. Do you go again and look to improve? It’s what life is about and not just football life.

“You have reasons then to be better, to improve. The 69-game run, what was it 585 days? Four trophies as Invincibles. I told the players: ‘It’s a great start’, so now it’s gone your name is now carved in history, probably forever and certainly for as long as you’ll live, but now we make our next steps.

“Let’s go into our next phase now and keep making improvements. If [that run ending] does anything, it allows you to improve.

“What can happen is, for example, you are 2-0 up away at Hibs and you come in after the game having drawn 2-2 and lots of people naturally will think: ‘We didn’t lose our unbeaten run’ when we should have won the game.

“Maybe if you’re not on the run, that yardstick is not there to measure you by. It’s an incredible story of resilience, of brilliant football and defending.

“Circling back in, what we have seen is something truly remarkable that was achieved. Because if it was so easy to do it would have been done a long-time before.

“You look at Rangers, for example, who went down the leagues, coming through the Third Division, Second Division and the Championship. If what we achieved was so easy, it would have been done then.

“Arsenal’s Invincibles [who went 49 league games without defeat] would have done it and so would lots of other teams. Instead, we now have a place in history.”

Rodgers even managed to put a positive spin on his team’s capitulation in the capital. “People talk about the Hearts game and [we were poor] collectively,” he said. “It would have been an awful thing for someone to have made an individual mistake to have ended the run – like Craig Gordon’s last-minute one away at Hibs.

“That would have been terrible after everything we had been through as a group. If you are going to lose then you might as well do it in a way where, collectively, you were hopeless. Then you go again.”

Celtic struggled to cope with Craig Levein’s pressing game last Sunday but Rodgers warns opponents not to believe that his side’s Achilles heel has been located.

“People might say there is a template there; well there’s not, we’ve faced everything,” he claimed. “Teams that have pressed us, team that have gone long and direct against us, teams that have sat in, teams good on counter-attack so, across those 69 games, we’ve done it all.”

Rodgers also singled out Callum McGregor as the team’s unsung hero, describing his selflessness and versatility as “priceless.”

“He’s got an incredible football brain,” he said. “He can play in just about every position apart from centre-half. He can play as a full back, he’s played in midfield, he’s played off one of the sides, he’s been a No 10 and we’ve used him in all three positions in midfield.

“That type of player is priceless for me because of all the tactical innovations we try to bring in and impose on the group. I know that, wherever he is playing, he can adapt to it. I can trust him because he’s someone who can pass it without complicating things, which is the most difficult part of the game; to play simple.

“I’ve worked with players who played with ruthless simplicity, like Leon Britton at Swansea. He was brilliant, only 5’4” but how he passed the ball was fantastic. He could only pass it over 15-20 yards but he ticked the game over.

“He wasn’t big, but he was a big player on the pitch. I had Emre Can at Liverpool, who could play at centre-half, right-back or midfield, a whole raft of positions because he also had a brain.

“That’s the joy of working with Callum. He trains every day, he never misses a day of training, he never complains.”