Brendan Rodgers believes Graeme Murty was “thrown under the bus” by Rangers as a result of distractions off the pitch at the Ibrox club in the build-up to both of Celtic’s crushing Old Firm victories in recent weeks.
Murty’s hopes of remaining as Rangers manager beyond the end of the season were effectively wiped out by the 4-0 Scottish Cup semi-final defeat at Hampden on 15 April. That came a few days after club chairman Dave King had cast doubt on Murty’s future by stating the need to make the “best appointment possible” for next season.
It then became clear Rangers were short-listing replacements for Murty and last week, in the build-up to Sunday’s Old Firm Premiership fixture at Celtic Park, former Liverpool and England captain Steven Gerrard was firmly identified as King’s preferred candidate.
Murty endured another torturous 90 minutes against Celtic, who clinched their seventh consecutive title triumph with a record 5-0 league win over Rangers.
But as Rangers now look to close a deal to make Gerrard their new manager, Celtic manager Rodgers has expressed his dismay at the unfair circumstances which he feels Murty was forced to operate in over the past few weeks.
“I have real empathy for Graeme,” said Rodgers. “What that guy has had to go through in the build-up to these big games – I have have really felt for him. All the talk about his role and his position. I don’t like what seems to be happening, where you get thrown in below the bus, but this is a guy who has done everything he possibly can, I’m sure.
“As you build for big games, your focus should be on the field and on performance and I’m disappointed for Graeme that it wasn’t the case. You know there is always pressure and expectancy on these [Old Firm] games. If a lot of the background noise isn’t there, you can just focus on the game.
“This is a guy who, at this time last year, was heralded as a very good coach for young players and I’m sure with first-team players as well who really wanted to go over into his sessions because he really enjoyed his work.
“He goes into the role as manager and does a real good job in stabilising it. He then gets asked to come in and do it again. He’ll finish off his season and see where he ends up, but I have real empathy for him.”
Asked if uncertainty over Murty’s long-term future could have had an adverse effect on the performance of the Rangers players, Rodgers added: “I haven’t been in that position, so it’s hard for me to say. But from a manager’s perspective, you have greater stability and greater authority if you are in position [on a permanent basis], of course.”
After their title-winning celebrations on Sunday, Rodgers and his players headed to Tenerife where they will have warm-weather training camp this week. Celtic have three more Premiership fixtures to fulfil before they face Motherwell at Hampden in the Scottish Cup final on 19 May in their bid to become the first team ever to win back-to-back domestic trebles.
“It’s part of the preparation for that,” said Rodgers. “The players have been back at work since 18 June last year and it’s been a long winter in Scotland.
“We now have an extra week with the cup final, which we want, but it was always planned to go to Tenerife. There is a chance to train at a beautiful training camp.
“I’ve been there with Swansea and Liverpool before, you get some good training and some sunshine.”