Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic go into the Old Firm clash with Rangers on Sunday looking to inflict another heavy defeat on their Glasgow rivals, while only Motherwell stand in their way of a second consecutive treble – something no side has achieved in Scottish football history.
Rodgers has recently been linked with the Arsenal job but given that Celtic had won the title in each of the five seasons prior to his appointment in the summer of 2016, it can be difficult for those on the outside to assess the scale of his achievement.
Sky Sports reporter Charles Paterson has followed Rodgers throughout his time at Celtic, interviewing him regularly. Here, he helps to explain the significance of what the former Liverpool coach has accomplished in his two years in Scotland…
What did Rodgers change at Celtic?
What he’s done is raise the level of a team that was already winning, but make them even better. He has not actually changed very much in terms of personnel. There have been a few key people who have come in – Moussa Dembele and Scott Sinclair have been the two most prominent. But the bulk of the team that has been playing week in, week out was already here – nine of the side that started the recent 4-0 win over Rangers in the Scottish Cup semi-final were at the club before he arrived.
Essentially, this is a team that Rodgers inherited from Ronny Deila, which he has then improved. That comes down to good coaching, purely and simply, as well as a clear shift in attitude and confidence. It is testament to Rodgers and the culture that he has ingrained that they have improved so much. Celtic are fitter, stronger and technically better than they were when he arrived.
Rodgers has been urged to stay at the club by his captain Scott Brown
Many of the squad weren’t fully fit under Deila. Scott Brown is a strong candidate to be this year’s Player of the Year in Scotland, when two years ago he was struggling for fitness and form. This season he has played over 50 matches and played as well as he ever has done. He is just one example of Rodgers’ “revolution”.
Deila’s Celtic team won two league titles, but many of those players were still underachieving a little bit. A number of them have upped their game since, simply because of Brendan Rodgers. You speak to the players and they reflect on his abilities and influence all the time. They hugely respect him and there is a deference to his way of thinking.
Is it really that different?
Going through an entire season unbeaten, becoming Invincible, was something special; you’re not going to see that again. Celtic have actually dropped their levels a little bit this year, but they’ve still only lost three domestic games in two years under Rodgers. There are very few teams in any league in the world who can say they have operated at that level.
A winning mentality has been drilled into the players, because of what he is doing on the training field. They walked out onto the pitch at Hampden Park against Rangers last week with the swagger of a team that knew they were never going to lose. They gave the impression that they had the game won before it had even begun. In domestic games, the players just ooze confidence – and that has an effect on opponents. It mentally seems to deflate them.
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Derek McInnes’ Aberdeen side have been the closest to Celtic in terms of competition in recent years, but they’ve lost every game they’ve played against Rodgers’ Celtic. There was often a sense of nervousness about Celtic under Deila, as if you didn’t really know which team might turn up on the day. That vibe has been almost completely buried by Rodgers.
Deila was a manager who was brought in as part of a project by Celtic, mostly due to the circumstance of Rangers being out of the top division. Celtic saw the opportunity at the time to try and do things a little differently. Rodgers came in with a track record of success at the top level, but also with a point to prove to some who doubted him in England, and he has pretty much been able to do what he wanted at Celtic. He has changed the culture across the club, and brought it up to a virtually impeccable standard on and off the pitch.
What’s happened in Europe?
European football has been rather more tricky to evaluate. Rodgers has presided over some of Celtic’s heaviest ever defeats, and the defence has proved not to be good enough in Europe. Celtic have been battered at times by Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich.
It is the one area of his time in charge where he may perhaps feel he could have improved on; even considering the fact Celtic beat Zenit at home in the round of 32 in the Europa League, they were then well beaten away, and didn’t really look like winning that tie.
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In part, it is because of the way Celtic play under Rodgers. Neil Lennon got terrific results in Europe with an inferior team talent-wise, and he was able to somehow or other chisel out a result when he required it. The financial gap between Celtic and the elite of Europe has widened considerably in the five years since Lennon led Celtic in Europe, and Rodgers is well aware of this.
However he’s implemented a style of play, playing out from the back, which has won plaudits but has also at times cost Celtic in Europe. Some say he needs to be more pragmatic, but he has baulked at that idea when asked about it – “We’re trying to develop a way of working that’s about a footballing idea that will hopefully grow” – in short, his team won’t be diverging from that style of play any time soon.
Is he respected in Scotland?
Rodgers got, at times unfairly, ridiculed at Liverpool for some of the things that went on off the pitch, but there is a huge amount of respect up here for what he has done. There is a huge amount of respect for him as a coach. He is utterly relaxed, very professional and has been great to deal with.
If he achieves the double treble, there are supporters who would rate him up there with Jock Stein. Most of them revere him already, and a huge chunk of the fan-base feel he is here for the long-term; some cannot comprehend him considering leaving. He will go one day – he is a hugely ambitious individual – but because he is a Celtic fan, supporters think he will stay for the foreseeable future.
Will he be leaving Celtic?
He is contracted until 2021 and he loves it up here. He enjoys being in Glasgow and the environment, despite the pressures that exist here – he has talked at length about that. I think Rodgers is happy not being around the constant hype and expectation of needing to finish in the top four in the Premier League. He has commented on the culture of managers being chewed up and spat out that exists in England, and he doesn’t have to worry about that.
He is in a comfort zone in some respects. Whether he has been truly tested as a coach, it is difficult to argue that he has, but he has shown his quality by turning round a team that was playing average football into one that has been playing really well. He has proved his credentials.
Celtic vs Rangers
April 29, 2018, 11:30am
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However, he is an ambitious man. He said only last week that the job at Celtic was unfinished, and that he couldn’t be happier – however the lure of a club like Arsenal, or Chelsea where he has also been linked, would give him a serious decision to make. I feel he’ll only move somewhere that can challenge him, as well as challenging for honours. He’s now used to winning trophies, and a club that can match the culture, fan base, values and history of Celtic would be hard to find – but Arsenal would definitely tick those boxes.
There is a pressure of winning every week at Celtic that is unlike anywhere else, but because he is in a comfortable place as a manager and because the players are comfortable under him, he is getting those results. If you were to ask any of the players, their confidence is sky high right now. There is an air of expectation that they are going to win comfortably against Rangers again on Sunday.