‘If we bring our A game we have a fantastic chance of winning,’ Brendan Rodgers

Celtic Manager Brendan Rodgers spoke to the media at Hampden yesterday afternoon ahead of tomorrow afternoon’s first ever Glasgow Derby Scottish Cup Final between Celtic and theRangers at Hampden Park…

Here’s everything that was said by in Brendan’s last pre-match media conference of a season in which Celtic have won the Scottish Premiership and are looking to retain the Scottish Cup to complete the double…

Q: How do you assess the challenge in front of you this weekend?

Brendan Rodgers: “Any final is always a challenge and obviously, a Celtic-(the)Rangers final is a great occasion. But, for us, it’s really about focusing on our game and how we can win the game.”

Q: Does the rivalry add to the game?

Brendan Rodgers: “It can certainly add to the occasion but, from a football perspective, there’s no different approach to this game than to the other four games we’ve had in the league. We want to impose ourselves on the game. our intention is to win the game so our game plan and our preparations are all built towards that.”

Callum McGregor and Joe Hart lift the Scottish Premiership trophy at Celtic Park on May 18, 2024 . (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Q: Does your record here give you the mental edge?

Brendan Rodgers: “No, you can never have that arrogance. It’s not how we work. We have a humility in how we work, we respect every opponent we play whether that’s (the)Rangers or Raith or whoever, and we have to prepare for the game. We come into the game in the ideal condition. I don’t think there’s any doubt on that. We’ve been on fire the last few months, playing really well. There were lots of challenges for us at the beginning of the season – playing every three or four days, whenever  some really important players missing. That was a challenge. I think over the course, as the season has built up into the pressure months, the players have been absolutely superb in how they’ve dealt with that. So we arrive having won the league in a really, really good way and playing well. So we come into this one in really good condition.”

Q: How much satisfaction for you to win two trophies this season?

Brendan Rodgers: “For me personally clearly the satisfaction would suffice. But it’s more about what you give other people. For the supporters it’s everything – they live their life for Celtic – and especially a Celtic-(the)Rangers game. So to be able to deliver that for them would be great. For the players, it would be a reward for how their discipline has been this season. Discipline is one of the key elements of football, not just on the pitch but off the pitch. We stay very focused, we stay true to our game and how we want to work. The players have got their rewards for that as the season has gone on. So for me, yeah it would add another trophy. But it’s always been more about the satisfaction other people get from it.”

Q: Is there extra motivation that it is a Celtic v (the)Rangers final and to go unbeaten against them this season?

Brendan Rodgers: “No, the motivation is to win the game.”

Q: Would winning the double be the icing on the cake this season?

Brendan Rodgers: “The Scottish Cup is a historical competition and every time we come here to Hampden we want to win the big games and the big competitions. So, yeah, it would finish off a double for us which would point to a really good season.”

Celtic v St Mirren – Stephen Welsh left leaves the pitch after picking up an injury during the Scottish Premiership match at Celtic Park, on Saturday May 18, 2024. Photo Andrew Milligan

Q: How is the squad looking?

Brendan Rodgers: “In good condition. We have Welshy (Steven Welsh) with his shoulder but he has trained in the last few days. Everyone else has come through all the preparation. Fitness wise they are all in a good place.

Q: You have a special relationship with Hampden given the success you have had here. What do you put that down to?

Brendan Rodgers: “Everything suits us here. You come to Hampden and it is a big pitch and in the main, it is always in good condition. It is fast and we like to play a fast attacking game. When I first came here I said if you want to win and be multiple winners then you need to enjoy playing at Hampden. When we have arrived here we know that the surface should suit our game and we have a chance to go and demonstrate our football.”

Q: This is one of the few Glasgow Derbies that will have a 50/50 split. Is that an atmosphere you are looking forward to being involved in?

Brendan Rodgers: “Yes. I am really looking forward to that and next season when we will have a small percentage of supporters at the games. It always adds to the occasion and it’s what makes this game special. Even though the atmospheres have been incredible in both stadiums without away supporters, these games are better when both sets of supporters are there. I think it should make for a wonderful spectacle and hopefully a very good game and that is what we are preparing for.”

Q: Is it all down to that winning mentality that you have spoken about? Have you seen that come to the fore in the last 11 matches where you have won ten and drawn one?

Brendan Rodgers: “I think that tells you everything about the players and the circumstances they were in and how we could perform under pressure. If you look at the Kilmarnock game that was a game to win a title. That could have been edgy on a difficult surface. We were absolutely outstanding in that game. The level of our game, the football we played and how we tactically coped against a team who were well-organised and had proven to be very difficult opponents this season. That is a measure of the level the team is at and their concentration. There have been lots of pressure moments throughout the season, none more so than in the last couple of months and it is in those moments that this team has stood up. That makes me very proud.”

Q: This place seems to bring out the best in Celtic as they have won their last 10 Scottish Cup finals, it is some record isn’t it?

Brendan Rodgers: “This is just another one we want to win.”

James Forrest during the Scottish Premiership match between Celtic and St. Johnstone at Celtic Park on March 16, 2024.(Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Q: How delighted were you for James Forrest and his Scotland call-up after his incredible finish to the season?

Brendan Rodgers:“Yes. I am really pleased for him. I spoke to him this morning and he has had to get his money back on the holiday that he had booked. I am delighted for him. What I love about the Scottish boys up here – James and Callum – and all the other guys – in all my time up here in Scotland working with these players, I have been in other our clubs before with other nationalities and you get one or two who want to pull themselves out of international squads. Every one of these guys is so proud to play for Scotland. They all want to go. I can see the smile on James’s face and it is absolutely brilliant. It is great for Scotland as well. You have someone of that talent and quality who has hit form at the right time for Celtic and clearly for Scotland as well. I am delighted for him and Steve (Clarke) knows what he will get from him as I saw what he brought in my first spell here when he was absolutely outstanding for me at club level in the national team scoring hat-tricks. He has not featured in the past number of years as much as he would have liked but what he has always shown is that he has that quality that is required certainly at the international level and I am sure he will able to help Scotland. I am delighted for him and the other Celtic boys.”

James Forrest scores during the Scottish Cup Semi Final match between Aberdeen and Celtic at Hampden Park on April 20, 2024 . (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Q: Did you feel James Forrest could still hit the level?

Brendan Rodgers: “It’s an interesting one. I looked back over the last few years and James was an important member of the squad, but maybe wasn’t ‘t the starter that he once was. If you look at Liel Ababa and Daizen Maeda and Jota there were the players that were in front of him. He still had a very important part to play, even though the game time might not be so much and then we start this season again where he has been on the periphery at the beginning because of those players.

“Then Liel moved on and Daizen was injured and I always felt James was a top-class player. As the season went on and as I saw him more in training, I then had to make a decision and the decision was that for the team and for the club he had to play. I know what I am going to get from James. I get that high-level quality, he can look after the ball and create and score a goal and any deficiencies he has in his game now because he is older, we have to try to deal with that in other areas.

“I can’t sit here and say that at the beginning of the season, I knew he would do what he is doing now, but I knew his talent. I am so happy he has been able to demonstrate that and at the perfect time.”

James Forrest celebrates his goal with Callum McGregor during the League Cup Final at Hampden Park on November 26, 2017. (Photo by Steve Welsh/Getty Images)

Q: He’s a big game player, isn’t he?

Brendan Rodgers: “That was, for me, one of the key elements of bringing him back into the team. I knew what I was going to get. He has played in big games, made big contributions and, come the big games, he has scored big goals. So I am absolutely delighted for him because he is such a humble guy. He has worked hard every single day waiting for the moments and waiting for the opportunities and thankfully when they came you can see that he elevated the team.”

Callum McGregor celebrates at full time during the Scottish Premiership match between Celtic and theRangers at Celtic Park on May 11, 2024. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Q: Is it possible to relax knowing you have guys who are serial winners in the dressing room?

Brendan Rodgers: “I wouldn’t say relax. I would say that you still have to be super focused, there is no guarantee. What you understand as a manager is that you know what you’re going to get. In pressure situations that is invaluable. That’s why the likes of Callum is a top operator, and James has been over many years as well. His trophy haul is absolutely incredible for this club, as is Callum’s. I would  say I have an assurance on what I’ll get from them and of course, I know I can put my faith in them.”

Celtic v St Mirren –  Anthony Ralston celebrates with the Scottish Premiership trophy on Saturday May 18, 2024. Photo Andrew Milligan

Q: Are you delighted for Tony Ralston who is going to the Euros as well? He’s someone who comes in and never lets Celtic down.

Brendan Rodgers: “No, never. He will feature more for me next season. Part of this season was that Ali (Johnston) was the first choice. Tony came in and played some games and Ali had been out for a while and when he came back I needed to get him games to get him up to speed. That meant Tony hadn’t played so much. I know he is always ready because if he is not playing in games his training is the game. So he trains every day and his standard, his quality, his mentality is like that of a game.

“That’s why I can put him in against St Mirren in the last game of the season and he is running up in the 90th minute making a cross to score the winning goal. Why? Because he trains himself. He is a wonderful example of someone who treats his training like it’s a game so that when he comes in he is game-ready. You do that in your training, I know Scotland has a couple of injuries, but even with those players available Tony is a great option for them and has played at the highest level in Champions League games. He is a winner, he has that mentality and he would never let Scotland down ever.”

Celtic v St Mirren –  Luis Palma rcelebrates with team-mate Anthony Ralston after scoring the winning goal  during the Scottish Premiership match at Celtic Park on Saturday May 18, 2024. Photo Andrew Milligan

Q: Do you have a dilemma in the striking department for Saturday or is the Adam Idah v Kyogo Furuhashi selection problem a good headache to have?

Brendan Rodgers: “Exactly that. I wanted two players who have top-end qualities that I can use in different types of games or even what I choose to bring into that game.  Adam has been a real catalyst for us since he has come in, there is no question about it. He has elevated the team as much as he has elevated Kyogo’s game. He now has someone there who is a big talent who is only going to get better. Just being able to put him in to start or bring him in and give Kyogo a rest is great to have. I just know that whichever one I play, or if I have to bring one of the bench, they are ready.”

Q: What is the emotion of going into this game as the man with a double responsibility?

Brendan Rodgers: “It’s just focus. We had a great celebration last weekend but it was also a work day for us. We wanted to win the game, which was brilliant and the weekend overall for Celtic was good – with the women’s team clinching the league as well. There was a real good feeling, but as I said to the players at the beginning of the week, ‘you’ve had that relaxation, now it’s time to get focussed’. We have to do the work and the focus of the players in the work and the intensity have been at the highest level. So focus is the word. I said right the way through the season that we were calm and that’s our nature. It allows us to prepare every detail for the game.”

Q: You come into this game as favourite but does VAR add something to be wary of in one-off games?

Brendan Rodgers: “I think anything where it’s a one-off game means that the favourite tag doesn’t come into it because you just never know what will happen. You can lose a player, something can happen in the game. Our focus is on looking to bring our A game. If we do that then we have a fantastic chance of winning. In a one-off final anything can happen.”

Callum McGregor and Brendan Rodgers embrace following the victory during the Scottish Premiership match against the Rangers at Celtic Park on May 11, 2024.. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Q: Where does Callum rate amongst players you’ve worked with and how key was his return in April?

Brendan Rodgers: “It was critical. We have other players who can play in that position and do a really good job. We don’t have anyone in the squad who has the view of the game Callum has. He is up there with the very highest-level players I have worked with. In terms of professionalism, his preparation, he is constantly thinking about the game, the club, and the performance. I have been so impressed by him as a leader. When I was here first time he was one of the quiet leaders around the team. Browny (Scott Brown) was obviously a big influence and an absolutely immense captain.

“Coming back here and seeing how Callum leads has been so refreshing because he doesn’t need to scream, he doesn’t need to shout. He inspires others by what he does every single day, how he trains, and how he prepares. Him coming back was absolutely critical for this team because we don’t have many who see the game like he does. When he plays to the level he gets us through the pitch much quicker and he is really inspirational.”

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About Author

The Celtic Star founder and editor David Faulds has edited numerous Celtic books over the past decade or so including several from Lisbon Lions, Willie Wallace, Tommy Gemmell and Jim Craig. Earliest Celtic memories include a win over East Fife at Celtic Park and the 4-1 League Cup loss to Partick Thistle as a 6 year old. Best game? Easy 4-2, 1979 when Ten Men Won the League. Email editor@thecelticstar.co.uk

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