“We are here to serve the supporters and the club,” Brendan Rodgers

The Celtic Star attended today’s media conference at Lennoxtown and spoke to both Celtic defender Alistair Johnston and the Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers who we asked about the Holy Trinity at Celtic – the players, manager and supporters and how that bond appears to have been restored.

Callum McGregor and Brendan Rodgers embrace following Celtic’s victory  over theRangers at Celtic Park on May 11, 2024. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Before speaking to the broadcast media, the fan media and hacks, unusually all in the one media conference the manager spoke to Sky Sports and here’s what he had to say to the subscription broadcaster who will show tomorrow night’s match at Rugby Park where Celtic can make certain of the title*…

After finishing that interview, Brendan headed into a packed media room at Lennoxtown. Here’s what happened there…

Q: Did you have fun at the weekend?

Brendan Rodgers: “We had a very, very good win. It was a great day for the team and the club. That’s our job. We are here to serve the supporters and the club. It is always a great way especially when you can beat one of your rivals. It was a very important and significant win for us and put us in a good place.”

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: What did it have to take at training? We know the mental side of the game but how did you prepare your players for this run-in?

Brendan Rodgers: “It started a number of months back. It is safe to say the first six months were awkward. There were so many things happening on and off the pitch. We stayed very unified and concentrated on our work and the processes of how we work.

“We knew if we kept chipping away we could get to this part of the season, which we are all excited about, to perform and that’s what the team has done. It is just a constant, a day-to-day thing, it’s an environment that’s created and the standards that we set.

“It takes players who are humble and it is the one thing that I say right up until this point is that there is a lot of glory and a lot of focus on the players that have been playing over this run and period of time as they have been fantastic but I can also pay tribute and recognise the achievements of the players that haven’t been playing and haven’t been in the squad sometimes.

Celtic v Motherwell –  Brendan Rodgers throws the ball to Anthony Ralston during the cinch Premiership match at Celtic Park, Saturday November 25, 2023. Photo Andrew Milligan

My recognition and acknowledgement to them is equally as proud as the players who are playing and doing well. How they have conducted themselves and trained every day allows for the sessions to be at the very highest level. If we had players that weren’t happy and every player wants to play but there is a way to behave when you are not playing and these guys have been absolutely magnificent.

“As a coach it gives you great pride to see that. It is not easy if you are not playing. Our preparation right the way through and the standards that the players have set has never wavered even when it has been a challenge. They get their rewards now and as I said after the weekend we are nearly there. We have got a really exciting three games left to finish the season strong.”

Q: How much are you looking forward to tomorrow night?

Brendan Rodgers: “I am looking forward to the game. We expect it will be a tough game for us and Derek (McInnes) has done a fantastic job with Kilmarnock. We haven’t been great in the two games but we had a half where we were comfortable in the game and we conceded a couple of poor goals and ended up losing the game 2-1. We are ready for a tough game against a team who are very effective, very well-coached and very well-organised. They have got experienced players and we have to be ready for the duels. We also need to be ready to play our football and that’s what we have been preparing for.”

David Watson of Kilmarnock scores with a header to tie the score 1-1 during time added on after 90 minutes. Celtic v Kilmarnock, Scottish Premiership, Celtic Park, 17 February 2024. Photo Stuart Wallace/Shutterstock

Q: You could go into that game as champions. Do you have any thoughts on tonight’s game (Dundee v theRangers)? Is it a game you will keep a keen eye on or sit down and watch?

Brendan Rodgers: “Not really. No. I will watch Tottenham v Man City once we have finished our work here. I’ll watch that game. Our only focus is on ourselves. Our only focus is preparing for the game tomorrow and outwith that we can’t control anything else.”

Q: Is it the type of thing that you would rather clinch on the pitch and do it yourself or does it not matter how you win league titles?

Brendan Rodgers: “For me. it doesn’t matter. Some people would prefer to win it there (Kilmarnock) and you have the celebration. It is about collating the points over the season and when it is mathematically rubber-stamped you take that.”

Celtic v Kilmarnock – cinch Premiership –  Matt O Riley during the cinch Premiership match on Saturday February 17, 2024. Photo Andrew Milligan

Q: It has been a long season and there have been plenty of twists and turns. Should this one go over the line where would it sit with you personally?

Brendan Rodgers: “From a personal level. You are right it has been a challenge. I am reluctant to speak up until it is done. We haven’t done anything as of yet because we have not achieved what we have put ourselves in a brilliant position. Everyone is anticipating what will happen and once it does I will probably reflect a wee bit more openly and longer with you but until then I’d be silly to focus on anything else other than the performance and winning.”

Q: Can I also just ask in terms of moving forward and continuing to grow? How much do you look towards what this club need to do next should the money that comes with winning this title and what it brings? How far down the road do you feel you are with continuing the growth of this squad?

Brendan Rodgers: “Well, we have to, that’s pretty clear. I am really excited about moving forward and moving into a bright future with the club. This season has been a real challenge and the squad is not as strong as I would like it to have been. What the players have given me until this point has been absolutely brilliant. Our job going forward next year is to be stronger, much stronger. That is something that is well underway.”

Q: There is quite a lot of speculation about Matt O’Riley and big clubs being interested in him. It happened in January as well. Is that something that there is going to be given serious consideration over the summer, especially with what happened in the January transfer window?

Brendan Rodgers: “No, not at all. We don’t have to sell. We are not in a position to do that. Of course, if something comes in just as it did in January then at a club like Celtic it will always be looked at. There is no need to sell. Matt has had a brilliant season for us and it great testament to his professionalism and how he has developed as a football player. Naturally, those players will attract attention if they’ve done well and you have done well at a club of this status and performed under pressure then the attention will come. It is not something I lose sleep over.”

Celtic v Kilmarnock – Brendan Rodgers right and Kilmarnock’s manager Derek McInnes before the cinch Premiership match at Celtic Park, Saturday October 7, 2023. Photo Jane Barlow

Q: Alistair Johnston was talking about the experience that players who have won titles before bring to the squad. How much of an influence do you think James Forrest has been in the recent run-in?

Brendan Rodgers: “I think on performances alone he has been hugely influential. It is not just in the games, James’ influence in training is first class. He sets a great standard as does the likes of Callum (McGregor). These are guys who have been here and done it over many years. The humility they have shown, how they set those standards on a day-to-day basis and how they manage the changing room is so impressive.

Brendan Rodgers and James Forrest are seen during the Cinch Scottish Premiership match between Celtic and Livingston at Celtic Park on December 23, 2023. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

“James has been outstanding since he came in. He maybe hasn’t played as much as he would have liked in the last few years but I came in knowing how brilliant he was for me and thinking he was going to be a cover player for us as there was a new generation of players to come in. The reality is and I said this a few months back. I could still see that he was our best winger. That is not detrimental to the other guys.

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

“He is getting older and maybe the press and intensity are not where I would want them to be a lot of the time but what you can never deny is how effective he can still be in the game. We were getting to that stage where I just felt that I needed to put players in that I knew were going to be consistent and I knew what I was going to get. I knew what I was going to get from James as I see him at training on a daily basis and he has done it for me often enough over many games.”

Q: Given the physical workload involved. Would you be supportive if James went to the Euros this summer? There is now a debate and not without reason.

Brendan Rodgers: “100 per cent. I think that there is no doubt that Steve (Clarke) will have in his mind what players he wants to bring but there is no doubt when you see James in the games and the effectiveness that he has whether it is to play for a period or come into the game and have an influence. I don’t think there is any doubt that he could still do that and he has proven it over the last period.”

Celtic CEO Michael Nicholson during the match between Celtic and Hearts on May 04, 2024. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Q: Do you envisage getting business done sooner rather than later in the summer?

Brendan Rodgers: “I think every coach and manager would like to be able to do that. There are definitely positions that we’d like to have finalised sooner rather than later. Ideally, if we can do that then great, but what’s really important for us this summer is getting the level of quality that I want into the squad. That will be key for the growth of this team.

“As I’ve said, the guys in this team have been fantastic this season, but next season we need more depth in the squad. In my past time here, I was going away to Ross County making eight changes. I was bringing into that team Stuart Armstrong, Ryan Christie – these guys have shown that they’re Premier League quality. I remember going away to Dubai to our training camp, and, in a proper game, the second team beat the starters 5-0.

“That gave me great food for thought then when I came back for the second part of the season. It was a proper football game. That told me the depth that was required and I think that’s something that’s definitely required here because we lost a bit of that in the summer, and no doubt that we’ll need to restructure that going forward. We’ve got some fantastic players here and we want to add to that.”

Q: Are you and the likes of Michael Nicholson all on the same page off the pitch?

Brendan Rodgers: “Every season has to be a learning season on and off the pitch. I’ve gained nothing but support from Michael and the people here. But going forward, the football strategy is very much there in terms of what it is we want to bring in. It’s not about numbers, it’s about increasing the quality of the squad. But that’s for later on, we still have a massive job to do over the next three games.”

Q: What have you made of the perceived furore over the Alistair Johnston vs John Lundstram tackle and were you surprised by it?

Brendan Rodgers: “That’s the modern game now isn’t it, everything gets analysed. John’s tackle is slightly mistimed, he catches high, and unfortunately for him in the modern game where there’s VAR and everything else, it’s easy to get sent off. And if that happens in an iconic game then, of course, it will be out there. Thankfully Alistair wasn’t too badly hurt. He struggled in the game and had to come off afterwards, but he’s alright and he’s available for the game tomorrow.”

Q: There is symmetry here as you are going back to Rugby Park five years later after Scott Brown scored and the fans sang a song about it. That put Celtic eight points clear that night and you have a chance to put it over the line again. Is it ironic that you are going back to where you left off five years ago?

Brendan Rodgers: “You could put it like that, I never really thought about it like that. It’s a place that I know Celtic have won the league four times outwith Celtic Park, so our aim is to make it five. If we can do that then we’ll all be really happy. At the moment, I’m just concentrating on a really tough game against a well-organised and coached team, who have done brilliantly themselves this season. From where they’ve come from and now to have European football, so that’s the only concentration as opposed to the past. That game in 2019 was definitely a tough game and a game that we knew we needed to win to keep the pressure on. But to eventually get through, that was significant. You do look back and see games that had more significance than others, but that one was certainly one of them at that time.”

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: You have spoken before about the Holy Trinity. That is back as strong as ever. What is the importance of the bond between the supporters, the players and the manager? How important is it for you?

Brendan Rodgers: “I think that’s important for everyone, not just for me. I mentioned it earlier, it’s probably been a little bit awkward in those first six months, and maybe even now for some supporters. They may never be able to shake off that feeling, and I respect that, and I understand that, and I’ll deal with that the best I can. What I will do is keep looking forward, and the best way to do that is with everyone together. We’ve seen that, in particular, over the last three months or so, that unity. We’ve had periods in the season where we haven’t had supporters in, the stadium’s been quiet, and for me, that’s not Celtic. Celtic is very much that unification of supporters, players, and managers all for one cause. When that comes together, we’ve seen it so many times over so many years, and we’ve seen it this year – when it comes together it’s such a symbol of strength. Our plan and hopefully our motion going forward is to stay that way.”

Q: How are you fitness-wise after the weekend? Will you be going strong on artificial pitch given what is at stake?

Brendan Rodgers: “We will always go strong, it’s just looking at and managing the risk. I’m pretty sure we’ll be strong tomorrow night. Everyone’s come out of Saturday fit and looking strong and looking well.”

20th August 2023; Rugby Park,  Scottish Viaplay Cup, Kilmarnock versus Celtic; Kilmarnock Manager Derek McInnes applauds the supporters after progressing in the cup

Q: You mentioned Derek McInnes and how he is doing the same at Kilmarnock as he did with Aberdeen. Is he one of the best managers you have come up against in Scotland?

Brendan Rodgers: “He’s an excellent manager with great experience. He knows what he wants from his team. You’ve seen the fantastic job that he did at Aberdeen. Everything that he did there, bringing them to European football, challenging for trophies, making them super competitive, it’s arguable that they haven’t been the same since he left. He’s obviously come to Kilmarnock and looks like he’s found that again and has an owner who really backs him. He did a great job getting out of the championship, stabilised in the first year and then able to build on it. They’ve been very, very good. I’m not surprised by it. I know Derek and his level. Whatever plaudits he gets, he thoroughly deserves them. He’s given great value to his work.”

Q: Hibs parted company with their manager today and McInnes is one of the favourites for the post/ Are you surprised given his achievements that he has not managed at a higher level?

Brendan Rodgers: “I think I’ve said that before. He obviously had spells down there, Bristol City earlier in his career. I think what Derek has shown is that he’s an excellent manager and I would always speak very highly of him if I was ever asked for any position. I think that’ll come, he’s still young, he’s still got a lot of years left as a manager and he still has the hunger. I’ve got no doubt he will get that opportunity. He seems very happy in the job that he’s doing at Kilmarnock, but I do not doubt that he’ll get other opportunities at a higher level.”

*Needing just a point IF theRangers beat Dundee at Ibrox this evening.

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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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