Brendan Rodgers pleased to end ‘challenging’ season with another championship

Celtic’s latest success was sweet for their manager.

The Celtic manager celebrates after clinching the title
The Celtic manager celebrates after clinching the title (Jane Barlow/PA)

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers admits his third cinch Premiership title was the sweetest yet after the most challenging season of his career.

Rodgers and his first Celtic team achieved an undefeated domestic campaign in 2016-17 before securing an unprecedented second consecutive treble.

This season has been far from plain sailing but negotiating some stormy waters has made reaching the destination – courtesy of a 5-0 win at Kilmarnock – even more special.

Rodgers’ return last summer was met with a mixed reaction as some supporters struggled to forgive him for walking out to join Leicester in February 2019.

After the appointment, the North Curve Celtic Twitter account, the online home of the Green Brigade, reposted a photo of the banner they displayed at Tynecastle in the wake of his departure: “You traded immortality for mediocrity. Never a Celt. Always a fraud.”

Rodgers soon received a very hostile reception as he walked over to their section after a goalless draw against St Johnstone, and the only time Celtic fans sang his name during the season was when the Green Brigade were banned, during an emphatic win at Hearts.

The temporary absence of the ultras, and the impact on the Celtic Park atmosphere, was one of many challenges Rodgers and his side faced.

Rodgers dealt with departures and injuries to key players, apparent frustration over the quality of summer signings, none of whom started at Rugby Park, the unscheduled exit of Liel Abada amid geopolitical tensions, fan dissent towards the board over the January transfer business, and a resurgent Rangers.

Celtic fans celebrate in the stands
Celtic fans celebrate in the stands (Jane Barlow/PA)

However, there appeared to be a unified appreciation of Rodgers from the away fans at Rugby Park.

When asked if it was his sweetest achievement, the former Swansea and Liverpool manager said: “There’s no doubt, because I was tested this year for lots of pressure, right the way through.

“I think the awkwardness of it….and I totally respect that for the supporters and the feeling they might have had, and that lingered on.

“There were moments in the stadium and I knew my job as the leader and manager was to somehow pull this together and we’ve been able to do that.”

The 51-year-old added: “When I look at the titles we have won here, they’ve all been special in their own way but this has definitely been the most challenging for so many reasons and some out of football.

“I’ve never had my style focused on so much. I was a coach who broke through and became a manager at 35, and my key reference has always been my style. So to come here and have the accusation about my style not fitting felt strange.

“But I knew from seeing the players and what the team was missing it would come and we now look like we are at the start of the season. I don’t think anyone could complain about the style of football we saw, on a really difficult surface.

“But I never doubt. I have complete faith in my work and what I do and it was just about time, and we came through when it mattered.”

Rodgers appeared emotional when asked about the fans singing his name, and added that the whole experience had been touching.

Celtic fans unveil a banner of Tommy Burns
Celtic fans unveil a banner of Tommy Burns (Jane Barlow/PA)

There was a pre-match tribute to Celtic great Tommy Burns on the 16th anniversary of the death of Rodgers’ former mentor, who was Reading manager when he started off as a youth coach there.

“I think it was a really nostalgic day, and it started off at Seamill,” the Northern Irishman said. “We had our pre-match in the hotel there. Seamill was a place where I used to look at pictures of Jock Stein and all those players way back in the day, they used to do pre-season there.

“Then coming to the stadium knowing it was a tribute to Tommy. Ironically he’d have been 67. To get the victory in the style of which he would have loved watching, was really, really special.”

Hearing the fans signing about Brendan Rodgers “coming home to lead the green and white” was another throwback and a sign that the relationship is well on the way to mending.

“Well, hopefully it can get to that but I have to earn that,” he said. “Nights like that, performances like that, winning titles, that of course builds that bond back closer again.

“Listen, there might be some guys, which I respect, who might never understand and might never turn, but I’ll cope with that the best I can.

“In the meantime I’ll prepare this team to win and build this club to be successful. And nights like that will play a great part in everyone connecting again.”