Celtic win Scottish Premiership: Brendan Rodgers wins title again

Celtic win Scottish Premiership: Brendan Rodgers wins title again

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No helicopter, then. No shootout on the last day. No grand finale.

Instead there was the familiar sight of Brendan Rodgers with arms aloft, hands waving, face smiling. Another title. Champions again.

It was different in so many ways to the ones he won before, but exactly the same in terms of joy and pride.

Some among the Celtic support did not want him back, or were sparing with their welcomes when he did return, but they all looked in thrall to him at Kilmarnock after a 5-0 victory clinched the Scottish Premiership title.

Trophies have a magic quality of making any ill feeling disappear in a puff of smoke.

His first league championship in 2016-17 was an invincible romp, his second a more stuttering affair but comfortable in the end.

The third title he has overseen from start to finish had elements of imperiousness, but not many.

It was a victory forged on the back of belief and bottle, in the face of on-field shortcomings and off-field disruption.

It was a victory over Rangers and the rest, of course, but it was also a title won while having to deal with Celtic’s own private travails, of which there have been many.

Rodgers delivered in the end and what a ride it’s been.

This was the hardest fought battle in his time at Celtic, a world away from what he knew in his first incarnation when all he could smell in the morning air was roses.

For much of this season, it has been sulphur.

They are now sitting on 90 points, which is already more than the title-winning totals of 2012-13 (79), 2015-16 (86), 2017-18 (82) and 2018-19 (87).

If they win their final league game against St Mirren on Saturday, they will beat the haul from 2014-15 and match the numbers from 2011-12 and 2021-22.

A season of highs and lows

It does not feel like this season should sit so high in Celtic’s points pantheon of the 12 titles they have now won in 13 years, but it does.

Rodgers is not likely to engage with the question but one wonders where he would place it in the pecking order of trophies he has won as Celtic manager.

What is more satisfying – a romp when everything goes right or a scrap when you have to deal with so many things going wrong?

The holy trinity of the Ange Postecoglou years – Jota, Kyogo Furuhashi and Liel Abada – broken up.

Jota was sold for huge money, while Abada exited in desperately sad circumstances that had everything to do with life and death and nothing to do with football.

Kyogo has stayed but has not been the fluent presence of previous seasons. He has a goals tally of 19 compared to last season’s 35.

Cameron Carter-Vickers, Rodgers’ defensive leader, missed 33% of the league season with injury. Reo Hatate, a clever foil to Callum McGregor and Matt O’Riley in the midfield, missed 61%.

There were pockets of the season when Celtic were cruising, but only pockets. Mostly, they were digging deep in the face of a revived Rangers, who only latterly faded away.

In early December, Celtic beat St Johnstone 3-1 having trailed 1-0 at the break. Rodgers was apoplectic at half-time, the angriest he had ever been as a manager, he said later.

“The first half was nowhere near what you expect from a Celtic player and team,” he said. “Just the level of intensity and ambition in the game, the speed – we were absolutely nowhere near it.

“We got bullied for the goal and we were soft in everything, with and without the ball.”

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Ten days later they lost 2-1 to Kilmarnock, having already lost to them in the League Cup. Six days after that they lost 2-0 at Hearts with a display that, according to Rodgers, lacked desire and passion.

These were things we had never heard from him before.

“I want to apologise to the support base,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had to do that with regard to performance.” He called his team “really, really poor”.

In two separate transfer windows, Rodgers called for quality signings that he never really got. Not the kind of quality he wished for, that is for sure.

“We could maybe be a bit braver in terms of bringing in another level of player,” he said after the January transfer window.

In February, Celtic were toiling against Motherwell at Fir Park when Rodgers took off Tomoki Iwata and replaced him with Paulo Bernardo.

The Celtic fans booed the decision, an illustration of how stressed things were at the time for the champions.

“When you get booed for taking off a defender and putting on an attacker… that seems strange,” he remarked. “It’s a negative reaction, which I don’t understand.”

Celtic won the game 3-1 with two late goals.

Those storming finishes were a feature of the season.

In September, they were drawing 1-1 with Motherwell until O’Riley’s winner in the 97th minute. In February they were drawing 1-1 with Hibernian until Adam Idah popped up in the 92nd minute.

And then there was the game with Motherwell that was heading for a 1-1 draw until Idah and Luis Palma scored to make the game safe in the 94th and 96th minutes.

Those late winners were the difference between three points and nine points.

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Celtic rally in heat of race while Rangers buckle

Celtic drew 1-1 with Aberdeen at Pittodrie in February and the mood music around the fanbase was grim.

A banner was raised by some away fans at that game: ‘Celtic board – on your heads be it’.

Weird things happened. Rodgers was accused of casual sexism by For Women Scotland and the Scottish Feminist Network for something he said to BBC Scotland reporter Jane Lewis.

At a news conference in the wake of the controversy he said he felt “saddened for society” that so much was made of it.

In early March, Celtic lost to Hearts again. Rodgers talked about the incompetence of the officiating around certain decisions and was hit by a Scottish FA charge and a touchline ban.

This was not the all-conquering Rodgers of his first incarnation, it was not a man in total control of his domain.

He spoke of people writing him off and returned to the theme after once again seeing off Rangers last weekend.

Whatever the other challenges he faced, Rodgers’ dominance over Celtic’s nearest rivals was undimmed.

Celtic rallied under the heat of a title race while Rangers buckled and fell. It was not vintage but it was a triumph over hassle, a victory for nous and mental strength.

And now Celtic have all the Champions League loot to look forward to and will, surely, have a new focus on giving Rodgers the quality he has been calling for.

It’s a safe bet they will only get stronger in the summer. There is a feeling here that Rangers had their chance to catch them this season and did not take it.

If Celtic get their transfer business right, that chance might be a little while in coming around again.

Related Topics

  • Scottish Premiership
  • Celtic
  • Scottish Football
  • Football

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