BRENDAN RODGERS is back in charge of Celtic after an absence of over four years.
The Irishman won seven successive domestic honours during his first spell as manager after arriving in May 2016.
It was a rollercoaster two and a half years before he departed Parkhead in hasty and controversial exit.
Life was rarely dull when the charismatic gaffer was around.
In another CQN EXCLUSIVE series, we are celebrating Rodgers’ second homecoming by going back right to the start of his Celtic adventure.
Author Alex Gordon, who has had fifteen Celtic books published, including ‘50 Flags Plus One‘, ‘CELTIC: The Awakening‘ and ‘That Season in Paradise‘, opens the pages of another publication, ‘The History Bhoys‘, to chart the progress of an extraordinary character.
THE moment Wizard of Oz Tom Rogic stepped inside Graeme Shinnie onto his cultured left foot in the 16th minute, there was only going to one winner in the 2016/17 League Cup Final on a brisk, invigorating Sunday afternoon on November 27 2016 at Hampden.
Aberdeen had arrived at the national stadium on a tidal wave of positivity and promises and there were many who insisted the Pittodrie outfit had a genuine opportunity of postponing Celtic’s bid for their 100th major piece of silverware.
Those beliefs were buried amid the rubble of rash optimism before the interval had arrived.
Rogic, an Australian playmaker with the happy knack of conjuring magical goals out of nothing, had already put Derek McInnes’ side twice to the sword during the season. He netted in the champions’ 4-1 triumph in Glasgow in August and followed that up with the only goal of a tense Pittodrie occasion in October.
Could he keep the run going in the Cup Final? Or had the Dons learned from their harsh lessons?
THE FINAL LINE=UP…Back row (left to right): Craig Gordon, Moussa Dembele, Erik Sviatchenko, Emilio Izaguirre, Jozo Simunovic and Tom Rogic; Front row: Mikael Lustig, Stuart Armstrong, Scott Brown, James Forrest and Patrick Roberts.
We didn’t have long to wait for the answer. Jozo Simunovic determinedly pushed forward out of defence before sliding a pass in front of Rogic, idling on the right. With skipper Shimmie trying to force him down the line, the classy Celt cut inside onto his trusty left foot and curled a low shot past the stretching Joe Lewis. It was exquisite in its execution.
Twenty-four minutes after his team-mate’s masterly strike, James Forrest latched onto a Rogic pass just inside his own half and jinked and shimmied his way through the heart of the retreating rearguard. Anthony O’Connor and James Maddison were beguiled by his neat and nimble footwork.
The winger, rejuvenated under the guidance of Brendan Rodgers, drove with pace and menace as the fans in Mount Florida held their breath in expectation. The Celtic fraternity were not to be disappointed.
NUMBER ONE…Tom Rogic fires in a left-foot special.
As a frantic Andy Considine attempted a last-ditch intervention, Forrest took aim and let fly from just inside the box and his deadly-accurate blast flew like an arrow straight and low past Lewis at his right-hand side.
The ball strangled itself in the rigging behind the fallen Dons keeper at precisely the same moment the travelling supporters realised their dreams of a Hampden sensation had evaporated.
It was all over in 64th minute when Forrest, producing a Man of the Match display, raced onto a pass from Rogic before being felled by O’Connor. Little doubt about the penalty-kick award and likewise the outcome as Moussa Dembele strode forward purposely and deftly piloted the ball into one corner as Lewis moved to the other.
On the rare occasions the Dons threatened, Craig Gordon was there to keep them at bay. The Scotland international, a month before his 34th birthday, had gone through the tournament with conceding a goal and he smiled afterwards: “That’s always important for a goalkeeper and the men in front of him.
NUMBER TWO…James Forrest leaves the Dons defence in chaos as he turns away after scoring a superb goal.
“And we’ve got guys who can score goals from all different angles, so we’re looking really good at the moment. It’s a great team to be part of and we’re in a good place going forward.”
Emphasising the excellence of the Celtic showing was the fact they had played in a gruelling Champions League encounter against Lionel Messi-inspired Barcelona at Parkhead the previous Wednesday. They lost 2-0, but might have deserved more against the Catalan superstars who killed the contest with a dodgy penalty-kick in the second-half.
However, that did not prevent Brendan Rodgers from beaming brightly as he held aloft his first silverware as Celtic manager while exclaiming excitedly: “I am delighted for the football club. It’s about six months and a week since I came in.
NUMBER THREE…Moussa Dembele strokes in the penalty-kick to seal the triumph.
“We talked about what we wanted to achieve and how we wanted to do it. We are certainly well on our way to doing that. I was very pleased with the performance.
“It’s something tangible to show for our efforts. Everyone has talked about the great start and the great football, but you want something to show for it. This was out first chance and I felt the players were magnificent. For me, my job is to manage and bring success to Celtic.
“I am proud to be here as manager and to bring a trophy to the people I love, to the club, to the support and the players.
“It’s a huge privilege to be the manager at Celtic and to have the first trophy with my own people is very special. It’s a really good feeling and I am delighted for everyone. It’s great for the confidence and sets us up very well.
“We have a huge job here to sustain this and build on it. But at this moment in time, after six months, it’s a great achievement.
“It was an outstanding performance. To play with that level of control and quality in a Cup Final, along with the players’ football ideas, was amazing.
SILVERWARE CELTS…Brendan Rodgers and skipper Scott Brown with the League Cup, the first of seven successive domestic honours for the Hoops double-act.
“We scored three good goals and we always looked a threat in the game and, very importantly, the team defended very well, were aggressive and pressed the game at the right moments. Tactically, they played at a high level.
“We have had a lot of games following Champions League matches. Aberdeen had two games in 30 days and obviously had the full week to prepare.
“But if you look at the intensity and physicality of my team, it really demonstrates how hard and how well they are working on a day-to-day basis and how well they recover in games.
“What we are trying to achieve is an aggressive way of playing offensively.”
*TOMORROW: Don’t miss the sIxth instalment of the remarkable Brendan Rodgers Story so far.