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Celtic v Rangers: Brendan Rodgers' passion is already rubbing off on Hoops, says Bonner

By Julian Taylor

Published 09/09/2016

Heat of battle: Gers ace Kenny Miller and Celtic’s Nir Bitton fight for possession in last year’s Scottish Cup semi-final clash
Heat of battle: Gers ace Kenny Miller and Celtic’s Nir Bitton fight for possession in last year’s Scottish Cup semi-final clash
Brendan Rodgers

Passion and presence. Just two of the essential ingredients which Brendan Rodgers has brought to Celtic, who fully intend to win the opening Old Firm game of the season at Parkhead tomorrow.

Even by the fierce standards of this fixtures' preamble and hullaballoo, this is a hugely anticipated showdown against Rangers. It will be Ulsterman Rodgers' first taste of the frenzied Glasgow derby.

There tends to be a period of relative uncertainty when a new manager checks in at a major club, but Pat Bonner noticed a clear, fresh vibrancy across Glasgow's east end right from Carnlough man Rodgers' summer arrival.

Former Celts goalkeeper and Republic of Ireland legend Bonner feels the Rodgers methodology is taking shape ahead of schedule. With three successive victories to kick-start their SPFL title defence and qualification for the Champions League, a genuine buoyancy exists at Celtic Park.

All this confidence will be tested tomorrow, however, when newly-promoted Rangers hope to deflate everything Rodgers has infused around the place so far.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Bonner admits: "Brendan does have that passion and the fans know and love that. He hasn't been brought up in the Celtic tradition in the same way as previous managers like Davie Hay and Tommy Burns for example, but he has always known the club from afar.

"He has developed a really good team in a short time and although we must credit Ronny Deila before him in winning the league last season, there is a new positive atmosphere at Celtic.

"Looking at the league situation so far, Celtic are off to a great start. Brendan has created a nice atmosphere which is key to any group of players who want to succeed."

Former Liverpool boss Rodgers' arrival has been an undoubted factor in persuading better players to look north of the border. Scott Sinclair, Moussa Dembele, Kolo Toure and keeper Dorus de Vries head the new Bhoys.

Sinclair, a £4m buy from Aston Villa, has linked up superbly with Dembele and free-scoring Leigh Griffiths, a well-established presence.

Bonner said: "They are all good signings who have come with big experience at the high end of the English environment.

"Brendan already knows Kolo Toure from their Liverpool days as well as Scott Sinclair who has come in, bringing great pace, goals and excitement to the team. Dembele is good, but he's young and a work in progress, so it will be interesting to see what kind of team he puts out.

"Brendan speaks a lot of sense about the game and you have to respect what he has done so far. The Old Firm game is, of course, different, and Brendan - and Mark Warburton too - will see that. Having passion for the club really does help.

"I'm surprised Brendan has achieved as much as he has done already since arriving at Celtic. He has achieved qualification to the group stages of the Champions League which, given all the qualifiers to get through so early in the season, is a remarkable achievement.

"It's good for Scottish football, it's good for Celtic and good for Brendan who will take the club forward."

Rangers, naturally, are as hungry to win at Celtic Park as ever. But having dropped points against Hamilton Academical and Kilmarnock, they haven't quite set the Premiership alight. Bonner agrees with the notion that the Ibrox men remain in transition to an extent.

"Mark Warburton had to bring in new players and whether or not they will be an improvement we'll have to wait and see," said Donegal native Bonner. "I always thought this season would be a consolidatory one for Rangers after promotion.

"Rangers will always have that expectation but we'll be able to make a more solid judgment on where they really are after the weekend. Mark's approach is quite like Brendan's in terms of attacking football but he needs to be careful with his full-backs going forward.

"Rangers did have to bring in experienced players and you can see that in Clint Hill and Philippe Senderos.

"What they bring from the top level in England is so important. This is different from what even they are used to so can they adapt and balance?"

Talking of experienced figures, it's impossible to ignore Joey Barton, another poised for his first taste of this fixture. The ultra-confident Rangers midfielder has spoken of his supposedly superior ability compared to Celts counterpart Scott Brown. It is a much-anticipated micro-battle.

"Both Joey and Scott are good midfielders and natural leaders," explained Bonner. "Both of them will want to get dug in because they are winners. Joey Barton is a very good midfielder, he's strong but we have to wait and see how they both play against each other.

"Brendan seems to like Scott playing in front of the back four and building moves and Joey does a similar job for Rangers, so they might not be in as much contact with each other.

"Joey loves big occasions. This is exactly why he came to Scottish football. He didn't come just to knock around against moderate opposition. He'll be up for it. But no matter what type of player you are, you have to go out and enjoy it all, particularly as you get older, otherwise you may as well go off and do something else."

Ultimately, Bonner believes Rodgers will chalk up the desired win to propel Celtic's momentum.

"I would have to say that Celtic, being at home, playing good football and scoring lots of goals, will be favourites," he added.

"The game will also show Rangers exactly where they are as a team and how much progress they have made.

"From my experience - and Brendan will probably feel it too - the game flies past in a blur. There's always so much tension and you want to get the first Old Firm game out of the way and hope you don't make any mistakes.

"If you can win the first derby game then you feel you're in the hunt for the rest of the season. Plus, of course, if you win you do get the chance to walk down the street afterwards."

Belfast Telegraph

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