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Our Brendan is adored at Parkhead, but even he can't surpass Stein

By Julian Taylor

Brendan Rodgers is, undoubtedly, a successful modern coach for these carefully scrutinised times.

Yet this week we had a reminder that, throughout football, there are few clubs who embrace sentiment quite like Celtic.

Half a century has elapsed since the Lisbon Lions became the first British team to lift the European Cup, providing Scottish football with its finest hour. "John, you're immortal," quipped Bill Shankly - never a man for understatement - to manager Jock Stein as the sun set over the post-match bedlam.

The 1960s really were a golden age in Scotland. In 1967 the national team humiliated World champions England on their home turf, Rangers reached the Cup Winners' Cup final and, of course, Billy McNeill, Jimmy Johnstone, Stevie Chalmers and all the other gilded Celts shone on that shimmering Portuguese evening, carving through the catenaccio of Inter Milan's imperial egos.

In the course of a Glasgow civic reception, plus various events to commemorate Celtic's marvellous homespun feat, a testimony to the earthy character of Glasgow as much as the ability of the players themselves, the contemporary Hoops clinically go about their business.

Who knows, maybe all this Lions nostalgia is helping Rodgers' treble quest. The focus, comparatively speaking, has been off Celtic as they sight a domestic clean sweep to cap an invincible campaign, with only Aberdeen in the way.

One surprising reminder ahead of today's Hampden showpiece is that, if successful, this would be only the fourth treble in Celtic's history and the first since 2001 under Martin O'Neill (above).

Rodgers is nearly there. And there haven't been any off days for his focused, ultra-professional Celtic charges this season. Having racked up 106 points and goals en route to romping the Premiership, plus five wins over Aberdeen across league and cup, it's practically inconceivable that the Ulsterman is going to fail now. The Dons will have to enjoy rare fortune to halt this subjugating express, fuelled from the springs of the Glens of Antrim, Rodgers' homestead.

Methodical, determined, mindful: Rodgers is all of these things, but he's certainly not the "new Jock Stein" as Celtic's bullish chief executive, Peter Lawwell, lavishly claimed. Stein was that unique pillar of the game and decades ahead of his time. On the other hand, Rodgers is 'merely' a fine coach and the Parkhead man of the moment.

As befits his role, Lawwell enjoys making big pronouncements and, while Rodgers - nor anyone else - will never eclipse Stein's vast achievements, he has, unquestionably, a presence about Celtic Park. The players, in their tangible hurry to achieve, know who their quietly serious boss is.

Rodgers deeply appreciates those important elements; the demands to succeed, Celtic's place in Scottish society, the influence of figures such as the late Tommy Burns, and the prestigious nature of manager. These details still matter.

Casual chat of the Ulsterman making haste for south of the border remains just that. He is on a huge salary, loves Glasgow, and on several occasions has spoken of his genuine professional and personal happiness.

With Scotland conquered for the foreseeable future, the task of reaching the last-16 of the Champions League is next on Rodgers' agenda, despite painful tankings by Barcelona and Borussia Monchengladbach last autumn.

This afternoon, however, it's a clash with the Premiership runners-up. Blistering starts have been a running feature of Rodgers' Celts all season and a repeat of an early three-goal salvo at Aberdeen earlier this month is possible. The effusive riches available, from Leigh Griffiths, Callum McGregor, James Forrest, Scott Sinclair and Stuart Armstrong, are wholly capable of prematurely ending this contest.

The Dons, while currently a better side than dismal Rangers, must pick up on how the Scottish champions coasted to victory over their Glasgow rivals in the semi-final on the same wide Hampden surface. Derek McInnes' men offer danger on the flanks with Jonny Hayes and Northern Ireland winger Niall McGinn - who plays his last game for Aberdeen today - but can they afford an expansive approach?

Better, perhaps, to attempt to thwart Celtic with a swollen midfield, getting to grips with, in particular, Scott Brown's influence plus the foraging of wing-back Kieran Tierney. The granite, of which the city of Aberdeen is famed, is the symbolic ingredient to any hopes of a surprise. Celtic under Rodgers cannot be outplayed or out-thought in a technical sense.

Incredibly, 27 years have passed since the Pittodrie side last tasted Scottish Cup success, when they eventually wore down Celts in a penalty shoot-out. Aberdeen had a raft of top-class operators in those days, including Alex McLeish, David Robertson, Brian Irvine, Jim Bett and swashbuckling Charlie Nicholas, who planted his spot-kick before returning to Parkhead thereafter.

That team was evidently superior than this modern unit. Somehow, then, McInnes must outfox Rodgers and lift a weight which accompanies a side which, although promising, tends to fade towards the end of the season. A 30-point gap behind Celts in the Premiership reflects this reality.

McInnes, 45, is still learning, although he possesses shades of Walter Smith and Dick Advocaat-type steel, unsurprising given a history as a Rangers midfielder under his old Ibrox managers. Back in November, the Dons chief was deeply hurt at how easily Celtic brushed his team aside in the League Cup final. Time to make amends?

Captain Graeme Shinnie, Kenny McLean and Rangers-bound Ryan Jack usually excel in Aberdeen's mid to front areas. McGinn, meanwhile, can enjoy a last hurrah against the club where he was surplus to requirements a few years ago.

Rodgers is pleased that Celtic haven't dipped either in terms of results or psychologically since confirming the title. The Hoops' momentum, pre-final, is intact.

A final surge will ensure a deserved treble. Cup-chasing Rodgers is adored in Glasgow's east end - however, immortality remains a distant dream and the preserve of Stein, the overlord of them all.

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