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Brendan Rodgers & Callum McGregor exclusive: Celtic duo discuss title win, summer transfers plans & more

Plus, the pair open up on what happened during talks in Spain to convince Rodgers over Parkhead return and discuss the importance of their Old Firm wins over rivals Rangers; watch 'Celtic: Champions Again' on Sky Q and On Demand

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - MAY 18: Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers with Callum McGregor during a cinch Premiership match between Celtic and St Mirren at Celtic Park, on May 18, 2024, in Glasgow, Scotland.  (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

Brendan Rodgers has revealed there will be "change" at Celtic this summer as he looks forward to "a really bright future" at the club.

The Hoops saw off Rangers in the Scottish Premiership title race before beating their rivals again in the Scottish Cup final.

That cup double triumph marks a successful return to Glasgow for Rodgers, a move that only came to fruition after talks in Majorca with captain Callum McGregor who has opened up about those conversations and his excitement at the Northern Irishman's return.

In an exclusive interview for 'Celtic: Champions Again' - available on Sky Q and On Demand - the duo sat down with Sky Sports' Luke Shanley to reflect on their title win, Old Firm victories, the future and much more. Here's the full Q&A...

Let's go back to last summer, talk us through how your return happened

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - JUNE 23: Brendan Rodgers is unveiled as the new Celtic manager at Celtic Park for the second time, on June 23, 2023, in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)
Image: Rodgers was unveiled as Celtic boss in June for a second time

Brendan Rodgers: "I planned on taking a break out. I'd always hoped one day I'd be able to come back to Celtic, I just never thought it would have been as soon.

"When the call came from Michael [Nicholson, Celtic chief executive], I felt initially I did want to have that period out. But then Dermot [Desmond, Celtic board member] rang me and explained the way the club was moving forward.

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"I then got to meet Cal [Callum McGregor] and we had a good, long chat and he told me about the team and everything else. This is someone I'd trust with my life, from our first time working together, everything he gave me. I trust his opinion.

"So when he was talking to me, that's the time I got really excited.

"I was coming back a little bit sooner than I thought and knew it would be a bumpy ride for while and a bit awkward. But the only way you can change those minds is by working well and sustaining that over a period of time.

What was the meeting like in Majorca? What did you say?

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Brendan Rodgers & Callum McGregor open up on the manager's return to Celtic, including talks in Spain which helped seal the deal

Callum McGregor: "Initially, I was just pleased to see him. It had been a few years, but we sat down and spoke and very quickly, it became clear that he was interested. He was probing and asking about players, how the club was, how it was moving forward.

"Straight away, I'm getting excited because I'm thinking, 'it is going to happen, he's going to come back'. I tried to give my honest evaluation of where the club was and where we can get better and where we can keep pushing to move forward, because I knew that'd be a big thing for the manager as well.

"He wants to move [forward]. That's one thing I learnt from the first time he was here, he was always pushing for more and raising the standards higher up in the club as well.

"We knew where we wanted the club to go and I was excited about the prospect of working with the manager again… we were a young, exciting squad that probably needed the next level of guidance to get us to where we wanted to be. I thought the manager would be the perfect guy for that."

Was he the best person to replace Ange Postecoglu?

Ange Postecoglou has won back-to-back titles at Celtic
Image: Ange Postecoglou won back-to-back titles at Celtic

CMcG: "When Ange came in, he totally transformed the club again overnight. The feeling of the place was buzzing, the football was great and with young, exciting players as well.

"I felt the next level for us was having that real tactical understanding of why we're doing things on the pitch and the manager [Rodgers] is the best I've seen at it.

"The way he transformed our team the last time he came in, we had a real understanding on the pitch of why we were moving where we were moving, we had a bigger picture all the time about the games.

"I thought 'this is going to be a perfect transition for what this group is'. I think you can see now the difference from when we attack to when we slow the game down to speed it up again. It's a big credit to the manager and his staff as well."

Was it about evolution rather than revolution?

BR: "As a Celtic manager and coach, there's a demand to play a certain style of football. This is the benchmark that has been set over many years.

"Ange came in and did a brilliant job and formed a new team, built around Cal and they had fantastic success. So I came in with an idea that's fairly similar in terms of attacking.

"My philosophy has always been of a top boxer, is that you attack but also have to have your guard up at times. I like the team to attack and defend with aggression and of course over time as we evolve, then the flexibility within that."

Did you feel like you were 'back' after winning at Ibrox?

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Celtic won the first Old Firm clash of the season at Ibrox

BR: "That's a big game when you're a Celtic player or manager and those are the games you're really judged on.

"At that time, we went there and had important players missing. But what we showed that day was the spirit within the team. It's one of the biggest challenges as a Celtic player or manager to go to Ibrox, and to then go with no supporters whatsoever.

"To then go and win that game and keep a clean sheet, I felt really good after that game because we went in as the underdogs, under pressure so early in the season.

"But how the players handled it and stepped up, I came away from that game really enthused by what I'd seen."

Celtic were unbeaten for the first 16 league games of the season, but you said it was the angriest you had ever been at half-time at McDiarmid Park. What was it like showing that other side to you?

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In December Rodgers said he was the angriest he had been as a manager during the half-time break at St Johnstone

CMcG: "It was scary!"

BR: "I've never been that sort of coach. I work closely with players because I care for them and I want them to be the best they can be.

"I just felt in that first half, we were nowhere near the tempo and the level and quality and speed that I would demand and what the Celtic supporters want.

"But again, it's testament to the players. You can fall out with yourself and not accept it, or you take it on board and you go on and prove a point.

"In the second half, led by Cal, who brought the game to a different level and his team-mates responded to that. we were absolutely fantastic."

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Highlights as Celtic came from behind in the second-half to beat St Johnstone

CMcG: "That's one of the brilliant things about the manager is he speaks and you listen. It's in a calm way, but there are some serious words in there that you need to take notice of.

"So to see him a level above that and be angry with the players, it showed just how bad we were in the first half and how much we'd let ourselves down. Ultimately, that's why you get angry and we're all in elite-level football so we understand that 45 minutes of football can kill your season and you need to get it back.

"With that reaction at half-time, you think, 'we need to go here, we need to motor'. We were 1-0 down I think and we managed to win the game 3-1. Even after that, you're still angry because you think, 'why didn't we play like that in the first half?'

"There was a lesson in mentality there as well for the players and that's something we've been trying to stress as much as we possibly can, in that don't let 45 minutes of football slide by because sometimes that can be the 45 minutes that kill you."

How difficult was the dip in December with losses to Kilmarnock and Hearts?

CMcG: "It was really difficult. Again, we had the warning shot of the St Johnstone game and you think, 'we've responded well', but then we do the exact same thing in the other two games in a critical moment of the season.

"You think, 'we've not learnt our lessons and it's starting to manifest itself and create a problem and we need to try and get on top of it as quickly as we can'.

"Losing the game at Hearts at home was a sore one. I said to the players, 'we don't lose again at home because we don't want to get embarrassed in front of our own supporters' and the boys have responded brilliantly since then."

Brendan, do you think people personally and professionally have questioned you? Has it been difficult or did you try to use it to your advantage?

KILMARNOCK, SCOTLAND - MAY 15: Celtic Manager Brendan Rodgers celebrates during a cinch Premiership match between Kilmarnock and Celtic at Rugby Park, on May 15, 2024, in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

BR: "You'll always have critics and we're not made of wood. We all have feelings, we all take on board and understand there are critics in the game.

"I think it was kore surprising because I'd been here before and you're always here to prove a point. But in that sticky situation at the beginning of the season, I thought it was clear as to why we were in that position with key players missing and the fluidity of the team not quite there.

"I felt that if you had some football intelligence, you could see that. But it's also a good sign because it means the bar you've set is a high one and it's all a part of what comes with managing and captaining a club like Celtic."

Callum, did you relish the title race pressure?

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McGregor lifted the Scottish Premiership trophy after it was delivered by Santa!

CMcG: "It doesn't matter how many trophies you've won, you're always under pressure to perform and win the next trophy that's on offer.

"It's a 10-month season, I've always said it. The team that deals with disappointment the best will be the team that wins the league and I stand by that. We had a few difficult moments, but the process has been there, the trust has been there and the players have delivered when the pressure has been on and that's a combination of those points."

Why was the 3-3 game against Rangers a key moment?

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Rangers and Celtic shared six goals in an epic match at Ibrox

CMcG: "It's the biggest game of the season. You go with no supporters, in the last couple of years as well, and it's you versus them. Everybody wants to beat you and everybody hates you so you have to go with that siege mentality.

"I thought the football we played in a big pressure moment, in such a big game, in the first half in particular, we were unbelievable. That showed the mindset of the players - we weren't scared of what was coming, we were going to win the game.

"The players know coming off the pitch that we should have won that game and if it wasn't for a little bit of luck, we might have done that.

"That gave us the belief at that point, knowing the fixtures that were to come, we knew it was still in our hands and if we could go on and win every game, especially with the home game coming up, we would put ourselves in a really good position."

In Old Firms this season, what does it say to get three wins and a draw in the league?

BR: "It tells you everything about the mentality of the group. We prepare the team to win the game and the players have gone out and done exactly that.

"It told me everything about the strength, mentality and the belief the players have and how we're working."

How much did you enjoy the celebrations at Rugby Park?

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Inside Celtic's dressing room at Rugby Park as they celebrated winning the Scottish Premiership

BR: "It's special. With this club, there are big demands on you as a player, a captain and a manager - but that's why you do it. We all live to give the supporters that happiness because it really is their life.

"They spend their days and money on Celtic so to be able to give them that and see the joy at the stadium… I've also been lucky enough to have been around some big stadiums, especially in the Premier League.

"But we were in a little town in Scotland in Kilmarnock and the scenes after the game, it's unrivalled that support, that passion and that love that they were giving the team. It was really special."

Does it justify you saying 'see you back here in May' when you returned in the summer?

BR: "I certainly put myself under pressure, but it's what I thrive in. I wasn't saying it in an arrogant way, I was saying it with a belief in how I work, but I also have a belief in the players and we were going to do everything we possibly could to be there.

"It was nice for everyone."

CMcG: "It was a statement of intent that we're going to work the whole season to make sure we do come back in May and we are the champions again and we'll retain that trophy we've worked so hard to get.

"When you start putting the numbers together, there's a real hunger and desire in the building to make sure it happens time and again."

How does winning this title compare to those in your first spell?

Brendan Rodgers won two league titles during his first spell as Celtic manager
Image: Brendan Rodgers won two league titles during his first spell as Celtic manager

BR: "Being satisfied is very much that. My previous titles here were won in different ways, but I think we all understand the challenges we've had throughout the season.

"But the one thing that never waivered was belief in how we work and the trust and the spirt that we had together.

"But of course, you have to get the job done. You only have to look at this last period of games to tell you everything you need to know about this team, the mental strength they have, the hunger and desire they have, but also that ability to play under pressure."

What do you need now to kick this team on?

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Brendan Rodgers discusses his plans for the summer transfer window

BR: "I've always said about adding quality to the squad. There's going to be a natural change in the summer.

"Some of the players will have been here for three years and if you look at the cycle at Celtic, then there is normally that change in that third year.

"It's getting another step in the types of profile I would want within the squad to allow us to progress and develop.

"But this season, I've been really proud of the team and come the summer, we'll look to add those bits of quality. We've got the likes of Joe [Hart], who is retiring so we have to fill that void as well.

"But it's a really bright future, we have to take that into pre-season and then we'll look to fly from the beginning of next season."

What do you make of Callum's evolution from midfielder to the leader of the team?

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - MAY 18: Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers and Callum McGregor during a cinch Premiership match between Celtic and St Mirren at Celtic Park, on May 18, 2024, in Glasgow, Scotland.  (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

BR: "It's been so satisfying and it's been brilliant to see. I knew Cal from the youth set-up here but when he played for Notts County against my Liverpool team in a cup game, he was a young whippersnapper then.

"But then coming here the first time, how he grew in that time as a player and what I found is someone who has this incredible view of football, who is at ability of the very highest level, and just to see his personality grow.

"That grew in my first time here with big performances in big games. If you look at the biggest games I had here in my first time, he was at the centre of it.

"But to see him lead now and be the figurehead for the team, I've got such pride in him and what he's doing. I know because of the way he looks after himself, he's got a number of years to go to really influence this squad.

"So to see him go from that guy when I first came in in 2016 who was trying to force his way into becoming a permanent fixture to now being this legend of a player and captain and who is now going to go and win more, influence more. It's been so nice to see."

Has the manager changed from the first spell to now?

CMcG: "I would say no in a lot of ways in terms of the way he works and the quality that he shows in his work.

"Then in another aspect, everyone evolves and gets better with age and experience. What we've got is a real top-level manager and the club is lucky to have him and get him back.

"The way he works, the way he carries himself and the demands he puts on the club, he's a top manager and I love working with him. I just know I've got the confidence that he's going to push this group and keeping pushing until he gets us to where he wants us to be.

"In elite sport, you need someone to be pushing all the time because if you stand still, you'll get bypassed and for a club like Celtic to have someone like that lead it, it's so important."

How does this title win compare to your first one?

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Callum McGregor says this season's Scottish Premiership title win may be his most satisfying

CMcG: "It's just as special. They get even more difficult every year, they get harder, there's always a bigger target on your back and when you're a champion, everybody wants to beat you.

"With the way this one came about and how we managed to get over the line, a lot of pressure situations, I would say one of, if not the most satisfying one.

"I'm really proud of the players and staff and manager to get it over the line."

Watch 'Celtic: Champions Again' on Sky Q and On Demand

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