League Cup final: Brendan Rodgers Celtic's 'messiah' as Aberdeen flop at Hampden

Brendan Rodgers and Celtic squad
Brendan Rodgers and his Celtic squad savoured their League Cup triumph

Aberdeen won the pre-match, that's about as much as you can say for them. The fans and the team did their best work before a whistle had been sounded and a ball had been kicked.

Long before the teams emerged for the Scottish League Cup final, the Dons supporters filled Hampden Park with their colour and their noise and, if trophies were handed out for such things, they'd be serial winners.

If you could win cups for eye-catching displays of defiance, these Aberdeen players would be draped in silver right now. Derek McInnes' men before kick-off? Terrific.

As Celtic did their huddle, the Aberdeen men locked arms and lined up on halfway staring them down, as if calling on Celtic to do their worst.

It was like something you see when a minnow takes on the All Blacks in rugby, an act of togetherness in the face of New Zealand's crowd-pleasing haka.

That rarely ends well for rugby's small fry and it didn't end any better for Aberdeen. Having thrown back their shoulders and stuck out their chests in the preamble, their chutzpah vanished as soon as John Beaton blew his first whistle.

We could see what Aberdeen were trying to do before the match began, but when it did, their intentions weren't nearly as obvious.

This 3-0 victory was Celtic's day, their 100th trophy and the first in the reign of Brendan Rodgers.

In minutes, they put aside the notion that they might miss their absent creator, Scott Sinclair, and trampled underfoot the feeling that they might be physically and mentally drained having played 90 hard minutes against Barcelona on Wednesday night.

Aberdeen
Aberdeen faced down Celtic's pre-match huddle from the centre circle

None of that applied. None of their Hampden weakness of the recent past was in sight. None of the vulnerability of their losses to Ross County, Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Rangers in the Ronny Deila years was on show.

This was clinical. A professional hit, done with a smile. Scott Brown barely stopped beaming all day long.

Any Celtic manager can win a League Cup, let's be honest. Deila won it in his first season, but it didn't save him. What was different about Sunday was the feeling that Celtic are moving forward, not just on the domestic front but in Europe as well.

There was a trophy to rejoice in, yes, but it's the big picture that will please Celtic fans the most, the sight of a team coming together under the stewardship of a manager with presence, ambition and the air of a man who sees these kinds of days as mere stepping stones to improved performances on Europe's big stage.

They swatted the Dons aside. No Aberdeen player could get near Brown. No Aberdeen player could trouble Tom Rogic. No Aberdeen player looked like they believed in their own fighting talk, the stuff that said they had the guns and the mindset to take Celtic down.

Whatever the Aberdeen gameplan was supposed to be, it descended into a hesitant mess after just over a dozen minutes.

Celtic would have been expecting belligerence and physicality from Aberdeen. They didn't get it.

They'd have been expecting Aberdeen to be living in their faces, hustling and harrying them, denying them space and an opportunity to play. They didn't get that either.

James Forrest
James Forrest fired home Celtic's second goal as they eased past Aberdeen

Celtic must have been surprised by all the room they had to play. They were good in this final, but they didn't have to be great in order to cut Aberdeen open.

Moussa Dembele was given room but missed with a header. Rogic was given room and scored with a shot, James Forrest was given room and lashed one wide, then he was given more room and made it pay.

Room. Time. Opportunity. Celtic could have scored at least one more goal and wouldn't have been flattered.

For much of the second half, you felt like they were operating in third gear. It was that easy.

We can't damn Aberdeen for a gulf in class - they can do nothing to match Celtic's spending power. But this was a mile short of what they have shown against Celtic last season and even this season.

They lost 4-1 at Parkhead in the Premiership, but with three minutes left in that game it was still just 2-1. For a long time, they made it a contest. They lost 1-0 at Pittodrie, but that was a battle too.

Last season, Aberdeen managed to beat Celtic twice. Those are distant days on this evidence. In their dreams of narrowing the gap on the champions, this was the most abrupt wake-up call.

At the end, Rodgers insisted that every last one of his coaching staff take to the champions' podium with the players. Perched on the table in the middle of the celebrations was Celtic's own real-life elf, Leigh Griffiths.

Leigh Griffiths
Leigh Griffiths cut a jubilant figure as Celtic celebrated their League Cup victory

It might be strange to talk of the striker on a day when Brown, Rogic and Forrest were the stand-outs, but in Griffiths' story we see a symbol of the effectiveness of Rodgers' management.

Griffiths has lost his place in the team to Dembele. His professional pride has to be hurting and his frustration must be huge, but there hasn't been a hint of self-pity or a suggestion of a strop. Not that we can see at any rate.

That's a credit to Griffiths, of course, but also to Rodgers and the respect he commands in the dressing room. He has one trophy in the bag, a handsome lead in the league, Champions League qualification and a support in thrall. It's not been a bad six months for the Celtic manager.

As he walked around the pitch and drank in the acclaim of the fans, Rodgers said that it was an honour to share the moment with the Celtic fans - "my people" as he called them.

He didn't mean to sound like a messiah in the midst of his disciples, but on that lap of honour, it had the look of it.

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