Treading the draining path towards glory and dejection
Passion and tension on the pitch is also played out in Hampden technical areas
THE two extended technical areas that separate the raised dug-outs at Hampden and the perimeter of the pitch are covered with artificial rather than natural grass. It is probably just as well. Goodness knows what state the much-maligned national stadium turf – that, admittedly, stood up well over two semi-finals that went on for 120 minutes and then some – might have been in otherwise given the relentless back-and-forth prowling of the two men treading it.
The surface may have survived but there cannot have been much leather or rubber left on the shoes of Mark Warburton or Ronny Deila by the time they finally got home and wearily put their feet up. The Rangers and Celtic players did not stint for effort during one of the most compelling Scottish Cup semi-finals in living memory but the same could also be said for their managers who prowled their respective territories like caged animals, padding back and forth relentlessly as play raged on in front of them.
It was a largely solitary existence for both as they stood at the edge of their technical areas and peered out like a sea captain looking out from the bow of his ship. From time to time, they would be joined by their assistants – David Weir for Rangers, mostly John Kennedy for Celtic – who would charge back and forward for brief tactical meetings like messenger boys running errands. Those same deputies would also take the lead role when it came to remonstrating with the fourth official whenever a perceived injustice befell either team, although Deila could not help but also weigh in vocally following the incorrect throw-in decision by referee Craig Thomson that led to Rangers’ second goal.
There were persistent, largely futile attempts from both managers to guide, encourage and cajole their players. Amid such a din this was like playing Chinese whispers in the midst of a hurricane. Cupping their hands around their mouths – in an attempt to bolster the volume – did not seem to make a huge amount of difference. Instead sign language and gestures became the easiest way of communicating, both managers largely positive as they clapped their encouragement and tried to get more out of the players. There was, however, one extended conversation between Deila and Leigh Griffiths during the first half that continued with the striker shouting something over his shoulder as he disappeared up the tunnel at half-time. Deila, though, is nothing if not persistent, an arm around the shoulder encouraging Griffiths ahead of the penalty shoot-out.
Unsurprisingly given the sapping nature of the tie, both managers used their full allocation of substitutes to try to influence proceedings. Warburton, in a not-too-subtle message to chairman Dave King, had named just five replacements on the bench and would call upon Nicky Law, Gedion Zelalem and Nicky Clark, with Kenny Miller coming off at the start of extra time having run himself into the ground.
Deila’s first change was enforced – the injured Dedryck Boyata replaced by Eric Sviatchenko who would go on to make a positive impact – before Tom Rogic and Callum McGregor were later called upon in tactical switches. It was noticeable that Kris Commons, someone who has influenced so many Old Firm games in the past, was not thrown into the fray.
It took the frenzied drama of a shootout, ironically, to finally bring about a moment of calm for both managers. At that point, when it all comes down to a battle of wits between penalty taker and goalkeeper, then even the most decorated manager must feel a certain pang of helplessness, their powers all but rendered temporarily void.
Even then the loneliness of management was still apparent. As the rest of the Rangers entourage stood on the touchline, arms around shoulders, Warburton, in club suit and tie, stood a few steps away, a man alone with his thoughts. His calmness was perhaps down to the meticulous preparation that had been put in during the build-up, with Rangers having practised penalties, their takers lined up in advance. Across the divide, Deila, in tracksuit and trainers, stood alongside his coaches but without linking arms. It was quite the thing to witness both managers – as kicks were scored and missed – stand largely motionless, their bodies deadly still while their minds whirled with possibility.
Only when Rogic had fluffed the pivotal kick in the shoot-out were both men able to break from their trance, Warburton peeling away to celebrate joyously with his staff, players and supporters, while Deila’s head dropped briefly in dismay. They would be joined one final time, a handshake between the men a brief acknowledgement that both had shared the most dramatic and exhausting afternoon.
CALLING THE SHOTS: Ronny Deila and Mark Warburton patrol their technical areas as they yell encouragement . . .