If there were sportswriter types back in the days of the Roman Republic – Plutarch, Suetonius and Appian were historians, born much later – almost all of them would have tipped Pompey Magnus to win the Battle of Pharsalus on 9 August, 48BC. He had the advantages. He had picked the ground. He had almost twice the men and more cavalry.
Back then, when two Roman armies faced one another, it was the one with the numerical advantage which triumphed. And that makes perfect sense as they had identical equipment, identical training, they were well provisioned and the generals had probably read the same books and been brought up learning about the same battles by their contemporaries.
So, if you’d tipped Pompey to win that battle, you’d have been amongst the great majority. Especially as the man himself was a battle-hardened war hero who had commanded troops in countless other conflicts, including against the remains of the army of Spartacus, the Illyrians, he had brought to an end the Third Mithridatic War and completed the conquests of Syria, Egypt, Pontus and most of the East.
Magnus literally means “the Great.” That reputation was not won book-keeping.
But if you’d stood in the forum, waiting for the Acta Diurna, the government published notices informing the citizens of events far and wide, in excited anticipation, and with a sense of irony (it was Caeser himself who instigated the publication of these circulars for public consumption), clutching your signed “betting slip” with Pompey’s name scribbled on it, you’d have gotten the shock of your life when the details of the battle came out.
Because, of course, Caesar won the Battle of Pharsalus, easily, in what ranks as one of the most astonishing military victories of all time.
As good as Pompey was, as smart and as ferocious as he was considered to be, his former partner and co-consul in the First Triumvirate was better.
Caesar went into that battle the underdog, but he’d been that before and smashed aside the competition. In his most famous victory, at Alesia, the Gauls had three times the men he did and he faced both an entrenched army and one approaching from the rear.
He ordered his men to construct an enormous double fortification, one to keep the entrenched army cut off from its supply chain and the other to hold at bay his attackers, and in a display of both strategic and tactical brilliance he overcame the odds and won.
Pompey and his soldiers were fighting for a bright and shiny ideal; The Republic. But having been branded “enemies of the state”, Caesar and his armies were fighting for their lives. And whilst Pompey himself was a supreme commander, his soldiers, by then, were not the razor-sharp troops commanded by Caesar, men who had already been through a war with their general and who knew what it was like in the blood and smoke of battle.
At first, the battle proceeded along more or less conventional lines. Which is precisely where it went wrong for Pompey The Great. Both armies lined up in three separate blocks, with Caesar’s left flank protected by the river. His small cavalry force was protecting his right flank.
Pompey, seeing that, put his cavalry on the left, and as the first two of Caesar’s “blocks” advanced to meet Pompey’s men he decided to use his cavalry to smash Caesar’s “weak” right flank. It was textbook stuff. Except they had, in a manner of speaking, learned from the same teachings, and Caesar knew exactly how to counter what should have been a devastating blow.
He had assembled a “fourth line” of infantry, hidden behind his own smaller cavalry force and personally instructed them to hold come what may. Their job was to leap up and stab at the horses using their “pila”, the javelin which every Roman infantryman carried and which was typically hurled at the enemy in the initial charge. Caesar’s unorthodox tactic, of having his men use it as a short spear to poke at the mounts, worked.
Pompey’s cavalry ran right into the ambush. Hundreds died. The horses panicked. They turned and fled. Caeser’s own cavalry, and his third block of infantry, smashed into Pompey’s left flank, which disintegrated. Most of his army routed without ever drawing blood. His losses were in the thousands, with some sources putting them 15 times those of Caesar.
That’s how battles are won, that’s how wars end, that’s how history is made. With great leaders, great men of intelligence and sophistication who work with the tools at their disposal and use them to craft victory, no matter the odds, no matter how unlikely. Men who understand, and are qualified to make, decisions about the tactics and strategies of war.
That’s why we won today. Our manager is better.
That’s it, it’s just as simple as that, and those arrogant, aloof fools in our boardroom can kid themselves all they like about their strategy being vindicated and Brendan having the tools to do the job after all, but this is down to him, not them.
This is the validation of what this site has been saying all along; the greatness of Celtic comes from putting the right guy in the dugout and in a summer of incoherent policy, that is the one damned thing these people have gotten unequivocally right.
Let the rest of the doubters quiet just a while. Rodgers is what this site has argued since he was linked with returning to the club; an elite level boss, capable of great decisions and devastating changes on the fly. One of his greatest triumphs before today came in that same ground, when with a ten-man team he brought on a second striker and watched as Odsonne Edouard became an instant hero with a spectacular goal.
I am chuffed for him today, and for the rest of us. Because this is something to build on now, this lead of four points, with us having been to Pittodrie already and now to this place, and here without the benefit of a single away supporter in the ground.
There are two ways that great generals win battles and turn the tide of war; the first is to do what the enemy least expects, and at half time my good friend John Foley reminded me of the German generals Manstein and Guderian who masterminded blitzkrieg and essentially told Hitler how to win the War in the West. Few in the German high command thought that panzer units could operate in the forests of Belgium but the unorthodox concept of using armour to drive through Holland and Belgium and circumvent the Maginot Line worked flawlessly.
The other way to win is to show the enemy exactly what he does expect, and at Pharsalus Caesar did exactly that, in order to lure Pompey into the trap he had set. See, Pompey knew that Caesar was outnumbered and that in order to even present his army in such a way as to leave no immediate gaps in the line he would have to thin out their ranks. He certainly did anticipate that, but he never for a second thought that Caesar would do so to the extent that, according to some historians, those lines were only six men deep. … and this was brilliant because Caesar did that so he could recruit the best men from every legion to form his “fourth block,” his fourth cohort, who Pompey did not expect at the battle, and that is what turned the tide that day.
I’ve spent the past week or two anticipating today, and if I did not present total confidence in public I was certainly doing so in private. Tony Haggerty and I had this discussion just the other day; his own thinking has been precisely on the same lines as mine, that today would belong entirely to the manager and the decisions that he made.
Ive not been talking about The Mooch and his team’s style of play for nothing, nor pointing out that Derek McInnes was able to read it easily.
I didn’t believe for one second a manager like Brendan Rodgers would succumb to such one dimensional garbage. Nor did I mention Liam Scales and the “trial by fire” for nothing. The trial by fire was a short process; only the strongest survived it. I knew if he got through the first ten minutes that he would grow in confidence.
What I didn’t say, but remembered well, is that he has had a standout performance against The Mooch and his tactics already, as an Aberdeen player. .. he even scored that day.
At half time I was ecstatic with how we had performed. You will know every ignorant idiot in the media by the way they talk about that first half, about a defence in disarray and an Ibrox team which could have scored at will or whatever way they choose to frame it. They created nothing of note. Their best two chances actually demonstrated the discipline Rodgers has been drilling into this team all week long … the offside trap has rarely been sprung better.
The “goal “ they scored will be put down as a lapse in concentration by Lagerbeikle; it was nothing of the sort. The minute he realises his delay in passing the ball has put him under pressure he turns with it, shields it with his body, protects it and makes it so the only way he can lose it is if the attacking player commits the foul; it’s actually excellent from him, and whilst other people were cursing him I was waiting on VAR overturning a decision so obviously wrong even they could not possibly have let it stand. It is as clear a foul as you will ever see.
VAR was asked to do very few things of note today; for all my bitching about officials it has gotten them all absolutely on the nose. There is not the least doubt that the operators have made good calls today based entirely on what is in the rulebook. There are people like Boyd who are bitching; let them. Their only argument is that the rules should not have applied to their team. What a pity that the officials decided to interpret them perfectly.
And when we’re talking about perfect interpretations, how many people lost their minds over the team selection?
Ha! The precise problem I highlighted earlier on, about putting new guys straight into a team where they didn’t know their team-mates was only one of the reasons Rodgers did not select a single one of them in the starting line-up and why the one he did put in the squad didn’t get onto the pitch, although I really did think he would at some point.
No, just from watching the way we played today it is obvious that the manager has spent the whole week drilling this team and getting them to recognise the rightness of his approach.
To take even one of them out and to replace him him with someone unfamiliar with those plans would have been ruinous. Which ir precisely why he did not do it.
Rodgers could have made a crowd pleasing decision today to field the new guys, all of them. That would certainly have presented the enemy with something they didn’t expect … but I think that’s exactly what they would have expected.
Instead, Rodgers worked with the guys he knew would be available, watched every minute of the opposition he could and designed everything to counter it, and it worked beautifully.
Where were the guys who didn’t have any experience of this kind of encounter? As at Pharsalus, they were on the defeated team. It was The Mooch who threw untested players into this environment, it was The Mooch who played guys he didn’t know could handle the pressure.
God, today has been Rodgers just owning this guy, every step of the way.
That’s why we’re four points clear. That’s why we’re champions.
That and the lethal cutting edge of Kyogo, a player who is ten times the player any of those on the other side are. His job is not to defend, not to win the ball in critical areas, not to drift about helping team-mates … it is to wait, patiently, for the killer moment at which to utilise every skill he has to put the enemy to the sword. There is a reason that every military has its elite troops, and a reason that a good general knows where and when to use them.
Oh man, that was wonderful today and all the more so for every “talking head” and expert who did not put two and two together to make four. They looked at the battle lines and drew conclusions which were nothing but simple minded bullshit. They showed no understanding of the tactical nous of the two men in command, or the battle readiness of the troops.
Not only did the roof not fall in, as one idiot predicted it might today, but those of us who actually watch the game and care about it, and who don’t just see it through our own small-minded prejudices saw clearly that there was a path to victory for Celtic today which depended on discipline and good decision making.
Yes, things could have gone wrong – at Agincourt, for example, in spite of the brilliance of the tactics, even a change in the weather could have made the outcome radically different, but I was nearly certain that Rodgers would turn this one on its head and wreck the so-called “conventional wisdom.”
Because it was based on nonsense anyway.
Fear and loathing are, tonight, right where I thought they might be.
Stalking the halls of Ibrox and their fan forums, and looking at the likes of Keeviins out of the mirror.
Christ almighty, this is their job, this is what pays the bills, and they don’t know half as much about it as they pretend to … it makes you wonder what other mistakes they are making where it matters.
But tonight belongs to Brendan Rodgers, the tactician, the strategist, the master of all his surveys . Those who doubted that we had a man in the dugout who represents quality, a man who epitomises the Real Deal … take the next two weeks to think it over.
In Rome, a conquering general was entitled to a triumph – a parade through the streets of the city itself, with his army behind him, to commemorate his greatness as a commander.
Do you think that honour was given to the Senators who gave him his command?
It’s not just a lesson to the Ibrox club and their media lackeys but to those on the board as well.
This man is worthy of the highest honours and the utmost support.
It is up to them whether they give it to him or not, but today he has more than earned it … in spite of them, not because of them. And ultimately, that might be his greatest victory today.