• No excuses despite different game on Rugby Park pitch
  • The squad stories that sum up group feelgood factor
  • Calling on Belgian title triumphs in the coming weeks

Philippe Clement has spoken to the media ahead of the fixture with Kilmarnock. Here is what he had to say.

How do you feel about the challenge of Kilmarnock?

That it is a big one. We will approach that game like all of the games, with the respect for the opponent but also respect for ourselves to play our own game, although we need to adapt to a totally different kind of football because of the pitch. It is not easy but we did it before at Livingston and we need to do it again. There is only one thing important and that is getting three points. It will be a totally different game to what we normally play.

How much emphasis do you put on learning from the game earlier in the season?

The beginning of the season and the first game that they lost? It is a totally different story. There were other ideas, other players also. A lot of things have changed. I don’t think you need to put a lot of emphasis on that. The guys are focused and they know they need to adapt to other circumstances. They have respect for the opponent also, about how they are doing things. If I am right, in six Old Firm games this season they have won three, one draw and two losses. One time against us at Ibrox, that one I remember. We are going to go there full focus but it is one of those dangerous moments.

How pleasing is it to hear Jack Butland being linked with an England recall?

I would love that if he could be there because he deserves it, he is ready in that way. If he deserves it enough, that is the decision of Southgate, of course. He has been really good for the team, although he had less job to do the last couple of weeks. He keeps the same concentration, the same seriousness, he is important in the dressing room and training and he is going to be very important in the next couple of weeks and months because we have a lot of games to go and a lot of important games. You need people with personality.

What is different about the challenge on that pitch?

A lot of things. I made the comparison with the game of tennis and playing at Wimbledon or on clay court. It is a little bit like that. The ball goes faster so you need to be more precise. On a grass pitch, when you give a pass it slows down after a while. On an artificial it keeps its speed or goes even faster along the way. The ball bounces in a totally different way. If you give passes in the air or shots at goal, you cannot go with your foot underneath the ball like you normally do on a grass pitch. You need to adapt your body towards that. Also, the way of turning, the way of sprinting, the way of stopping is different. So that is a lot of things that are different but it is what it is. In the league, there is the decision for the moment that it is still possible to play on those surfaces. I don’t think in the Premier League it is possible, or in La Liga or in the top leagues. I hear in Scotland everybody is also convinced now it is not the best way to play football but we are going to go there to get the three points. I said it before also before Livingston, I don’t care if it is on that pitch or on a parking lot that we need to play, we are going to go there to get the three points and that is the most important thing.

Kilmarnock have shown they will play two up top – is that a different challenge?

Other teams have done it also. We know what we have to do in those circumstances. They can do it in different way than Kilmarnock and we will see. That is the good thing about being four months together, we trained on a lot of things and also things that we didn’t see that much with other teams. So the team is prepared whatever way they do it and that is important.

How is your squad?

The squad is OK. No injuries, or more injuries, after the last game. The only thing is that I cannot put Kemar Roofe in the selection again because of the surface. So that is a clear message from my medical staff that it is too risky after his injury and amount of injuries. In that way, it is a disadvantage to play on that kind of pitch. But we need to adapt again and it is a chance for another player.

Is this a dangerous fixture because of the pitch or the form of Kilmarnock?

Both. At the end, I will see danger in every game. If you don’t have respect for your opponents then you become lazy, sloppy. Kilmarnock, their track record from the last couple of months is really good. They are going to make it a huge fight, we know how they play and we need to be ready for that. My players need to be ready, not only me.

Have you been training on a plastic pitch here?

We done that today, yes. To get the feeling also. But we didn’t have a lot of time to train because it is a game every three days. We could only do it today.

Have other players come to you and said they want to play every game?

I think almost all of them! They want to play every game. When you are winning, they want to play all the games. All the players. If you start to lose games, you have less players who want to play all the games. It works like that. I think all of them, and that is a good thing. They have to focus on what they have to do to play a lot of minutes and do the right things for the team. Then they will get minutes. It is my job to think who we are going to pick every time and how we are going to do it as a squad. In the beginning it is always more difficult. It is not a new thing. It was the same in my other teams also in periods like that because it is the only way to be there on top every time and with the way we want to play football, with a lot of intensity. You cannot do it with the same 12, 13 players for months, every three days. It is impossible. The team understands the story now. Are they totally happy with that all the time? No. But they are totally happy all the time until now that they are in this good story now together and they feel also that they are winning a lot of games and they get enough minutes to shine, to be in the spotlight.

Do you feel those who are coming on have added determination to show they should start?

Yes, that is one part. But there is also a lot of togetherness in this group now. I will give one example. In my debriefing of the last game, we showed several things that we did well, that we could do better, like always. One of the things were the goals. There was a really good assist from John Souttar for the goal of Cyriel and one of the other centre-backs who didn’t play was really looking at him like… Well done! I told them also ‘guys, this makes my day’. It shows that you are really a team. If you are competing with each other and can be genuinely happy about somebody else doing something really good then you are in a team. Today I saw another example. One of the attacking players missed a chance and the other one made a sound like he was killing the birds and they both were laughing with it, although they were competing for a position. That is really strong. That I want to keep until the end of the season and then it is going to be a really good season if everybody keeps doing that.

Was the defender Leon Balogun?

I don’t want to say.

How different is that mood around the club and squad from the last five months?

It is not something you can force, you cannot give them a drink and suddenly you have this unity and this feeling. It is every day work, work together to convince them that it is the best way to feel good yourself also. It is not about playing 60 or 65 games every time 90 minutes. At the end, if you win trophies, two years later you don’t remember if you play 62 games or 47 or 33. You don’t know. And people don’t know. They only remember who were the guys who won something. That is what people remember. I hope that after this season people will remember a lot of players because they wrote already history by winning the League Cup and we want more. That is what we are working on.

How is Abdallah Sima? Is he on the original timescale?

He is on course, yes. But he is not yet training with the team. We know it is a long term.

What was the closest title race you had in Belgium as a manager?

Every time it was like that because in Belgium they had this idea to divide the points near the end. I remember a lot of things, that's the problem with my brain sometimes I remember too much! With Genk, the first title, as a manager, we were fighting with Brugge all season. We were in Europe for a long time, we were in the cup for a long time, we had a lot of games and a really small squad. I couldn't rotate like I'm doing here in the same way. Three weeks before the playoffs, our playmaker and the guy where all the offensive football was built around, he left to go to the MLS because there was a clause in his contract that he could do that so I couldn't be angry at the club. I started talks in January with him but in the end he went and he explained to me that he could not turn down this opportunity because it was something that would not only help him and his wife but also his children, money-wise. He showed me the numbers and it was crazy so at the end you need to let him go and you also don't have the power to stop him. It was a big blow and everybody was saying it was finished for Genk now. That was three weeks before the playoffs and the last game before the playoffs we played a home game and the other very important midfielder, Malinovskyi, after Pozuela left to go to Toronto , got a red card and he was suspended for nine games because he fell down and with his foot he touched the chest of another player and the committee said nine games. I went crazy in my head because you lose your No.10 and we didn't have another No.10 of high quality and you lose your No.8 also. For me, the nine games was a crazy result because he fell down and because of the movement in how he fell down. I know a thing about hips because I had a hip operation and the movement when the hip goes dead one moment or it breaks or your legs go back. So I went to a professor of a university to ask if I was right and he said, 'Yes, you're right.' So I asked him to come with me to the committee. We went together to explain the story about what happened. The committee understood and he got zero games so they went back on their decision because it was pure bio-dynamics. In the end, we won the title but there were a lot of stories before and it was an exciting period.

Do you think your experience will help you in the title race?

It will help me, I know what it is. I know what the dangers are and I try to explain that to my players. I know all the excitement and noise around it and living and looking at results of others and all the stupid things you can do that is of no use. I try to explain that to my players so that helps in a way, definitely with a  few players. That's why I said in the beginning we are only focused on ourselves. I made a mistake before when I was a players so I know really well what to do to win titles.

Will Mohamed Diomande continue to grow with the more games he plays?

For sure. Not only the next weeks, the next months and years. He's a high potential player and I don't think Rangers will be his last step. Of course, you need some luck with injuries in your career but if he steers clear of that he's going to make bigger steps because he has talent but also the right mentality to work for the team, be very concentrated and very focused.  Those are the things you are looking for when you go into talks with players. You can see what they can do on the pitch or what they're doing that you think you can improve as a gaffer but the most important thing is about how ambitious people are to evolve themselves and how they want to take in information and work around that. He is somebody with a really high focus on those things. It's like a sponge, he will get better and better the more information he gets and the more experience he gets the better he will become.

Can he reach the very top?

I think so.