Celtic: Ronny Deila too focused on European exploits

Despite natural concerns about reaching the Champions League group stages, new Celtic boss Ronny Deila also needs to focus on getting ahead in the Scottish Premiership.

Ronny Deila on sidelines (v Morton - 6th March 2016)
Tough baptism: Deila – the surprise choice to replace Neil Lennon in the Celtic hotseat – has largely struggled to adapt to life in Glasgow (Picture from Sky Sports)

WITH rich rewards from a financial and playing perspective, it is natural for Celtic’s concentrations to be firmly fixed on progressing in Europe.

Ronny Deila has had to learn the hard way after being launched into the deep end since succeeding Neil Lennon as manager with the Legia Warsaw debacle and two Champions League exits as well as his much-censured activity in the loan market bringing plenty of criticism from all quarters.

The baggage of intense scrutiny that is readily attached with such a prestigious managerial post has cast a shadow over his settling-in period.

After Maribor put pay to their hopes in Europe’s elite competition on Tuesday, attention quickly shifted to Friday’s Europa League group stage draw in Monaco while the transfer window remains open until the late hours on Monday night.

Understandably, taking to the field in the Scottish Premiership, where the Hoops are expected to breeze past what is put in front of them with ease, slid down the agenda.

But as Inverness and Dundee have now shown in their past two weekend fixtures, league business does not – and should not be allowed to – take care of itself.

The much-publicised absence of Old Firm rivals Rangers has left no significant challenger to Celtic’s throne, something early front-runners Caley Thistle may have something to say about, but this should not be taken for granted.

Their recent domestic dominance, through a hat-trick of league titles, has taken the edge of the Scottish top-flight with the strength in depth of the Parkhead club’s multi-talented squad proving enough to cruise over the finishing line each season.

But in the cups which have often made their way to the east end of Glasgow come in the spring, Celtic have faltered in recent years.

They last laid claim to the Scottish League Cup in 2008-09, suffering humiliation at the hands of Kilmarnock, St Mirren and Morton amongst others while their hands have been on the Scottish Cup just twice in the last six campaigns.

Re-asserting their supremacy in both competitions may not be a priority but is just as important from a manager’s point of view to keep the trophy cabinet well stocked up.

From the early months of Deila’s stewardship, there is clear evidence to suggest the primary focus has been on reaching Europe’s top table and, with a healthy £25 million windfall at stake, the approach was logical with the club’s best interests at the forefront.

With the qualifying rounds kicking off in mid-July, the time for the former Stromsgodset boss to get his feet under the table in his new job was nominal and the margin for error was trifling.

But now the Scottish season is well underway, Celtic’s hunger to achieve sustained success in the league cannot dissipate and – with Hibernian, Hearts and Rangers bringing unprecedented excitement to the Championship – there is an extra reliance on the Hoops to entertain to maintain spectator interest in the Premiership.

The four-in-a-row factor is an added incentive to maintain motivation but not a given by any stretch of the imagination – as the growing ambitions of Aberdeen, Motherwell and Dundee United can testify to.

In preparation for hosting the Slovenian champions in the must-win play-off second leg, Deila made 10 changes for the trip to the Highlands to take on early league leaders Inverness.

It was a decision which backfired spectacularly as Caley Thistle bossed his much-changed side and deserved the three points they earned.

Even the manager’s pre-match comments ahead of the clash with Dundee were based around injury absentees, the Europa League draw which had already received a devoted press conference of its own and his own credentials as a coach – with little or no mention of their upcoming opponents.

Disregard for Dundee: Deila had little to say about his Scottish Premiership opponents before Sunday's match against Dundee (Picture by Adam Higgins, courtesy of BBC Sport)
Disregard for Dundee: Deila had little to say about his Scottish Premiership opponents before Sunday’s match against Dundee (Picture from BBC Sport)

It goes without saying that recruitment to strengthen the pool of players and research on future opponents that are technically superior to yourselves is essential but not to the extent that constant emphasis on other matters affects league performances.

Despite all the class and quality on show at Dens Park, the Hoops could only stutter to a draw against the newly promoted Dark Blues and were second best to Paul Hartley’s side for long periods.

As opposed to discussing in length the shortcomings that existed in the performance, Deila’s post-match interviews evolved around the omission of Virgil van Dijk from the line-up and the various sub-plots which are threatening to seriously derail business on the field.

The 38-year-old is undoubtedly a meticulous planner and a first-rate coach but his knowledge – or perceived lack of it – about league rivals is certainly questionable.

Arriving straight from the Norwegian Tippeligaen and suddenly having to give chapter and verse on St Johnstone’s style of play is a step into the unknown somewhat.

The passionate Celtic fans, who witnessed their team lose just once in the Premiership last term, will always ensure that high standards are maintained and expectations are met.

Deila has received their full backing thus far but that could soon change for the worse should results, which he will be largely judged upon, go against them.

Although there are no immediate concerns that the seemingly impossible scenario of Celtic failing to win the title could become reality, time will tell if Deila can replicate the degree of comfort with which the championship was clinched under predecessor Lennon.

Sunday’s share of the points in Tayside left the Hoops without a win in four games in all competitions and gave Deila another stern reminder that complacency on any scale cannot be tolerated.

Games of football are, after all, won on the pitch and not on paper.

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