The Scottish giants crashed out of the Champions League with a 6-1 aggregate defeat to Legia Warsaw and the club’s new boss must turn things around quickly or he will be sacked
By Stuart Milne
“We maybe have one good team but the other ones are dragging that team down.”
When new Celtic manager Ronny Deila made that comment about Scotland’s Uefa coefficient in one of his very first interviews to the press, he set himself up for a fall. Not only did fans of other clubs take an instant dislike to him and want him to fail – regardless of how true the line was – the expectation levels of the Celtic faithful increased as well.
And now, just a few weeks later, Celtic’s Champions League dreams have already been ended for another year following an embarrassing 6-1 aggregate defeat to the unseeded Legia Warsaw.
It’s not that victory over the Polish champions should have been a given for the Bhoys – defeat was always a possibility – but a 6-1 trouncing? That stings. And what makes it worse is that in the first leg, in particular, it could and – considering Legia missed two penalties – should have been a lot worse.
As expected, social media erupted on Wednesday night, with the more reactionary members of Celtic Park faithful demanding that the manager be sent packing on the next flight back to Norway. Deila, meanwhile, has come out and indirectly blamed his predecessor, Neil Lennon, for the club’s failure.
Last week, he lamented the “gruelling pre-season schedule” organised by his predecessor and, on Wednesday night, he blasted his newly-inherited squad for not being good enough for Champions League football – ignoring the success that Lennon had with enjoyed in the competition with almost the same squad.
Even though Celtic fans know that the team badly needs strengthening, comments like those will not help the Norwegian’s cause.
He’s been in the job for two months now and in that time has only signed two players – a semi-retired goalkeeper (Craig Gordon) and a flop Norwegian striker from Cardiff who made a terrible first impression in his debut game (Jo Inge Berget). The fans are going to ask why that is. Surely he knew they weren’t good enough already and he should have made the appropriate changes before it was too late?
And now, with the riches of the Champions League out of their grasp, it looks like some of his prize assets – like Fraser Forster and Virgil van Dijk – might be sold to compensate for that loss of income. All in all, it’s not looking great for poor old Ronny.
Of course, the chances are he’ll bounce back; after all, both Gordon Strachan and Lennon had disastrous European debuts and they became great successes at Celtic Park. Deila too – if he’s given the time and resources to rebuild the squad to his own specifications – should do the same.
And even though they are out of the Champions League, they still have a chance of success in the Europa League. Sure, the fans will moan about it now, but if they are still in the competition after New Year, the defeat to Legia will be forgotten about.
Then again, both Scottish football fans and the media have a rather insular view. Because Deila is foreign, comparisons have already been drawn with the former Rangers manager Paul Le Guen, and that just adds more pressure. He really needs to turn things around quickly.
And that’s where the other clubs in the SPFL Premiership need to sit up and take notice.
Celtic right now are a wounded animal and their displays over the last eight days have shown that they are far from solid – especially at the back. They will win the league again but that’s not to say they can’t be got at. It’s time for the rest of Scotland to attack Celtic; to believe they can be beaten.
As for Deila, it’s been said that he’s the sort of manager who works best when developing and nurturing young talent. On paper, that’s exactly what Celtic need.
Their business model should be one of bringing through either their own players or young talent from abroad, and then selling them on to bigger sides for massive profit. Unfortunately for Deila, what works in theory doesn’t always work in practice.
Celtic are a club whose fans have short-term expectations. The most important game is always the next game, and an Old Firm manager is always said to be two or three losses away from the sack.
If he doesn’t sort out the short-term now, fan pressure may mean he doesn’t have time to implement the changes he needs to make. The clock is ticking for Deila to get it right – his job depends on it.