He may have found it difficult to adapt to the demands of Scotland’s dominant football club at first, but it seems that things are beginning to click for Ronny Deila at Celtic. As the successor to the immensely popular Neil Lennon, who left the Scottish champions at the end of last season, Deila’s first task was to win over the support of the Celtic Park faithful.
Elimination from the Champions League play-off round and an inconsistent start to the domestic campaign were not ideal, but Celtic had clearly seen potential in the young manager. Last year Delia led Norwegian side Strømsgodset to their first league title in 43 years, and it seems that the methods which brought him such considerable success in Scandinavia are beginning to work for Deila across the North Sea.
As well as replacing surprise pace setters Inverness Caledonian Thistle at the top of the Scottish Premiership with the added luxury of superior goal difference and a game in hand, Celtic also eased into the fifth round of the Scottish Cup with a thumping 4-0 victory over Hearts on Sunday. The club have already qualified for the last 32 of the Europa League despite losing to Red Bull Salzburg at home on Thursday.
However, while this may have been Celtic’s only defeat in ten games – suggesting that the players are beginning to understand Deila’s philosophy – it is telling that it came against opposition from outside Scotland. So dominant are Celtic in the top flight – especially with Rangers still working their way up through the lower divisions – that delivering a 46th league title would have been the absolute minimum requirement for the Norwegian in his debut campaign.
Outside the comforts of Scottish football, Celtic have been found to struggle. One could argue that a team that has already been eliminated from European competition not once, but twice (they were reinstated into the Champions League following Legia Warsaw’s disqualification despite losing to the Polish side 6-1 on aggregate, only to be defeated again by Maribor) does not deserve to be participating on the continent at all. Yet, for better or for worse, Celtic are still competing in the Europa League.
Indeed, it is in Europe’s second tier club competition that Deila can prove that he is the man to lead Celtic to greater success than they managed under Lennon. It will undoubtedly be challenging; the Bhoys have essentially become a selling club, and are significantly weaker compared to the halcyon days under Martin O’Neill when they reached the final of the competition in 2003. However, one still gets the feeling that they are a club that should be far more competitive in Europe.
Having secured qualification from the group stages, Ronny Deila must prepare his side for the last 32 of the Europa League, where there will be no easy tie. Do so successfully, and he may be able to convince the doubters that Celtic are still able to compete on the European stage – a stage on which a club of their size surely belongs.
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