Resilient Celtic See Off Reds
Those of you who have followed my Twitter feed and this website for some time will know I have not written many articles recently. Conversely, there was a time when they seemed to pop up several times a week, with topics ranging from the history of Celtic Football Club to current affairs. “Why then”, you may be forgiven for asking, “have you decided to write one today?”
Well, that is actually a fairly easy question to answer: “Ronny Deila”.
A little over five months on from the day he took up the managerial role at Celtic Park, the enigmatic Norwegian and his squad have – at times – generated many more questions than answers themselves. In fact, I don’t believe for one second that anyone within the Celtic support could have predicted the run of results and performances (which have not always complimented each other) we’ve all bore witness to since Deila’s first Celtic team took to the field away to K.R. Reykjavik back in the middle of July.
Already, there have been notable highs – such as the six-one domination of Dundee United in Ronny’s first home game, an unlikely away draw against Red Bull Salzburg and comprehensive hammerings dished out to Ross County and Partick Thistle – and yet equally, there have been some gut-wrenching lows – two dismissals from the UEFA Champions League qualifiers (including a farcical defeat in Warsaw wherein a four-one scoreline massively flattered us) and domestic losses to the likes of Hamilton (impressive though they have been this season) – to deal with.
Perhaps it is no surprise then that on days like today, when the prospect of defeat has stared us all in the face only to be vanquished by an unlikely late victory, our manager has shown a significant degree of passion and blown off a bit of steam. Whilst I do not think his position has ever been seriously questioned within the Football Club itself, sections of the ever Celtic-friendly Scottish media have positively purred at the prospect of heaping pressure upon thirty-nine year old Deila.
Ronny’s predecessor Neil Lennon, who is already showing himself to be a capable manager south of the border with a newly resurgent Bolton Wanderers, was no stranger to this media speculation, with the press questioning his decision making at every conceivable opportunity.
Yet, with the departure of Lennon – clearly a “Celtic man” through and through – there has been a noticeable shift in strategy at both Celtic Park and Lennoxtown as a previously unknown quantity has arrived. Whilst the Irishman’s sides played a fairly typical brand of British football, with speedy wingers often attempting to reach the byline or a designated playmaker knocking balls in behind the defence to a pair of strikers, the Norwegian has a more modern, if somewhat atypical style which he wishes to see his teams play, involving several advanced midfielders and a lone striker. Improved fitness has also become a notable focus of attention.
Clearly, in an ideal world, Ronny wants us to play like one of the great European sides of the moment, attempting to emulate their intricate passing with incisive movement and deadly finishing also. Some have pondered (with due cause at points) as to whether he is currently attempting to make a squad of individuals play top class football, many of whom are simply not capable of doing so (good players though they may be). This may or may not be the case, but in truth, that is a matter for a discussion on another day. Regardless, what is clear is that if he is given time and money, Deila is likely to overhaul a large part of the squad he has inherited.
After all there is a precedent for such personnel shifts, for of the fourteen players who took to the field against Ross County in the Scottish Cup semi-final of 2010, Neil Lennon’s first ‘big’ match in charge as acting manager – Zaluska, Hinkel, Naylor, Thompson, O’Dea, N’Guemo, Brown, McGeady, Keane, Samaras, Fortune, Crosas, McCourt and Rasmussen – eight were no longer present at the Club less than one year later and only two survive to this day at Parkhead.
With this in mind, if we now consider the team who took part in our worst defeat this season, that of the aforementioned debacle in Warsaw – Forster, Matthews, van Dijk, Ambrose, Lustig, Mulgrew, Johansen, Berget, McGregor, Commons, Pukki, Kayal, Izaguirre and Griffiths – we can already observe and dissect some clear alterations which have been made by the new manager before the January transfer window has opened.
Of course, the departure of the fantastic Fraser Forster left many pondering the fate of his replacement, Craig Gordon, but a string of exemplary performances have already made the Scotsman a favourite within the hearts of many Celtic supporters and, as time passes, one hopes any concerns of future long term injuries will begin to fade.
As for the outfield players, Efe Ambrose has found himself fall from the starting eleven to the bench (or entirely out of the squad) as both Mikael Lustig and Adam Matthews have both shrugged off the injuries which enforced their absences for a large part of the early season leaving Deila with no choice but to play the Nigerian, whilst Jo Inge Berget has disappeared from the Celtic teamsheets altogether and Teemu Pukki departed for a loan (and likely permanent move) to Danish side Brondby. A host of fresh faces, unquestionably the finest addition of which has been John Guidetti, have given Deila more options, and as such results have taken a marked upturn in the last couple of months.
Proving this point to some extent, the Celtic team who took apart Partick Thistle in the League Cup quarter final included seven faces who did not play in Poland. Clearly then, the Norwegian is beginning to consolidate his favoured squad. Including the defeat in Warsaw, Celtic only won three of ten matches thereafter, drawing another three and suffering four losses. However, if we include today’s victory against Aberdeen, we can now say Celtic’s last ten matches have brought eight wins, one draw (which would have been a victory had Leigh Griffiths’ late winner not been incorrectly disallowed) and one defeat. Now, from a standpoint focusing purely on results for the moment, that represents a clear and welcome improvement in affairs.
In terms of performances, whilst there have been some poor showings, statistics would also suggest that things are on the rise. During the last ten matches, the Celts have had the majority of possession on nine occasions, whereas the ten matches including and following the Legia Warsaw away tie only saw this happen six times.
Equally, whilst those first ten games which I have referred to saw us score sixteen goals whilst conceding fourteen, our last ten matches have saw us score twenty-two times whilst only conceding five. Carrying on this theme, our goals scored/conceded per shot taken ratios have altered from peaks and troughs of one goal scored to every twelve shots taken and one conceded from every five opposition shots, to a much more comfortable one goal scored per eight shots taken and one conceded for every eleven shots against.
On Monday night, I sat a few seats away from Ronny Deila at a supporters’ meeting which concluded with the manager discussing what it meant to him to lead the Football Club, as well as his footballing philosophy in general. As I said after his first television interview away back in June – having never heard of the gentleman prior to his appointment – “if he manages football teams as well as he discusses the game then he will be sensational”, and to this day, that point stands. Listening to Ronny Deila talk about football, particularly in person, is immensely enjoyable. The man’s love and passion for the game, coupled with an appetite to see it played a particular way, is infectious.
To hear the Celtic manager talk of his desire to see his squad play with “commitment and togetherness”, “higher intensity, higher tempo, more running and better passing” was music to my ears, as I presume it would be to most of yours. He also stated that “we are not there yet, we have to get better”, indicating he is aware improvements are required.
Talk and action can, of course, be two very different things. Questions have been asked of Deila’s team selections at times, as well as many other aspects of Celtic’s game, and one cannot hide the fact that not all has been well thus far this season. In this sense, I am no different from anybody else, as I bemoan poor performances or disappointing results just as any other when they come along.
However, having listened to Deila and more pertinently, having seen a Celtic side of his go a goal down at one of, if not the, most difficult away ground to visit in Scotland today, before coming back to record an important victory even in the face of adversity (having been reduced to ten men), I can certainly see signs of the “commitment and togetherness” he is attempting to instill in the team. This result alone personified this better than I thought possible – that was, at least, until the Celtic team and their manager approached the travelling Celtic fans after the final whistle. Any observer could tell there and then how much this meant to everyone involved with the Football Club, and such a collective feeling is very admirable.
In that moment, Deila will have bought a lot of good will even in the minds of his detractors, answering some searching questions with some big answers.
When we look back at the tenure of Ronny Deila with the benefit of hindsight in years and decades to come, we may yet look at today as an important day indeed, and therefore I felt it was an apt time upon which to end my writing drought.
And so I, along with many others I’m sure, will raise a glass to the Norwegian and his Celtic side tonight, dreaming of bigger and better things to come. Hopefully success shall breed success.