IT is just over three weeks since Dermot Desmond made a rare public utterance to reaffirm his faith in Ronny Deila’s ability to achieve sustained progress and long-term success as Celtic manager.
The private thoughts of the club’s major shareholder as Deila oversaw the dismal 3-1 Europa League defeat in Molde on Thursday night can only be speculated about.
But there can be little doubt that the Norwegian coach suddenly finds himself at a critical juncture of a tenure in which, so far, the numbers simply do not stack up in his favour.
As ever, the hugely likeable and unfailingly pleasant Deila talked a pretty good game as he mounted a robust defence of his record yesterday.
He insists he can see a positive future for the team under his guidance and remains convinced he is undertaking improvements of a squad capable of playing Champions League group stage football next season after two failed attempts.
Whether he is afforded another shot at getting to the stage Celtic prize most of all, however, must now be uncertain.
Deila’s work in European competition has been erratic at best and utterly wretched at its lowest points. Celtic have won only eight of their 23 continental fixtures since his appointment as Neil Lennon’s successor in the summer of 2014. Four of those victories have come against part-time Icelandic opponents, while in Europa League group stage football there have now been just two wins from nine matches.
There has been an apparent lack of tactical nous in too many of Celtic’s performances with Deila’s instinctive desire to play aggressive, attack-minded football merely leaving their familiar defensive frailties even more exposed.
Rather than solving that problem, Celtic seem to be regressing and have now conceded 11 goals in their last five European ties.
The current Group A campaign is still salvageable, despite taking just two points from their first three matches, but it will almost certainly require maximum points from the next two fixtures, at home to Molde and Ajax, if Celtic are to retain hope of reaching the last 32.
Anything less, and Deila will have presided over a further drop in standards after he managed to at least get that far last season before Celtic lost 4-3 on aggregate to Inter Milan.
The 40-year-old admits to a degree of worry that time could be called on his reign as Celtic manager before he has the chance to improve his European record.
“That is always a concern,” said Deila. “It is. But I can’t go around thinking about that, I have to think about performances. I have to think about how I get the players to play the best they can and together. If we get that, we can win more, I know it.
“I’ve felt pressure a lot of times, but I feel it every game we go into. That’s exciting as well, you learn a lot. It’s a good learning process for me and still I see light at the end of the tunnel and I see opportunities.
“You can see with all managers around Europe, it takes time to develop things. It doesn’t happen over one season and it is important to see the history of managers overall. Our overall goal is to go into Champions League again, that is the overall goal. Hopefully we will do that next year.
“We have to improve, individually and as a team, to concede fewer goals in Europe. I don’t think we have to change, but we have to improve. Life with a football team goes very up and down, you have to see the pathway to success. You have to bounce back but then bounce up the way as well and learn things.
“Thursday night was a performance I am not proud of and I don’t think any of the players were proud of either. We have to do better when we play away in Europe.
“We have had our ups and downs, but overall our performances in Europe this season have been better than last year. At that level, I don’t think we have played better than we did against Inter Milan in the last 32, that was maybe the best stuff we have done in Europe so far.
“But against Fenerbahce at home this season, we did a lot of good things but gave away two easy goals to draw 2-2. We could say the same with our performance in the 2-2 draw away Ajax. There was nothing to be embarrassed about it there. Against Malmo in the Champions League play-off, there were a lot of good things in the first leg but in the end it was not what we hoped for or what we deserved. Against Malmo away, we were poor and that was the same in Molde as well.”
Deila has experienced a lot of warmth from the Celtic supporters who have willed him to live up to the expectations the club built up around him when they plucked him from relative obscurity at Stromsgodset in Norway. That supply of goodwill, though, may be running dry.