In outgoing Celtic manager Ronny Deila’s moment of triumph at Tynecastle yesterday, a defence of a title gave way to a defence of his management. Like the league win that triggered them, there was little edge to the celebrations that followed the 3-1 victory over Hearts that effectively made the five-in-a-row champions unassailable. There was, though, an edge to how the outgoing Norwegian chose to reflect on the scenes of players and coaching staff happily engaging with the cavorting fans in the corner of the Roseburn Stand.
Unprompted, and in pointed fashion, Deila chose to raise the issue of his authority among a squad containing individuals who have privately been scornful of his methods since he arrived in June 2014. Champions League qualifying failures doomed him to the exit before he took the decision last week to jump before being pushed, but yesterday Deila was determined to project the playing squad as unified and at one with him.
“I feel happy, very happy, and proud as well,” he said of a title that will give him a creditable three trophy haul across his two seasons. “It’s a tough job, especially in the circumstances of the past few weeks. But I’m so proud of the players. You always ask me if I have the confidence and belief of the players: ‘have you lost the dressing room’? And I know I never did lose it. It shows today that it hasn’t happened, that the players are standing behind me all the time.
“Today they gave a fantastic performance so credit to them. I’m happy for them and to give something back to our fantastic supporters for being there all season. Five in a row doesn’t happen so many times so we have to enjoy it and I’m going to enjoy it.
“It’s important that the whole staff was there with the players, everyone has been a part of the titles. The biggest challenge this club has is unity. When you’re winning and winning and winning and everyone wants you down from the throne, you want to split us. And if you get split, everyone can break down. But if you stay together – supporters, players, the rest of the club – then we are so hard to beat and that’s what we showed today. The fans were behind us, the players were fighting for each other and Celtic were the best team.”
The success of Leicester City down south – with a budget less than half of their Premier League rivals and a quarter of that of Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea – reminds that there are no foregone conclusions in football. Deila’s efforts, therefore, despite the shortcomings and lack of progression in his domain, deserve a certain acknowledgement.
“I won with a small club and I won with a big club,” said Deila, a title winner with previous side Stromsgodset. “It’s different challenges. When you win with a small club everything is positive. Every time you kick the ball the right way it’s a positive. At Celtic if you win it’s nothing and if you lose it’s a disaster. So the pressure here is unbelievable and I could see it on the faces of the players. There is so much talent here in this squad but they have to realise and understand what it’s all about. They’ll learn a lot from this season.
“Some players have been here for five years and won five in a row but the youngsters coming through are the new ones. Right now we have a good mix and that’s why we’re at five now – and hopefully we’ll get at least five more. There is a young team here. But this team can build and develop. There are a lot of positives but it’s a tough world, the football world, and we’ll see what comes in the future.”