RONNY Deila was asked the other day whether claiming a league and Scottish Cup double from this campaign would represent a “good season” for his Celtic. “It hasn’t been a bad year if that happens. We’ve done something right,” was his reply.
It surely says everything about the pickle the Norwegian finds himself in when even he can only damn himself with faint praise over the best possible outcome from this exasperating campaign.
Deila is dismissed for all manner of traits. He’s simply too naive, is one common refrain. Yet, he knows why he is taking in water at a rapid rate as he attempts to stay afloat in his post. His European campaigns colour all else about his 20-month tenure.
If Celtic’s pursuit of a first Scottish Cup success since 2013 ends at home to second-tier Morton in their lunchtime quarter-final tie, the jig is well and truly up for Deila.
A poorer Greenock side than the one presently managed by Jim Duffy did for Celtic in the cup the last time they played at Parkhead. That almighty League Cup upset in September 2013 is arguably the worst knock-out result suffered by Celtic in the modern day.
Yet Neil Lennon could afford a chuckle discussing it on radio afterwards because his team were then in the process of competing in the Champions League group stages.
For all Celtic’s recent torturous displays – the midweek scoreless draw with Dundee being the season’s nadir – they are actually a point better off than where they were under Lennon at the same stage of the 2012-13 campaign. However, all the focus at this time of that season rightly was on facing Juventus in the last 16 of the Champions League.
Trust in Deila among the club’s supporters is currently at its lowest ebb across his tenure – and that is saying something. The Norwegian, whatever might be said of him, gets why.
“There are two things there – the results in Europe haven’t been good enough, and I’m the first one to hold my hand up to that. And the second part is the part coming in now. But the results domestically have been OK.
“We’ve had the two semi-finals we’ve lost with red cards early in the games, we’ve won the League Cup, won the league by 17 points and we are four points clear now and we can also win the Scottish Cup.
“Now it is about the performances, and I’m fully aware that it’s not good enough. You can see I don’t like talking about this but we need to get it back on track again. But I understand and I see what we need to show: I have the responsibility for it, and that picture you see on the pitch it’s painting straight into me and if we don’t improve that over time, the trust will be gone.”
So spluttering and splattering are recent Celtic displays, a painting to capture them would be one of Jackson Pollock’s bleakest and most formless offerings. There is no pattern in the team’s play, no chemistry between those ever-changing attackers – Leigh Griffiths apart – asked to provide the crafted brush strokes.
So many players do not know how long they will be in the team; so many don’t know how long they will be at the club; and all can’t help but have it firmly in their mind that they might not be long playing for the present manager. If Celtic as a team aren’t quite facing an existential crisis, they aren’t a kick in the tail off one.
Deila acknowledges a feeling of vulnerability is beginning to stalk a team that seems spooked by the position that they find themselves in. It’s a position that is far from likely to cost them a fifth straight title though, whatever the understandable desire to talk up the end of Glasgow domination of the top flight.
“I think that is a lot about confidence and energy,” the Celtic manager said when asked why standards have fallen so precipitously from the closing months of his first season.
“We have a lot of players and maybe there is some insecurity around who is playing or not. That can have a little bit of an effect but also it is about good performances. Almost 90 per cent of the players [who are not getting a game] get a chat with me and they have a voice. Yes, this is a challenge that we need to sort out.”
Insurmountable challenges are in danger of engulfing Deila. On Friday he spoke of the need for Celtic, with their history, to have a style and how he was “hurting and burning inside” at the absence of “positive performances”. Minutes earlier, Griffiths had declared that “us as players, we don’t care about playing pretty football”.
“If you were to give us five games in a month and we were to play three of them badly but get nine points, we’d take it,” said the 33-goal striker. “It’s always nice to play good football, but it’s a results-based business and we need the results to go and win the league.”
There appear disconnects at Celtic wherever you dare to look.