NIR Bitton has gone from being a bit-part player in Celtic’s squad earlier this season to becoming a key performer in their quest to secure the domestic treble.
Such has been Bitton’s influence on Ronny Deila’s side in recent months that his possible absence from Sunday’s League Cup final because of an ankle injury would now be regarded as a hugely significant blow for the Scottish champions.
The turnaround in fortunes of the Israeli international midfielder, who at times was not even named among the substitutes by Deila at the start of the campaign, is indicative of how the manager has won his players around to his way of thinking at the club.
Bitton admits he was initially resistant to, and even a little resentful of, Deila’s methods. But a heart-to-heart chat between the two men has turned the 23-year-old into one of the Norwegian coach’s most devoted disciples.
“I prefer the conversation between me and the gaffer to stay between me and him,” said Bitton. “But I can say that after the conversation, I began to understand what he wanted from me, what he expected from me.
“I tried to change things and I am happy I am showing I deserve to play now. At the beginning of the season there were a couple of things I didn’t understand in terms of what he expected from me.
“Sometimes you need a conversation with the gaffer to understand what he expects from you as a player and a professional. Of course I had to look at myself. When you don’t play, the first thing you say to yourself is, ‘It’s the gaffer’s fault.’ That’s what everybody says!
“But after you go home, you think honestly and say to yourself, ‘Okay, what am I doing wrong?’ At the end of the day the gaffer wants the success of the team and he puts the best players out there to play because he wants to win.
“I understood that I needed to change myself, that I needed to improve.
“I am happy I did it. It’s difficult sometimes to be honest if you have the wrong attitude. But, if you want success, you must change to do things the way the gaffer wants. Sometimes it’s not so easy, but I am happy I did it and did it well. I just want to continue having success with Celtic to show everybody I deserve to play.
“I said to myself: ‘If I don’t change I will find myself out of this club’. I was six or seven games out of the squad and the worst thing for a player is to be not part of the team.
“As a professional, when you don’t play, it should make you want success even more. The easiest thing for me would have been to not care and just go back to Israel and not want to be here anymore. That’s not me. I just wanted to show everyone that I deserved to play.
“It’s not easy when you are not playing so you need to have a good attitude and a strong mentality. You need to show the gaffer you want to change.
“The gaffer wants to play a certain way and that was one of the things I needed to change. Before that I thought: ‘Okay, I’m a good player, I don’t need to change everything. If the gaffer wants me to play he will, if not I will sit on the bench, I don’t care’. Stuff like that.
“But everyone wants to play. You can train ten times a day but it’s not the same. I tried to change to the way the gaffer wants to play and show him I wanted to change. There were a lot of conversations between us and I am happy how it has worked out.”
Bitton is hopeful the ankle damage he sustained in last Sunday’s tempestuous Scottish Cup quarter-final at Tannadice will not rule him out of what would be the first major cup final appearance of his career this weekend.
“It’s still early to say if I will play but I will do everything to be fit,” he said. “I have another four days so, hopefully, everything will be fine.
“There is no rush. At the end of the day, I will take the final decision. If I feel I can play and help the team, I will play.
“If I feel I can play but not at 100 per cent, I will take the decision to protect it for the next games. I have to be honest with my team-mates. If somebody cannot give 100 per cent for the team there is no reason he should play. If I can give 100 per cent, I will play. If not, I will be ready for the next games.
“When I first got the injury on Sunday, the first thing that went through my head was ‘Why?’. But everything that happens in life happens for a reason and makes you stronger.
“Every player wants to win a lot of trophies in his career and this would be my first cup final with Celtic. We will do everything possible to win the trophy, no matter who plays in the team.
“Of course it will be difficult like it was last Sunday. Dundee United are a very tough team, a very good team. But we need to just play like the gaffer wants us to play and, hopefully, everything will be fine.
“Every game in the league and cup is tough for us and we know winning the treble will be hard.”
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS