YOU may say he’s a dreamer – and Ronny Deila won’t deny it. Whatever else we still have to learn about the new Celtic manager, we can already say with certainty he is not short of lofty ideals and towering ambitions.
Time will tell if the Norwegian’s quest to deliver some form of footballing Utopia at Celtic Park will be rudely checked amid the harsh reality of the Scottish game’s generally diminished status on the European stage.
But as he approaches the first leg of the Champions League third qualifying round tie against Legia Warsaw in Poland tonight, Deila is not content simply to try to match the achievements of his predecessor Neil Lennon by guiding Celtic into the group stage.
“My dream with Celtic is to go to Celtic Park for a Champions League match, play a really big European team and control the game,” said Deila. “I want to have more passes than the opposition and really just blow them away. That’s my dream. If I reach it or not, I don’t know.
“For me, it is about moments. Trophies are important, but I don’t remember the trophies I won in Norway. I remember the moments – driving to the stadium, seeing the people happy. Playing fantastic football to win the game and get the young kids smiling – I get goosebumps from that.
“When I came to watch Celtic play Barcelona at home last season, it was unbelievable. Think what it would be like if Celtic could also control a game like that? It would be awesome, fantastic – and that’s my dream.”
Deila has to get there first, of course, and he accepts the latest phase of Celtic’s qualifying campaign will be far more testing than the facile 5-0 aggregate win over KR Reykjavik of Iceland in the previous round.
But as respectful as he is of opponents coached by his compatriot and friend Henning Berg, his first few weeks in charge of Celtic have convinced him he has already shaped a side ready to overcome the Polish champions.
“You have to be nervous about these games, or you are not human,” added Deila. “But it is different to be nervous than afraid. I’m not afraid. I have plans and dreams with the team. I know this season can be fantastic if we beat Legia and go on to reach the Champions League.
“I want to develop the team and play competitive games at the highest level. This is a very important game, but I can’t do anything else other than prepare myself for it as best I can and go into it with confidence. I think we have a reason to be confident.
“Within myself, I really want to get into the Champions League and this is my first opportunity. But I also think my reputation and the way I work will come into it more over time. But the goal is to get a flying start and go straight into the Champions League. My goals are to play Champions League every year, to win everything in Scotland, to develop a culture at all levels of the club and to play nice football the fans like. We will see in a season or two if I reach those goals.
“You always get judged in this position. I’m going to do everything I can every day, to get the players to understand what I expect to achieve.
“So far, I can feel comfortable with the start we have made. I can look myself in the mirror and say I’ve done everything I can to get the team prepared for this tie. We will now see how good it is.
“Legia is a big step up from Reykjavik. This time, we are playing a team capable of getting to the group stage. But I know if I get the best from the players, we have a very good chance to beat Legia.
“Henning Berg knows my thinking as well as I know his. But you win games with quality. Tactics are important and can make a difference, but if you have quality in your play, you win games.
“I have seen a lot of things which it is important are improved at Celtic. Of course, I use a different style of play from the one the players used to have. It takes time to get into. But I think they are learning quick because they are intelligent football players. I think we have done a good job here in the first month.”
Deila travelled to Dublin last week to see Legia recover from an unconvincing 1-1 draw at home to St Patrick’s Athletic with a 5-0 win in the second leg of their second qualifying round tie. Many observers regarded that result as flattering towards Berg’s team who remain under severe scrutiny from the media in Warsaw. “I’ve seen Legia a couple of times and they are a very good team with no big weaknesses,” said Deila.
“They are organised. But I also haven’t seen a player in their team who is much better than the others.
“They are a hard-working team. Rather than have two or three individuals who make a difference, they are better as a unit. We have to stop that unit.
“I think we are going to have two very close games against them and small details will make the difference in the tie. But I am very comfortable that we can be good enough to beat Legia.”
TONIGHT’S PROBABLE TEAMS
Legia Warsaw (4-4-2): P Kuciak, Broz, Rzezniczak, Astiz, Brzyski; Kucharczyk, Vrdoljak, Jodlowiec, Zyro; Duda, Radovic.
Celtic (4-2-3-1): Forster, Lustig, Ambrose, Van Dijk, Izaguirre; Mulgrew, Johansen; Griffiths, Commons, McGregor; Pukki.
Referee: Pol van Boekel (Netherlands).