FOR many of those employed in football, there is no greater irritation than finding themselves being sniped at from the sidelines by those who once earned their money and reputation from the game.
It is not uncommon to come across current players or managers who fume indignantly at criticism directed their way from ex-professionals now engaged in media punditry, their reasoning usually that they should have a better understanding of the problems they face.
Celtic manager Ronny Deila has not been short of those type of detractors during his tenure so far. Two of the club’s former heroes, John Hartson and Chris Sutton, have been among his most voluble critics so far. The latter was especially withering in his condemnation of Deila and his team while working for BT Sport at Thursday night’s stuttering 2-1 Europa League victory over Astra Giurgiu at Celtic Park.
But Deila is not only completely unfazed by Sutton’s verbal attack, he insists he will never have a problem with anyone who holds a negative opinion of him or his work. The Norwegian coach remains convinced his methods will bear fruit at Celtic where he says the most intense scrutiny will come from within.
“Listen, I’ve been a big mouth myself before!” laughed Deila. “Back home, I was often talking in big words about how Norwegian football should be.
“I didn’t have a newspaper column, although I could have if I’d wanted. You have to understand the different roles. I worked in the media as well. You don’t always say what you think, you say what will sell.
“You have to use bigger words than you really mean. There is always a difference between them. If you want headlines, you have to go for the big ones. I have respect for that, it’s no problem. Opinions in football are fun. It’s good to have them. That’s why football is so fantastic because everyone has an opinion and every fan loves it.
“I haven’t seen so much from the critics here as I try to avoid anything like that. But I know that at every big club you get this.
“I upset a few other managers in Norway with things I said. I had a lot of arguments. But I was young. I understand the rules now – talk about yourself and your club, that’s the most important thing.
“The worst feeling I can have is that I can’t solve the problem at my club, if I feel I can’t see the next step. I’m using the hours to reflect on things we are doing now.
“I can handle the critics no problem but if I don’t see the answer, then my brain is starting to work. It’s hard at the start. There are tough times and good times – we are going up and down all the time right now. But that’s part of the job.
“I have to believe in the things we are doing and I do that. In the end it’s about winning trophies. That’s my goal. That’s what I’ve said all the time [to be judged on that]. I think I have been very clear in my goals this season – that we want to go through in the Europa League and we want to win the Treble.
“Winning the league is the main thing. If I don’t do that, or we don’t do that, I will understand that I have the problem.”
Deila admits to a sense of frustration at the continuing inconsistency in Celtic’s performance levels and finds it difficult to assess how much progress has been made towards achieving the standards he wants from his team.
“It’s very hard to say as I don’t know what the schedule is,” he added. “I will always say we are behind the schedule because I’m very impatient. That’s one of my strengths – to be impatient.
“I really want more all the time but we also have to be positive about the things that are happening. We try to improve in every game. Our top level of performance is getting better and the bottom level is a little higher than it was earlier in the season. I want the bottom level even higher and the top level up there as well so we can move the boundaries.
“You have to have fun in football, you have to look forward to the games. That’s my task, to get the players enjoying playing, to get them looking forward to going on to the pitch in front of their own fans.
“On Thursday night it looked like they were a little bit afraid to lose. But when we went 1-0 up, suddenly everything was going smooth and quick. We need to get that freedom into our play. You saw that against Ross County after the first goal as well. We have to focus on that on Sunday.”
Having lost their last home league game to Hamilton Accies, Deila can hardly afford another setback tomorrow against a Kilmarnock side who have exceeded pre-season expectations so far.
“Kilmarnock are a little bit similar to Hamilton,” observed Deila. “They are working hard, have good energy, are very direct and have a coherent style of play. They are confident just now, so it’s going to be a tough game for us. But I think it is coming at the right moment. The players are hungry to show that the Hamilton game is something we don’t want to experience again.”
Deila, who held a meeting yesterday with chief executive Peter Lawwell about potential January transfer window signing targets, hopes to have winger James Forrest back in action soon but is keen to ensure the injury-plagued Scotland international avoids any fresh problems.
“James is closer,” said Deila. “He could have played by now but we want to get him fitter so we can get more consistency in his play. So we are patient with him.
“He is a top player and we know he can make a difference in the team.
“It’s very important that if he is going to be the player he can be, we do everything we can to manage his situation. He has taken full part in training this week, so that’s positive.”