CELTIC manager Ronny Deila says he feels “500 per cent” better about guiding the club to the Champions League group stages at this point than he did 12 months ago.
Last summer the Norwegian was thrust into the qualifiers for his first competitive outings after succeeding Neil Lennon. An administrative error earned Celtic a reprieve in the competition following a 6-1 aggregate thumping at the hands of Legia Warsaw, but this counted for nothing as they were eliminated by Maribor in the play-off round.
Deila is convinced that, with his tenure now into its second year, the Scottish title holders can avoid such calamities as they seek to reach club football’s promised land. That bid will require success in three qualifying rounds, the first of which will see Icelandic side FC Stjarnan visit Glasgow for the first leg of a second-round tie on 14 July, with the return a week later.
“I am 500 per cent more confident about our chances of getting into the Champions League this year, compared to last year,” said the Celtic manager. “It all happened very quickly last summer. I was taking charge of a game at Stromsgodset and two days later I signed up to be the Celtic manager. Two weeks later, I was in the middle of the Champions League circus.
“Now, I know what’s coming. I have prepared for a year and I feel very responsible. This is something I have been building up to. I am excited about the next two months.
“I’d like to believe it’s 100 per cent [for us getting in the group stage] but it is hard to say that.
“I think about us doing that every day. That is the goal. I’m working to see how we can reach there. We will see if we will make it.
“I will be very disappointed if we don’t do it. But football is football, you never know. We want to grow as a team and as a club. This year I really, really feel the responsibility to try to get the team into the Champions League.”
The stay-at-home pre-season programme in which Celtic take on Den Bosch, Dukla Prague and David Moyes’s Real Sociedad at St Mirren Park before they face Stjarnan provides the club with the best possible platform for succeeding in the qualifiers, according to the Celtic manager.
He declared it “crazy” to embark on transatlantic trips within weeks of such an important outing. Only with direct entry into the September-starting group stages of the Champions League – unlikely in a generation for a Scottish club – would such summer excursions be resurrected.
“For me, everything is about energy,” he said. “When you travel around and take planes and buses, new things everywhere, you use energy. That is very good when you have a long pre-season but when you have three weeks everything has to be done as well as possible.
“To stay here in an environment we know, sleeping in your own bed and preparing well, that is vital. We also have good opponents so I am happy with that.”
Deila is happy to take the Celtic squad, as it stands, into the qualifiers; satisfied he attracted his “priority signing” in defender Dedryck Boyata, who will replace the Manchester City loanee Jason Denayer. He would not be drawn on links with Jelle Vossen, the Genk striker who spent last season on loan with Middlesbrough. “He is one of many names which have been mentioned,” said the Celtic manager.”