Kris Commons believes Celtic need to have a long run in Europe to keep interest in Scottish football alive next season.
The Glasgow side are in Iceland preparing for their Champions League second-round qualifier against KR Reykjavik tonight.
It will be their first competitive match of the season and new manager Ronny Deila’s first competitive match since taking over from Neil Lennon last month and, while the Norwegian claimed to feel “comfortable” ahead of the match, he has targeted the group stages of the competition.
On that note, Commons pointed to the relegation of Hearts and Hibernian from the Scottish Premiership where they will join Celtic’s traditional rivals Rangers in the Championship next season, when he spoke about the importance of a long run in Europe to the game in Scotland in general.
“I think, essentially, European football keeps everyone interested, not only at Celtic, but in Scotland,” he said.” We have lost a couple of big hitters from the top flight and I think it would be vital for entertainment value that we are coming up against Europe’s elite.
“We are expected to win the league and go close in every cup competition and there is always that pressure on us.
“But for our own personal pride and personal achievements, the Champions League is the best place to be, and we want to be putting ourselves up against Europe’s elite.”
Deila declared himself unimpressed with Scotland’s co-efficient leaving Celtic to start the competition in the qualifying rounds, saying “this way is too long”.
However, speaking before Celtic trained at the KR Reykjavik’s tiny KR-Vollur stadium, which has only one stand, the former Stromgodset boss insists his side will be ready for the task following their pre-season trip to Austria where they were unbeaten in four games.
“They are big games but that is why I came here, to get the possibility to play in Europe,” he said. “This is the first and I am looking forward to it.
“We have been training well for three weeks and it has come quickly but it is good to get started and, of course, Champions League matches are special.
“We have prepared well. We have played four games and I think we have had a lot from them. Of course there is a lot to improve still but we are ready for the game tomorrow.”
Deila shrugged off a question about a weight of expectancy on him, saying: “I have been in football for many years and everything in football is about winning.
“There is always more pressure in bigger clubs but you also have much better players so this is a big opportunity to achieve what you want to do. Celtic want to win trophies and I want to win trophies.
“I know I have good footballers here. If I can get them to feel good then we are going to win matches.”
Celtic will be without skipper Scott Brown (hamstring) and James Forrest (groin), while defender Efe Ambrose only returned to Glasgow this week after playing for Nigeria in the World Cup, but the new Parkhead manager has no qualms about pitching him against the Icelandic side.
“I am more confident of him that a lot of the players who have been on vacation for six weeks,” said Deila, who confirmed that Charlie Mulgrew will be skipper in the absence of Brown.
“He [Efe] has been playing matches in the World Cup. He has played well and he is fit so I have no problem with playing him.”
Meanwhile, Delia is pondering a loan move for Chelsea’s Ghanian World Cup star Christian Atsu. Ironically, the speedy outside-left was on Neil Lennon’s radar last summer before his £5million transfer from Porto to Stamford Bridge.
Jose Mourinho sent Atsu to Dutch outfit Vitesse Arnhem on a season-long deal and the 22-year-old impressed with five goals in 28 appearances.
Now Deila, who has already confirmed the SPFL champions are in the market for a wide man, is considering another temporary move for the player who performed in all three of Ghana’s games in Brazil.
Celtic will face stiff competition, with Paul Lambert also interested in taking him to Aston Villa. West Ham have also been linked with the player.