THE notion of a dead rubber in Europe cuts no ice with Celtic manager Ronny Deila. His club would appear to be facing a continental contest wherein the result is largely an irrelevance on Thursday night when they travel to Dinamo Zagreb in the Europa League Group D. Celtic have already qualified for the last 32, but cannot become one of the seeded sides in that draw because Salzburg are in an unassailable position at the top of the section.
Deila, though, is thinking long term, and thinking patriotically where his adopted Scottish homeland is concerned. He is chasing victory in the Maksimir Stadium because he recognises the value such an outcome can have for all clubs in Scotland. Celtic may have experienced dramatic ups and downs in cross-border competition this season, yet, even in the face of those, the country’s coefficient points haul is guaranteed to be the second highest in seven years.
Two more wins from Deila’s men and Scotland’s coefficient for 2014-15 will better any campaign since Rangers reached the UEFA Cup final and Celtic qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League in 2007-08. Helping the Scottish game in the international arena matters to the Norwegian.
“That is very important,” he says. “The national team for Scotland is now doing better. If we can also do well, and one or two of the other clubs do so as well, then we will have a much easier passage into the Champions League or the Europa League. We have to think of Scottish football. That is the most important thing. The valuation is about Scottish football – it is not only about Celtic. So, you need everyone to do well. The better Scottish football does, the easier it is for the clubs and the national team to do well in the future.”
The immediate future after the Zagreb encounter will be all about league football. Celtic will have ten straight Premier League games before they meet Rangers in the League Cup semi-final on 1 February.
“This could be a good thing for us. For a start, it will allow us more training sessions and to work on things. It is going to be a very important period, but I am going to say that in the next period as well. If you look at blocks, this is a new block we have to make it through, and now it is the league.
CONNECT WITH THE SCOTSMAN
• Subscribe to our daily newsletter (requires registration) and get the latest news, sport and business headlines delivered to your inbox every morning
“This is a period where you can have an influence on training, and what we are going to do on matches. We play Sunday-Sunday and Saturday-Saturday some weeks, so you get good training weeks and full energy into games. That will help us improve, especially in our offensive play.”
More vital to helping Celtic improve will be the business they do in the January transfer window. Deila admits the Scandinavian market is an obvious one for him to explore. Indeed, the unqualified successes of those who have arrived at the Scottish champions in recent years all hail from this area: John Guidetti and Mikael Lustig both Swedish internationals, while Stefan Johansen was bought from Deila’s old club, Stromsgodset.
“I have very good control of Norway, of course. With Sweden and Denmark, I have very good contacts there, too. That is a market that could be interesting. You know what you get with Scandinavian players – you get discipline. They are very like Scottish people and players, and it is easier to fit them into the group. It is also a target when you think about money as well.
“I think it is easier to adapt from Scandinavia [than say southern Europe]. They are also used to the weather. They are used to the people and the culture. They have also grown up with British football.”
Yet, next month there may be as much movement in terms of fringe players being farmed out as any incomings. Deila has earmarked Liam Henderson for a loan move. The midfielder made the breakthrough last season under Neil Lennon, but hasn’t featured for the senior side since August.
“I think the players are thinking of their own situation and we have to talk to them and find the right option for them,” the Celtic manager says. “It’s also looking at the younger players and seeing if we can loan them out, so they come back to us at a better level – just like Callum [McGregor] has done. When you talk about development and getting challenges at his level, Liam has a better level [than the reserves] and can play in the Premiership.
“Often the value can be better if they show themselves at the other clubs, and show that they are good players. Interest can go up in them, they can get confidence back and they can come back in and make a change. I think everything is better than sitting outside everything and not playing, for the player and for the club as well.”
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND IPHONE APPS