His side might currently sit some way from the summit in the Premiership table but Ronny Deila is already hoping a Champions League spot next season can help him retain the services of on-loan centre-half Jason Denayer.
Deila had reason to be satisfied yesterday when he met reporters after a third win in eight days. Celtic maintained their hopes of qualifying for the knockout stage of the Europa League after a 1-0 win over Dinamo Zagreb at Celtic Park. It was only the club’s second clean sheet in 11 games but Deila believes they are now seeing the fruits of a burgeoning centre-half partnership between Denayer and Virgil van Dijk, whom he yesterday described as having the potential to become a “perfect defender” and a Champions League winner.
Deila is already looking ahead to next season, when he hopes to make further use of the close connections forged with Manchester City, Denayer’s parent club. Deila first struck up a relationship with the English Premier League club when he was manager at Stromsgodset, in his native Norway.
Asked whether he believed that the form shown by Denayer – who was called up to the Belgium international squad earlier this week for the first time – could help him break into the City side, Deila quickly stressed that he wants him to be of longer-term benefit to Celtic first.
By reaching the Champions League stage next season, Celtic could improve their chances of extending the defender’s year-long loan deal.
“It’s important that we also think of Celtic,” said Deila. “I hope that we can build him up but also keep him for the Champions League if we win the league and get into the Champions League next year. He can be an important player in that role as well. If we build someone up and then lose him it’s hard to get that relationship [in defence] back again.
“We have a very good co-operation with City, there are good bonds there,” he continued. “We talk well together. He [Denayer] is very young still to be playing at this level and if we win the league and go into the Champions League it would be a perfect scenario for him because it is a very high level and he maybe needs a couple of years there. They are happy with what is happening here with him. I had a co-operation with City at Stromsgodset as well.”
On the prospect of luring more players north from City – striker John Guidetti is also on loan from the club, although he is not eligible to play in Europe – Deila said: “I hope so. City is now at a level where we are not picking up players from and they have a lot of players who need to develop, their under-20 group has unbelievably good players. I think we can help each other and that is positive.” Guidetti is out of contract with City at the end of this season which means Celtic can begin talks in January with a player who has scored three times in his last two outings.
“Things switch off quickly in football,” Deila warned. “Let’s see how it is going. I think we have good control over the situation. If people are happy at Celtic they will want to stay at Celtic, so that is our task, make them better, make them happy, then people want to come here and they will want to stay.”
“We can hope,” he added, when asked if he knew for certain that Denayer would be allowed to remain at the club longer than this season.
Denayer’s centre-half partner Van Dijk was also praised by his manager yesterday. The Dutch defender was the subject of speculation linking him with a move elsewhere in the summer. He, too, is someone who is proving that a move to Celtic can help enhance a player’s reputation. The manager contends that Van Dijk can play for a club such as Barcelona or Bayern Munich if he continues to improve at his current rate.
“It’s about getting the best out of the players and with Jason we have done that,” he said. “With Virgil as well, he’s better now and improves all the time. He looks fit and sharp and for me I hope when he leaves Celtic he goes to a top, top international club and we’re talking about one that could win the Champions League.
“That’s the goal but of course I want to keep him here as he’s a vital player for us.
“I don’t have so much experience of those things, but in my opinion if he gets consistency in his play and is even more disciplined in his structure I can’t see his weaknesses.
“He’s quick, he’s strong, he’s good on the ball, he’s calm, he reads the play well, he’s good in the air. You name it, he has everything. He is the perfect defender. But he is his own enemy, he has to step up every day and go to training to get even better but I think he is improving all the time.”