WHEN it comes to qualification for the group stage of the Champions League, perceived wisdom tells us that it doesn’t matter how you get there – only that you do.
With a bounty of at least £15 million on offer for those who secure a place in Europe’s elite club competition, it is not difficult to understand why the manner of negotiating that path is so widely regarded as of secondary importance.
Perhaps time and reality will convert Ronny Deila to that viewpoint. But for the moment, the new Celtic manager is determined not to surrender his footballing principles in pursuit of the status which has come to clearly define a successful season for the Scottish champions.
The affable Norwegian, in fact, even came close to delivering a derisory sneer when it was put to him that results matter more than the level of performance in the qualifying rounds.
“I will never say that – never,” was Deila’s firm response as he finalised Celtic’s preparations at BT Murrayfield for the second leg of their second qualifying round tie against KR Reykjavik tonight. With a 1-0 lead from the first leg in the Icelandic capital last week, Celtic should comfortably progress to the next phase and a meeting with either Polish champions Legia Warsaw or Dublin side St Patrick’s Athletic.
But Deila will be demanding the highest possible standards from his players, in the belief anything less could have longer lasting ramifications.
“The players understand how I’m thinking now,” he added. “They know how every training session is important, every game is important. This game is unbelievably important to get through.
“But it’s also important to get a performance, not just to get through and get a result. We want to go out and be better than we were the last time we played, because we need progression and we need to use every day to get better.
“If we go through on Tuesday night but have played bad, then I will get angry because we haven’t used the day in a good way and if you play bad you can lose as well. Then it’s double shit and we have big problems.
“If we win, I will say I am very happy with the result but I will also say if I am not happy with the performance. I always like to look behind the results. In some of our pre-season games, we won but didn’t deserve to. We were lucky. Okay, that sometimes happens, but I can’t fool myself or my team.
“In Iceland last week, we could have lost it 1-0 late on before we scored, but that would have been unlucky because we played well and had many more chances than them. We won 1-0 and should have won by more. Now we have the chance to make that better. I am after a good performance and I think we will get one on Tuesday night.”
With Anthony Stokes absent through injury, Finnish striker Teemu Pukki could be handed the opportunity to lead the line for Celtic. Deila is hoping his team have more of a cutting edge than they did in the first leg when they passed up several premium chances.
“It is not ideal that Anthony is not available but we have many strikers in the squad, so it’s not the worst position for us to lose players from. Teemu still has a future at this club, because I came in here with an open view.
“Everyone has the chance to make a career for themselves here. Teemu has worked hard but I want him to develop more. His fitness could be better but I think he is more conscious of what he is doing on the pitch and I’m looking forward to seeing more of him. It’s important for our strikers to score. In Iceland, we should have won by more. I think we have strikers who will score goals. It’s not a problem, we just have to feed them with chances. We had a lot of big chances in Iceland and if we keep on playing like that we will score more.”
With Celtic Park being used as a Commonwealth Games venue, Deila’s first “home” game as manager goes ahead at the home of Scottish rugby. He liked what he saw as his players trained on the pitch for the first time yesterday afternoon.
“It’s a very good pitch, brand new, and a lot of people can come here to see us,” he said. “The Celtic fans are different class and I hope they come and really make it a home game for the team, because we need it.”
Charlie Mulgrew, who will again captain Celtic in the absence of the injured Scott Brown, also expressed his approval of the relaid playing surface at a venue he has never previously visited.
“I never played rugby at school,” he said. “It was only the posh schools that did. It’s a class stadium and the pitch is great, so we can’t complain,” he said.
“Being captain is huge for me, having grown up as a Celtic fan and been aware of so many great captains – from Billy McNeill and Paul McStay, through to Jackie McNamara and Neil Lennon.
“When I left the club as a youngster, I never thought something like this would happen to me.
“It is an added responsibility as well, but you just try to do things the way you normally do as a player.
“Do I see myself as a leader? I suppose I’d like to think I lead by example in some ways. But that’s for other people to say. If I’m captain, I just look to lead by example.”
Celtic (4-2-3-1): Forster, Lustig, Ambrose, Van Dijk, Izaguirre; Mulgrew, Johansen; Griffiths, Commons, McGregor; Pukki,
KR Reykjavik (4-4-2): Magnusson, G Sigurdsson, G R Gunnarsson, Josepsson, J Hauksson; Saevarrson, Atlason, B Sigurdsson, Balbi; Finnbogason, Martin.
Referee: A Treimanis (Latvia)