The buck may stop with Ronny Deila but, according to Nir Bitton, the blame for Celtic’s failings in Europe this season lies squarely at the feet of the players.
When the flak was flying after the Scottish champions’ miserable 3-1 defeat by Molde in Norway a fortnight ago, it was manager Deila who had to take most of the heat.
He has found respite in the shape of three important domestic victories since then and yesterday was deservedly named Ladbrokes Scottish Premiership Manager of the Month for October.
None of which materially lessens the pressure or scrutiny on Deila ahead of tomorrow night’s pivotal re-match with Molde at Celtic Park where victory is essential if his hopes of qualification from Europa League Group A are to remain intact.
Bitton is brutally frank in his assessment of the performance against Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side which left Celtic at the bottom of the section with just two points from their first three games.
The Israeli international midfielder is equally forthright about what is required from him and his team-mates in order to re-ignite their prospects of reaching the knockout stage of the tournament for a second successive season.
“The gaffer is not the reason we didn’t win in Molde,” said Bitton. “I think we played s**t and the gaffer can do nothing about that.
“We played badly and if people want to blame someone for that, then it’s us and not him. We just need to be sure we make him proud now, we want him to succeed. Criticism is part of football. Sometimes you get criticism, but I think we are together and united. The team, the players, the coaching staff, we are always together. We stand behind the gaffer.
“We owe it to ourselves to do better on Thursday night. We need to play for Celtic, to show everybody we deserve to be here and that we deserve to go through from the group.
“We are still in it. We just need to do as much as we can to win this game. If we go through from this group, we can do something in the tournament.
“This is maybe the most difficult group in the Europa League. We have Fenerbahce and Ajax, two big clubs, while Molde have proved themselves so far by going to the top of the group.
“So if we go through, we can do something. How far can we go? I don’t know. We have three matches left in this group and we need to take as many points as we can. First of all we need to win on Thursday and then we will see.”
Bitton feels a personal sense of obligation to deliver for Deila as he credits him for the turnaround in his own fortunes. After initially struggling to hold down a first team place under Deila, the 24-year-old has become one of Celtic’s most consistent and influential performers to earn himself a new five-year contract which he signed this week.
“Everyone knows I didn’t play as much last year and when you don’t play, you just want to play football somewhere else. I wanted to leave. It wasn’t about leaving Celtic, it was about getting game time but I’m really thankful I stayed and didn’t give in.
“I tried to show the gaffer that I deserved to play every day and as soon as I got the chance I knew I wasn’t going to mess it up.
“At the time when I wanted to leave, I just spoke to the gaffer and spoke to my agent. Not a lot of people knew about it.
“But as soon as I had a conversation with the gaffer, he told me the reason why I didn’t play and I told him I’m going to change, that I’ll show him every day I want to change.
“I had three months from October to the January transfer window to show him that I deserved to play. I got my chance and I’m happy I did.
“He wanted me to change a lot of things but the most important thing was the tempo of the game, the pace of the game, to be quicker on the ball and with my reactions.
“All these kind of things you can change in your mentality and I’m just happy I had a conversation with him, I’m happy I did it and I just want to succeed now.
“The manager and I have a good relationship and he is one of the reasons I signed the new contract. I enjoy playing for him.
“I want my future to be at Celtic. Maybe there will be a right time for me to play at a higher level, if not at a bigger club because there are not many bigger clubs than Celtic. The important thing for me now is to have success with Celtic, build myself here and make the fans proud.”