Progress in football is generally measured in simple terms. They are known as results.
On that basis alone, anyone casting their eye over Ronny Deila’s Celtic team in recent weeks would struggle to find evidence of the progress he believes has been made during his managerial tenure.
But despite the setbacks which have led to the Scottish champions being eliminated from the League Cup and their title defence put under renewed threat from Aberdeen over the past fortnight, signs of advancement under Deila remain in plain sight in all areas of the pitch, according to Nir Bitton.
The Israeli midfielder credits his own development as an increasingly influential player at the club to the Norwegian and believes others are improving in similar fashion thanks to the manager.
“As a player, you can feel it on the pitch,” insists Bitton. “You can feel that a lot of players have progressed under the gaffer – me, Leigh Griffiths and Kieran Tierney for example.
“I look at the game differently now. Before, I was sure that football is all about passing, take it easy, and move the ball. But since the gaffer spoke with me, there are a lot of things in my games that I have tried to change like the intensity and the pace of my game.
“Sometimes this kind of thing is more important than winning this kind of game or another game. But of course we don’t just look at Nir Bitton or Leigh Griffiths, we look at Celtic as a team. We need to be as strong as we can collectively to win games and go on a good run.”
Sourcing potential talent, developing it and then selling at a profit has become Celtic’s established modus operandi, with key performers departing on an almost annual basis.
“It is quite hard to progress when you have a new team,” added Bitton. “It is easier to see progress when you play with the same 11 to 15 guys for two or three years. Look at us last year – we had Jason Denayer, Virgil van Dijk and John Guidetti here.
“I am sure that if you keep playing with the same 11, you see progress but it is not easy to keep those guys. Look at Virgil, who has done so well in the English Premier League with Southampton this season.
“It’s the way football works today. The big clubs can spend crazy money in England, all the way down to League One. Right now, the money down there is a joke. So you need to be smart and this is the best way for Celtic, because you cannot compete with that kind of money.
“This is the way Celtic do it and it’s not my job to say anything about it. I am happy here and we just need to make sure we build something together now.
“If you look at Aberdeen just now, most of their team have played together for four years now and you can see they are progressing. But I believe we have progressed a lot under the gaffer over the last 12 months and we just need to make sure we show people we are good enough..”
Celtic must first ensure they win a fifth successive domestic title which, on current form, looks set to be a far more closely contested affair than in the past two seasons when they finished 29 and 17 points clear respectively at the top.
They go into today’s home meeting with Ross County leading on goal difference, with a game in hand, from Aberdeen who travel to Inverness on Monday night.
“It doesn’t matter if you win the title by 15 points or one point,” said Bitton. “We just want to do as much as we can to win the next few games and have a good run. Hopefully Aberdeen will drop points and we will open a gap again.
“I would rather win the league by 45 points if we could, but we need to respect our opponents. People think Celtic will win the league easily, that we just walk on the pitch and everything will be fine, but it’s not like that.
“Teams try to close the game down and make it difficult for us. We are not playing the best football right now but we just want to start winning games. Aberdeen are doing well and putting pressure on us. We fully respect them. I think it will be tight, but hopefully we will win the title.”
Meanwhile, Ross County skipper Andrew Davies says Liam Boyce should be targeting a move to bigger and better things – even though he has just signed an extension to his Staggies deal.
The Northern Irish striker has been this season’s surprise sensation after netting 17 goals so far.
County have now rewarded the striker for helping them climb up to fourth in the Ladbrokes Premiership, as well as claiming a League Cup final berth, by handing him a new two-and-a-half year contract.
But defender Davies reckons the 24-year-old former Werder Bremen II forward should be eyeing up his next switch already.
He said: “It’s a massive boost to see Liam sign his extension. It’s a big part of what we’re trying to achieve here. So to tie him down for another couple of years is great.
“Moves to other clubs and things like that will take care of themselves in future. He just has to concentrate on continuing to score goals for Ross County and things will happen for him, I’m sure.”