CELTIC manager Ronny Deila yesterday hailed an “exciting” Europa League group stage draw, but was unequivocal that the attraction of landing big names Ajax and Fenerbahce, and a Molde side that will offer him a return to his Norwegian homeland, offered no compensation whatsoever for losing out on Champions League football in Malmo this week.
On a day when Celtic made a £500,000 offer to Inverness Caledonian Thistle in a bid to tie-up midfielder Ryan Christie as a “one for the future” style signing, the very recent past continued to prey on the mind of Deila, who offered up an honest assessment of where he and his club stand, while rejecting the notion that next season’s Champions League qualification campaign could be make-or-break with him and the Celtic board.
“The Europa League draw is not going to lessen the pain of the Champions League. We are disappointed we didn’t go through because that was one of our big goals but that is how it is. We have to go on and now we have some exciting games in the Europa League and we also have big games domestically that can make the season good.
“If you see the size, if you look at the history, Celtic is a Champions League club. But right now we have a Europa League team. That is how it is. We know if we play at our best we can go into the Champions League and be at the group stages. We were very close but we were not good enough in the last match. In small details, we were not good enough.
“Everybody wants results but every club and every manager and every player has setbacks. For me as long as I see progress then I know also that results will come. In this year’s qualification campaign there has been a lot of positive things as well. We are playing better football, we won much more games than we did last year but we didn’t reach it in the end.
“Next year we should have even more knowledge and experience – if we can keep the team. If we lose half the team then we have to build it up again so it is about consistency. I have been here for one year now, next year it will be two – hopefully! – and then we should be a better team. I am as disappointed as everyone else is but I have to see the big picture and I know the club is doing this as well. There are players here who were not important to the team one year ago and we have players that other clubs want. We do well here in Scotland as well so there are positive things. This was a big setback but you have to use these setbacks to get better.”
Deila gave a “yes, that is true” response when it was put to him that he is a Europa League manager as it stands after two failed attempts to lead his teams in the Champions League group stages. The 2-0 reverse in Malmö the Norwegian attributed yesterday to his team being “too passive” and not being “in the right frame of mind” for the game. The Celtic manager sounded a note of regret over describing his players as “frightened and scared” in the play-off second-leg, terms with which a number of the squad took issue.
“I am not born and maybe my vocabulary is not the best. I felt we were defending something [rather] than seeing the opportunity to attack something. The Champions League was there for us but instead of attacking the opportunity to get there it felt like we were on the back foot, defending and afraid to lose something. That is a very different mindset.
“Seven of the 11 haven’t been in these type of matches before and that is an experience we have to learn from. We are at our best when we go for it and that is the most disappointing.”
Deila suggested that the anticipated departure of Virgil van Dijk to the English Premier League – with Southampton and Everton having designs on the £10m-rated defender – may not yet be a foregone conclusion with three days until the summer transfer window closes. The Celtic manager said “a lot was going on” ahead of Tuesday’s deadline but that “nothing has changed” as regards the situation with a player desperate to move on, with Van Dijk in the squad for today’s home Premiership encounter against St Johnstone.
“It will be good for him and for us that this finishes on 1 September so we can move on,” Deila said. “He has a contract here and we want to keep him. We don’t need to sell him.
“I know there is interest from different clubs so that’s positive. I think it’s normal that he’s thinking about what his options are but he’s happy here. He knows he has a fantastic club but he is also seeing if these other options could take his career to another level.”
l Celtic are in talks with Manchester United over the loan signing of central defender Tyler Blackett, according to reports on STV. He can also play left-back.