THERE are 200,000 reasons why Ronny Deila will not allow himself or his Celtic players to regard tonight’s final Europa League Group D fixture at a ghostly Maksimir Stadium as an irrelevance.
Celtic have already secured their passage to the knockout phase of the tournament next February, regardless of the outcome against a Dinamo Zagreb side currently facing a boycott by many of their own disenchanted supporters.
It adds up to a set of circumstances which will have no-one anticipating one of the more memorable occasions in Celtic’s 52-year European history.
But Deila has a keen eye for small details and how they impact on the bigger scheme of things. As he arrived in the cold but calm Croatian capital yesterday, escaping the “weather bomb” which made the take-off from Glasgow Airport of Celtic’s charter flight a hair-raising experience, he was acutely aware of the potential value of victory for his team, both in monetary and morale-enhancing terms.
Each Europa League group stage victory earns a club €200,000. It may be small beer when compared to the riches Celtic have garnered from the Champions League in the previous two years, but if they can wrap up Group D with three points it will take their accumulative total from Uefa’s secondary tournament so far this season to a not insignificant €2.5 million.
That comprises a basic €1.3m for participation in the group stage, €600,000 for the two wins and two draws achieved so far, €200,000 for finishing as Group D runners-up behind Red Bull Salzburg and a further €200,000 for making it into the last 32.
Deila is also conscious of the need to bolster Celtic’s Uefa coefficient ranking, already with one eye on ensuring future seeded status in the Champions League qualifiers, along with a desire to claim a rare away win in Europe.
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“It is still an important game for us,” said Deila. ”It is about getting seeded in the play-offs next year. That’s something we have to think of.
“It’s also about money. We get more money for winning the game and going through. It is not a huge amount of money, but it’s money.
“We want to go to winter training camps to improve the team, so getting more money helps us do that. It is also important to use this last match in the group to get even better as a team against this level of opponent.
“It is a European match away from home and we want to get a victory which would be a very good achievement.
“A small crowd will not be a problem for me and I don’t think it will be a problem for the players. It is another match to try and get a good result in Europe and for some players to get more time on the pitch.”
Those opportunities for players who have not been regulars under Deila will come through both necessity and choice.
Mikael Lustig, Jason Denayer and Charlie Mulgrew all miss out through injury, while captain Scott Brown has been left at home to avoid the risk of him collecting a booking which would rule him out of the first leg of Celtic’s last-32 tie.
“We are not taking any chances with Broony because he is one yellow card away from a suspension,” said Deila. “It is also good for him to have some time off because he has been playing a lot of matches after coming back from injury.
“We have also left James Forrest behind to train more so he can make himself better for our next league game on Sunday.
“Other players will get their chance to show what they can do and that’s how it is in European football. At top clubs, you have to take your chance when you get it. Now it’s a chance for other players to come in and say, ‘I’m here Ronny, I want to play’.”
With John Guidetti ineligible, Deila must decide whether it is the turn of Stefan Scepovic or Leigh Griffiths to make a case for the central striking role. Kris Commons, whose contract situation has still to be resolved, may also return to the line-up after only featuring in Celtic’s last four games as a substitute
“It could be an opportunity for Scepovic, we will see,” confirmed Deila. “It is also possible Kris will start the game. He has been injured and has been a substitute for a few games, but he is more ready to play now.
“His contract talks are still going on and we have to take it from there. We want to keep him. We want to keep every player, we don’t need to sell anyone. We have done our selling this season with Fraser Forster going to Southampton in August.
“I want to build the best team I can for Celtic. The January window is going to strengthen us, not make us any weaker.
“We will see what it is possible to do. You also look at all the players and think about what their future is at the club. Then we decide what is the right way to go with each situation.
“Nobody is for sale as far as I’m concerned. But at the same time everybody is for sale as well if someone comes in with money we have to think about. All of our players are very expensive!” Deila, who dismissed reports crediting him with an interest in Nigerian striker Olarenwaju Kayode of Israeli club Maccabi Netanya, remains preoccupied with his regularly stated desire to improve the standard of fitness among his existing squad.
“Every player has to get fitter,” he added. “Many of our players are still not as fit as they could be for European or international level.
“Development in parts of Europe has gone very quickly in terms of training players. The northern European countries are not at the same level of training.
“It’s easier to win at domestic level but we want to be in the Champions League so we need to have Champions League standards of fitness.”
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