RONNY Deila has leapt to the defence of Scottish football’s much-maligned refereeing community, insisting they have been “fantastic” since he took charge of Celtic.
Bucking the trend of managers for whom criticism of match officials often appears to be a default setting, Deila has responded to the furore surrounding last Sunday’s Scottish Cup tie at Tynecastle by heaping praise on the referees he has encountered as Celtic boss.
Fifa-listed referee Willie Collum has been slated for his display during Celtic’s 4-0 win over Hearts, in particular his award of a penalty to Deila’s team when John Guidetti went down under a sliding challenge by Brad McKay despite there being no contact from the home player.
Guidetti has been accused of diving in some quarters, most notably by television pundits and former Hearts players Neil McCann and Michael Stewart, but SFA compliance officer Tony McGlennan has ruled there will be no retrospective action taken against the on-loan Celtic striker.
Deila is insistent too much attention has been paid to the incident during a tie against ten-man Hearts in which Celtic were already in firm control.
While the Norwegian accepts it is fair to question Collum’s decision to give a penalty, he believes the standard of refereeing in Scottish football is far superior to the officiating Celtic have experienced in Europe this season.
“The referees have been fantastic so far since I came here,” said Deila. “It is a high level of refereeing in Scotland. It has been worse in Europe, like last Thursday against Salzburg. We have more problems in Europe [with referees].
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“But the referees here have been good. Sometimes you get something for you, sometimes you get something against you. I don’t think a lot about it. If you perform well as a team, then you will win games.
“Sometimes the referees have been right, sometimes they have been wrong. But if you go through a whole season, it is going to be quite equal with decisions. The best team will win in the end.
“I have found the referees to be approachable and very good. So far I’m very satisfied with how they have been in Scotland. As I say, I think we have had more troubles with the refs in
“We can discuss whether it was a penalty against Hearts or not. But if it wasn’t a penalty, that decision didn’t win or lose the game.
“At that time, we were very dominant in the game and were going to win it anyway.
“In my opinion, it was no dive. John didn’t do anything to try and get a penalty. It looked like he just slipped a little bit. That happens in football games.
“We don’t want to cheat, of course we don’t. I don’t like that at all. I didn’t think this situation with John was like that. The referees are trying to do their jobs as best as is possible.
“I’m very surprised how much attention there is in Scotland on small details like that. I have to see a bigger picture. We talk too much about it.
“In the media now, people have to speak a lot to get something powerful out which gets television viewers or clicks on the internet. As I’ve said before, I’ve done it myself in Norway and I know how it works. I know the pressure there is to say something.
“But I really don’t care what any of the pundits said about John and I’m sure he won’t think about it all either. If he was cheating, we would have to talk about it, but that wasn’t the case. It’s not something which should be talked about as much as it has.”
Celtic can open up a three-point lead at the top of the Premiership tonight with victory over Partick Thistle at Parkhead in a fixture held over from the start of the season. Deila expects to be without the services of Jason Denayer once again as the Belgian defender continues to struggle with an ankle injury, but has Charlie Mulgrew, Mubarak Wakaso and Stefan Scepovic in contention to return.
“I’ve told the players that this is a big game against Partick,” said Deila. “But I’ve been telling them they are facing a big game every time for six months now and it’s going to be the same all the time now. This is a big game for us because we can put pressure on the other teams at the top of the table by going three points ahead. If we win, it will be a very good position we are in as we move towards the new year. We will do everything we can to put on a good performance and beat Partick.”
Meanwhile, Deila also reiterated his backing of Aleksandar Tonev, whose appeal against his seven-game ban for racially abusing Aberdeen defender Shay Logan will be tomorrow.
The on-loan Aston Villa winger was found guilty by a Scottish FA judicial panel, on the balance of probability, of “excessive misconduct by the use of offensive, insulting and abusive language of a racist nature” during a Premiership clash between the two teams in September.
“We have to do everything in our power to get this away from Aleksandar,” said Deila. “We don’t believe Aleksandar is a racist. We believe him. It is word against word and you can’t take it seriously when it is word against word. It should be real proof.
“If there is no more proof than word against word then we have to do everything we can to help Aleksandar. This is a real serious accusation, very serious, and you have to absolutely know that you are right. So I hope he doesn’t get judged on word against word.”
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