There is an old adage for certain football leagues that the team which celebrates New Year’s Day at the top of the table is generally the one which lifts the championship at the end of the season.
It’s not actually true, it just seems that way, especially when you have the top English division’s spoils shared among four clubs, bar Blackburn, since
1992, and the Old Firm dominating the Scottish scene.
In fact, to show that it’s not true you only have to go back to January, 2011, when Celtic began the New Year on top before Rangers overhauled them
in April and went on to clinch the title in May.
Perhaps it’s just a curious coincidence, therefore, but the last time that a team from outside the Old Firm won Scotland’s top league was 30 years ago in season 1984-85, and a quick look back shows that on 1 January, 1985, the table toppers were eventual champions
Aberdeen, who led Celtic by two points on Ne’erday and went on to win by seven points in May.
As of this morning, Aberdeen once again start the New Year leading Celtic at the top of the Premiership, albeit by a single point and having played a game more than the current champions. An omen?
If he was worried about it, Celtic’s phlegmatic manager Ronny Deila did not show it when he met the media yesterday. Instead the Norwegian was at pains to emphasise that there is a long way to go in this season, especially when he was asked if Aberdeen could be genuine contenders in a close finish.
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“Aberdeen are on a good run at the moment and that’s why they are big challengers for us,” said Deila. “It’s going to be an exciting run towards the end of the season.
“It is still in our hands, if we win all our games then we’ll be league winners.
“It is very early, though, to start talking about it. There are 19 games left, 20 for us, so we’ll see how things are when there’s one month left. Then you can start talking about it. For now it’s much too early.”
He was also aware of Aberdeen’s recent record: “They are not used to being at the top. It’s always better to have the experience of being up there. But Aberdeen have proved they can win a lot of games and we’ll see if they can keep on winning.
“It’s way too early to talk about a championship right now. We are half way. When it comes the last six games, then we can talk about if there’s going to be a race.”
Deila does not want a title fight: “No I don’t welcome it. I want to, of course, win the league as quick as possible!
“But, if other teams are doing well then it’s going to be a fight, so that’s how it is. Nothing is easy in football. You have to fight for it.
“Now it’s Aberdeen and Dundee United doing well, so we have to step up and win games.”
Deila is confident his players will have the right mentality if a serious challenge emerges.
“They are used to fighting for a championship,” said Deila, “they have been in this situation before. The last two seasons haven’t maybe been so tight. But, overall, I think the club and the players are used to fighting for trophies, more than the other teams.
“The mood is very positive and there’s a very good atmosphere in the group. We are training well and now we just have to get back on track to win games.”
It was an incredible 2104 for Deila: “This time last year I was just hoping to win the league again in Norway. I had won the title with Stromsgodset and I was hoping to do it again. The league had finished, so I was still celebrating that last New Year. I had an offer from Malmo and there were other possibilities, but I wanted to stay at Stromsgodset. But then when Celtic came up, it was an easy choice to go.”
Deila is sure his side has what it takes to be champions and win silverware – something he said he is hungry for.
Deila said: “I’m very hungry for it because I know how unbelievably fun it is to win trophies.
“Every day when I wake up I think about winning and about the right things we need to do to win. It’s in my mind every day, it’s a lifestyle not a job. You have to have your whole body and mind devoted to it. Your mind is going constantly thinking about progress and thinking what is the next step.”
Seemingly unaware that Dundee United have scored three more goals than Celtic, the manager added: “So far, we have been the best team in this league. We have scored most, conceded fewest. We were on a good run until Dundee United. If we win our game in hand, we will be two points ahead. We know what we have been doing is the best in the league, but we have to keep progressing.”
Deila was adamant that, contrary to reports, he had not heard anything from Bolton Wanderers regarding Kris Commons, and added that talks over John Guidetti’s future at Celtic are going “in the right direction”.
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