WHEN he got to bed on his return from Murrayfield a fortnight ago, Ronny Deila did not enjoy the sleep of the righteous.
“I woke up pretty early the next day and I felt as if I’d killed someone,” is how the Celtic manager recalls the morning after the dismal night before when his team appeared to have been eliminated from the Champions League in a humbling 6-1 aggregate defeat by Legia Warsaw.
“That’s the worst feeling in football, waking up in the morning after a defeat,” adds Deila. “That’s how it is every time I lose a match. If you don’t hurt when you lose matches, something’s wrong.”
But that hurt, of course, was quickly overtaken by the revelation of Legia’s administrative error in fielding a suspended player in the second leg in Edinburgh.
So much for never getting a second chance to make a first impression. Legia’s subsequent 3-0 forfeit of the second leg and their failure to have it overturned, allowing Celtic to progress on away goals, has presented Deila with a remarkable opportunity to lead his new team into the land of milk and honey which is the Champions League group stage.
“I didn’t feel anything when I was first told we could be back in the tournament,” said the Norwegian as Celtic arrived in a muggy but damp Maribor for the first leg of their Play-Off round tie against the Slovenian champions tonight. “My focus is always on football. It’s about performances, whether you get the chance or not. When we perform, we achieve things. We have got a second chance now and we will do everything to take it.
“It took me one day to get over the Legia result and then I realised I had to move forward. The first day was very hard but you have to admit what level you are at. On that day we were at that level and we had to work from there.
“I know where we are going and I know how we are going to improve. Now we have a chance to see how far we have improved in 14 days. I am confident that we are going to reach the right level as we showed against Dundee United on Saturday.
“It was a very difficult position to be in against Legia. I had only been at the club for four weeks and we had been pushed into it. But you learn quick in this job. I also felt tired after the game because I think I had maybe pushed myself too much.
“I feel very different right now. I had done a lot of work and a lot of travelling and I didn’t know many people. Now I know my team, I have got my head up and I have control of the situation.”
For his players to be in control of the tie against Maribor going into the second leg at Celtic Park next Tuesday, they will require significant improvement against opponents Deila rates in the same bracket as Legia.
“They are similar,” he said. “They are well organised and direct. They also have good discipline and work really hard – a lot of the same things that Legia had and we have to adapt better to that.
“If we perform well, we will get the right results. If we don’t, then we will not reach the next stage. So the performance has to be much better than it was against Legia. If we do that, then we know we have good quality in this team. If we come away from here with a good result then we’ll have the crowd behind us at Celtic Park for the next game and everyone knows how much that means.
“The players have convinced themselves they are better now. They showed on Saturday they are at a better level than they were in Warsaw. I think we have improved and the fitness is getting better. Small things can make a big difference and I think those small things are going more in our favour now than they were in Warsaw.
“Yes, I made mistakes in Warsaw. What were they? We’ll see. I think we are in a good mood in the group. They are training good and they have responded fantastically. Everyone is doing everything they can to improve every day.
“The players had a lot of things going on in their minds over there, both individually and as a team. But we’ll see how much things have changed. It’s going to be fun and I’m looking forward to the game.”