HAD things been different, Ronny Deila could have been preparing to lock horns with Jose Mourinho in a mouth-watering Champions League group which would also have taken him to Germany and Portugal.
But instead of mixing it with Chelsea, Schalke 04 and Sporting Lisbon in the elite continental competition, the Celtic manager must now turn his attention to the relatively small beer of the Europa League.
Yesterday’s group stage draw for the secondary tournament will certainly provide a real test for the capabilities of Celtic’s marketing department.
The visits of Austrian champions Red Bull Salzburg, Croatian champions Dinamo Zagreb and unheralded Romanian Cup holders Astra Giurgiu are unlikely to have punters queuing the length of Kerrydale Street to buy tickets.
By Deila’s own admission, however, this is now Celtic’s level after an abject Champions League qualifying campaign in which circumstances contrived to see them eliminated from the competition twice.
Tuesday night’s 1-0 defeat at home to Maribor in the second leg of the play-off round, completing a 2-1 aggregate win for the Slovenian side, led to Deila coming under fire for both his team selection and tactics.
But the Norwegian insists he has no regrets about the approach he took to a a match in which Celtic simply needed to hold on to what they had from the first leg.
“No, none at all,” he said. “We went into the game with a plan but we were too passive in the first half.
“We didn’t want to sit back and we changed it after the break and were more aggressive. Look at the two matches, they were quite equal but it went against us.
“You never know what would have happened if you’d done things differently.
“But we were well prepared, had a plan and knew what we were going to do if things were not going well.
“We made changes that made the team better, we just didn’t get the final result. You can always think about what might have been. But we weren’t good enough, so we take the draw we have got and look forward to competing in the Europa League.
“Our aim is to get more European experience and, of course, get through to the knockout stage. That’s something the club has done before but it’s a big challenge for us.
“It’s hard for me to say whether we should qualify from this group but we have a good chance to get some good results in it.
“Of course we wanted to be in the Champions League, but this is a good opportunity for us. We can make an impact in the Europa League.
Things are happening very quickly here. We are getting better and we will get better all the time.”
As a crash course in the intensity and demands of managing Celtic, the past few weeks must certainly have been highly instructive for the Norwegian.
He appears unruffled by the fall-out generated by the loss to Maribor and resolute in his belief he will ultimately prove to be a success in the job.
“It’s very different here when, after just three matches in the league, your season is over – or it is if I listen to some people,” smiled Deila.
“We’ve had a couple of days to get over what happened against Maribor and now we have to focus on the next thing. For us, that is the Europa League, the Scottish Premiership and the domestic cups.
“Of course it has been hard. It’s hard losing football matches. If it didn’t feel that way, then I would have to do something else.
“But you have to look at the longer prospects, work on what you believe in and build the team how you want it.
“That has also been harder with the pressure of the Champions League all the time. Now that chapter is gone, we can control the situation and the next chapter is to build the team and to get ready for next year.
“We have to do good performances this year so we achieve the things we want to do.
“That’s a big task but that’s why I came here. Of course, I am responsible for things here. It is better for people who criticise to take it out on me than on anyone else.
“We have had some good games so far, it’s not only been bad performances, but of course the Champions League has a big influence at Celtic. I saw a lot of emotions through that.
“The supporters and everyone wants to go into the Champions League, that’s the main things.
“If you lose it, the emotions come out. You get very sad, of course you do, and it’s not easy to see the big picture then.
“But I hope and I know that I am going to to show we are going to progress as a team. We have to look forward to what we are going to do in the league and to building that style of play and the team we want.”
For Deila, that recovery and rebuilding process starts in earnest with tomorrow’s Premiership assignment against Dundee at Dens Park with Celtic looking to rebound not just from their Champions League exit, but also last Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at Inverness.
“Of course we want to bounce back,” added Deila. “It is very important for us to get back on the pitch, show how good we are and win the league.”
Europa League draw and key fixtures
Group A: Villarreal (Spa), Borussia Mönchengladbach (Ger), FC Zurich (Swi), Apollon Limassol (Cyp)
Group B: FC Copenhagen (Den), Club Brugges (Bel), Torino (Ita), HJK Helsinki (Fin)
Group C: Tottenham (Eng), Besiktas (Tury), Partizan Belgrade (Ser), Asteras (Gre)
Group D: Salzburg (Aut), Celtic (Sco), Dinamo Zagreb (Cro), FC Astra (Rom)
Group E: PSV Eindhoven (Neth), Panathinaikos (Gre), Estoril (Por), Dynamo Moscow (Rus)
Group F: Inter (Ita), Dnipro (Ukr), St Etienne (Fra), Qarabag (Az)
Group G: Sevilla (Spa), Standard Liege (Bel), Feyenoord (Neth), HNK Rijeka (Cro)
Group H: Lille (Fra), Vfl Wolfsburg (Ger), Everton (Eng), FK Krasnodar (Russia)
Group I: Napoli (Ita), Sparta Prague (Cze), Young Boys (Swi), Slovan Bratislava (Slo)
Group J: Dynamo Kiev (Ukr), Steaua Bucharest (Rom), Rio Ave (Por), AaB Aalborg (Den)
Group K: Fiorentina (Ita), PAOK Salonika (Gre), En Avant Guingamp (Fra), Dinamo Minsk (Blr)
Group L: Metalist Kharkiv (Ukr), Trabzonspor (Tur), Legia Warsaw (Pol), Lokeren (Belgium)
GROUP D FIXTURES
18 September (kick-offs 6pm): Dinamo Zagreb v FC Astra, Salzburg v Celtic
2 October (kick-offs 8:05pm): FC Astra v Salzburg, Celtic v Dinamo Zagreb
23 Oct (kick-offs 8:05pm): Celtic v FC Astra, Salzburg v Dinamo Zagreb
6 November (kick-offs 6pm): FC Astra v Celtic, Dinamo Zagreb v Salzburg
27 Nov (kick-offs 8:05pm): FC Astra v Dinamo Zagreb, Celtic v Salzburg
11 December (kick-offs 6pm): Dinamo Zagreb v Celtic, Salzburg v FC Astra
TOTTENHAM AND EVERTON FIXTURES
18 September: Partizan Belgrade v Tottenham; Everton v VfL Wolfsburg
2 October: Tottenham v Besiktas; FK Krasnodar v Everton
23 October: Tottenham v Asteras Tripolis; Lille v Everton
6 November: Asteras Tripolis v Tottenham; Everton v Lille
27 November: Tottenham v Partizan Belgrade; VfL Wolfsburg v Everton
11 December: Besiktas v Tottenham; Everton v FK Krasnodar