RONNY Deila believes Aberdeen’s collective reluctance to talk up their status as title contenders this season was a decisive factor in Celtic retaining their crown for a fourth successive year.
Celtic manager Deila leads his team to Pittodrie tomorrow as champions after last weekend’s results took them across the finishing line with three rounds of fixtures to spare.
Derek McInnes and his Aberdeen squad have received plaudits for pushing Celtic for as long as they did and have finished as runners-up for the first time in 21 years. But Deila feels the Dons paid a price for persistently playing down their prospects of dethroning Celtic whenever they were quizzed about it by the media.
The Norwegian, who was named manager of the month yesterday, claims if he had been in charge of Aberdeen, he would have stated from day one that his team could become champions. It was a policy he adopted successfully as manager of Stromsgodset, leading them to their first Norwegian league title for 43 years in 2013 at the expense of a dominant Rosenborg side who had won it in 16 of the previous 21 seasons.
“In my experience you have to be unafraid to talk about winning the title,” said Deila. “If you say you want to come second, then you will be a number two.
“If you say you want to win the cup, you can win the cup. I came to Celtic talking about winning the treble. We didn’t get all three in the end, but that’s how I think about leadership and motivation.
“When we won the league with Stromsgodset I believed we would win the league. Players said we would win the league and we really believed we could do it – and we did it. You have to put demands on yourself. You have to say what you are ready to do. Everything is possible in football if you work together and have consistency.
“You can see what Aberdeen have done so far, but I hope we are improving more than them and there will be a greater distance between us next year. But if everybody is improving, it’s going to be a very good season for Scottish football.”
Deila also believes there is an element of defeatism among the other clubs in Scotland in their response to the dominant size and greater resources which Celtic clearly enjoy.
“It is the same thing in Norway,” he said. “But it is possible to win the title with less money as well. I’ve done it before. But if people think like that, then they will never beat us at Celtic, ever. No chance. You have to believe you can do it. For us, though, it is perfect and it is not a problem.”
Celtic playmaker Kris Commons recently said he never regarded Aberdeen as serious title challengers at any stage of the season, prompting Dons full-back Shay Logan to accuse him of disrespect towards them.
“That’s Kris’ opinion and if he has that opinion, fine,” added Deila. “But it’s very important to say Aberdeen has done well. They did a very good job and had a fantastic season.
“They have, of course, pushed us. They were not so far behind us in the league the whole season, but if Kris feels we had got control of the situation and that we were consistent then I can understand what he was saying.
“After Christmas we were very, very consistent and good and had control of things. But that doesn’t take away from the season Aberdeen had. They have been absolutely fantastic and if they continue improving, it’s going to be even harder for us.”
Deila, meanwhile, played down talk over whether Aberdeen’s players should provide a guard of honour for his team tomorrow in their first match since winning the title. “It would be a good feeling to have that at Pittodrie,” he said. “But that’s up to Aberdeen, it’s not the most important thing I think about. I don’t remember what was done for Stromsgodset when we won the league in Norway, but I think it has happened with teams who are champions there.
“If that is the tradition in Scotland, then I think we would do it. We want to be respectful and do what people do, so yes we would do it if it was the other way round.”
Pittodrie carries a special significance as a venue for Deila. He traces Celtic’s turnaround in fortunes to their 2-1 victory there in November. Virgil van Dijk scored a last minute winner, sending Celtic to the top of the table for the first time this season and prompting Deila to indulge in his now traditional post-match celebration.
“There was an unbelievable togetherness after we won that game,” he said. “That gave us extra energy and belief to go on and have a good season.”