There was no phalanx of photographers waiting for Ronny Deila at Molde Airport yesterday afternoon.
The Celtic manager’s first return to his homeland on football business had been dramatically upstaged by events a few miles up the road at the Aker Stadium. Local media attention was understandably consumed by the return of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for a second spell as Molde head coach ahead of tonight’s potentially pivotal Europa League Group A tie.
Not that Deila was in any way concerned by the spotlight being switched to Solskjaer. It was in keeping with his own underwhelmed view of the significance of his first game in Norway in charge of Celtic.
“I haven’t thought about it for one second,” claimed Deila. “It would be different if I was going back to my previous club Stromsgodset or to Odd, where I played and where I am from.
“But coming to Molde just feels like another step in a long season. Maybe it will feel more special when the game comes around.”
Regardless of the personal impact the occasion has on Deila, there is no doubting its importance in a Europa League group which is very much in the melting pot after Molde’s emergence as the surprise early pacesetters.
Under caretaker boss Erling Moe, who will remain on the coaching staff under Solskjaer, they defeated Fenerbahce 3-1 in Istanbul on matchday one before earning a 1-1 draw at home to Ajax three weeks ago.
It leaves them at the top of Group A, two points ahead of Celtic who have recorded consecutive 2-2 draws away to Ajax and at home to Fenerbahce.
According to Deila, the position of looking down on Scottish opponents is one which suits the general Norwegian view of football in the country he has now made his home. It is a perception he hopes he can help change.
“In Norway they think that Scottish football is not better than Norwegian football and even maybe worse than Norwegian football,” reflected Deila. “That’s what Norwegian people think. But that’s because they see the Scottish clubs’ results in Europe and those of the national team in recent years. Personally, I think it’s quite similar but with some differences. Norway has a more open, more Dutch-style, more attacking football. In Scotland, it’s more results-based, more compact, tougher and more intense. So it’s two different ways of playing football.
“There are around five million people in both countries and, overall, Scottish football has been unbelievable for the last 40 years or so. What they have achieved has been so, so good, but the circumstances and the resources are now so different to what they were 30 years ago.
“Now Scottish football has to think in another way from what it did before, because now you can’t buy the best players, the best clubs can’t do that now. They have to develop them and then Scottish football will go into another phase.
“I don’t feel it’s my job to defend Scottish football but I feel proud to be a part of it now. It’s much, much tougher to be a manager in Scotland than it is in Norway. There is a history and atmosphere around the game in Scotland that we don’t have in Norway.”
Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola caused a stir earlier this week with his observation that it is “boring” to stay at one club for too long. It’s a view Deila subscribes to but he is confident he is still only beginning to establish what he hopes will be a positive legacy with Celtic.
“I got bored at Stromsgodset in my final year there,” he said. “We had won the league, won everything in Norway. The next year, I didn’t feel so hungry as I had before. I was on auto-pilot a bit. I knew what was happening, what was to come. I felt I wanted a new challenge and it was the right time that I went to Celtic. But that was after nine years at the same club.
“I have a picture in my head of how my team is going to perform and I know that when everyone in the team is performing that way, everyone will enjoy it. I will enjoy it, and I know that the results will come. I am working hard every day to get what we must have to get the picture out, and that’s my biggest challenge.
“There is still a long way to go for that at Celtic. But we are going, small steps forward, all the time. It took a long time in Stromsgodset as well but I know we will get there. It’s just about doing the work on the way and trying to win as many trophies and games as we can.”
Stefan Johansen is set to return to the Celtic line-up tonight with the Norwegian midfielder admitting culpability for his poor form so far this campaign in comparison to last season when he was named PFA Scotland Player of the Year.
“I haven’t been at my top level and that’s where I want to be,” said Johansen. “I have been a little bit stupid as well because I felt my back injury sometimes and I still played.
“I can’t do that. I need to be 100 per cent when I play, otherwise I am not at the level I want to be. Finally now, I feel fit again and I want to turn things around and get to the level I was at last year.
“I’m looking forward to playing back in Norway for Celtic. I am very surprised at how Molde has done so far in the Europa League, I have to be honest about that.
“They haven’t done well domestically, apart from the last couple of weeks. Beating Fenerbahce away is very strong form, but it is time for them to lose the next two games against us.
“We need to beat them here, then we have them at home. We want six points from these games. It’s possible.”
Jozo Simunovic travelled with the Celtic squad and the Croatian central defender has fully recovered from the ankle injury which has sidelined him for a month since he made his debut against Ajax. He may have to settle for a place on the bench tonight.