NO-ONE needs to tell Ronny Deila anything about rivalry. He can inform you about playing against a team who were such fierce rivals Stromsgodset supporters couldn’t even bring themselves to say their name. Even yesterday Deila declined to mention said club.
It’s the Norwegian equivalent of the ‘Scottish play’. Just as actors won’t refer to Macbeth out loud due to a long-held suspicion that doing so courts disaster, Deila preferred to reference this team – Mjondalen IF – only by their Norwegian postcode: 30-50.
The bitter nature of the Old Firm rivalry can be described as ridiculous on several counts. However, it has yet to reach such a level of pettiness. Deila, for example, was happy to mention Rangers on several occasions as he considered tomorrow’s League Cup semi-final against the old foes, the first meeting for nearly three years. Deila, of course, has yet to sample an Old Firm derby, not even as a spectator. But he has experienced a high-octane fixture in Norway against the team-that-can’t-be-mentioned. His record is good too; as Stromsgodset manager v Mjondalen it is played two, won two, including a 6-1 victory.
“At Stromsgodset we had a derby with another club,” recalled the Celtic manager. “I can’t even say their name though. We just called them by their postcode, 30-50. It is a place just to drive through!”
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The ‘farm derby’, as it is so-termed, pitches so-called big city slickers Stromsgodset, from Drammen, against their country cousin rivals. While there is little love lost, it is not as toxic as an Old Firm derby, nor is it anywhere near as intense. “That was a big for one us and it was a full stadium – but their stadium held 5,000 people which is not the same,” said Deila.
What is the same, though, is a deep-seated fear of losing. Understandably, Deila is only allowing himself to consider one outcome tomorrow; victory for his side.
“All the emotions in your body are going,” said Deila, who has been locked away at the club’s Lennoxtown training base most of this week, plotting Rangers’ downfall. “The only thing I am thinking about is how to win. That is the most important thing. That is the only thing I can do something about. Everything I am thinking of is winning.”
Defeat is not to be borne, particularly against a side as denuded as Rangers in terms of status. But the Celtic manager was canny enough to remind listeners that the Ibrox club still have the second biggest financial budget in the Scottish game; while failure doesn’t bear thinking about, losing is, of course, possible in a football match that will not necessarily reward the most talented team. As a few talking heads have also done this week, Deila noted the number of underdog victories in the FA Cup last weekend.
“This game is going to be difficult,” he said. “Rangers have the second best budget in Scotland. They have a lot of experienced players who have been through this before and it is a semi-final so it is not going to be easy.
“If you go one week back then you saw Chelsea losing at home to Bradford and Manchester City losing to Middlesbrough.
“A cup competition is a special thing and that is why we love it,” he added. “It is a semi-final and I don’t think the game is going to be great. The winner is going to be decided by small margins. Small factors will tip it our way or the other way.”
Deila made a first visit to Ibrox as Celtic manager earlier this month for the abandoned game against Hearts. He hadn’t, though, met interim Rangers manager Kenny McDowall until earlier this week, when they attended a Hampden photocall. To a certain extent, both are novices, although McDowall does, of course, have more experience of the fixture. “I am new here and today was the first time I have met him [McDowall],” said Deila. “All the emotions are new for me. It is hard for me to put myself into his shoes. I am just looking forward to be a part of the derby.”
The pair made appeals for calm on Wednesday. Will Deila heed his own advice, someone wondered? Deila has begun to routinely very publicly applaud the Celtic fans after games. On this special occasion, the focus will be on anyone approaching the supporters, even if only to salute them.
But the manager argues that there should be no problem so long as you concern yourself with your own fans. He will, he suggested, be guided by how it feels on the day itself – and, of course, by the result.
“I think I am quite calm underneath when the match is going on,” he pointed out. “I try to be but I am not calm inside. It is about respect. To celebrate with your own fans is no problem, but I don’t want to cause any trouble for others.”