Collins sees ‘improvement’ despite Celtic’s Europa exit

John Collins insists being sacked by Celtic is the least of his worries as he and Ronny Deila try to prove they deserve another shot at taking the club into the Champions League.

John Collins believes that he and manager Ronny Deila are succeeding in player development. Picture: SNS Group

The debate over Deila’s future as manager has come into sharp focus again after their elimination from the Europa League was confirmed by Thursday’s 2-1 home defeat by Ajax.

It extends a generally miserable record in European competition for Celtic under Deila and his assistant Collins. After overseeing two unsuccessful Champions League qualifying campaigns, they now face the prospect of being responsible for Celtic completing a group stage campaign in Europe without a single victory for the first time.

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At least one win has been recorded in their previous 11 Champions League and Europa League groups, meaning only victory against Fenerbahce in Istanbul on 10 December will prevent a new low point in their recent European history.

Immediately after Thursday night’s loss, Deila pledged that he will have Celtic ready to qualify for the Champions League when next July’s qualifiers come around. That assumes both that Celtic will retain the Scottish Premiership title and that Deila’s services will be retained.

The Norwegian has been publicly backed by both chief executive Peter Lawwell and major shareholders Dermot Desmond in recent weeks, but there is a growing swell of supporter opinion which casts doubt on his ability to reverse the club’s current European decline.

Collins accepts there are “no guarantees” over the current management team’s positions, but believes he and Deila are meeting their remit from the board to develop and improve the value of their players.

“Me and Ronny have been no different from day one,” said Collins. “We go onto the training pitch and try to push the players to make them better.

“The board of directors and everyone else will decide if we are good enough or if we need to be replaced. The board have to make a decision based on the games they are watching and the players they are seeing. Are the players getting better?

“I see a lot of improvement. This time last year, Tom Rogic had hardly played a game. Now, anyone who watches him sees flashes of brilliance.

“No-one had heard of Kieran Tierney last year. He has been developed and been made better and is now looking like a £5 million left-back.

“What were they worth last year and what are they worth now? So there are two ways of looking at it. If you get sacked, you get sacked. It’s not going to be the end of the world, but you’d be very disappointed. I enjoy my job and it’s the last thing I worry about.

“I never look at it like that. I just do my job, keep working and look forward to the next game. Whatever will be will be. The calmness comes from knowing I’m doing my best every day.”

Retaining the Premiership, which Celtic currently lead by six points, is clearly a minimum requirement for Deila if he is to have a third season in charge. But Collins accepts there is a sense that even a domestic treble may not be enough to persuade some observers that this campaign has been a success.

“That is a pretty unique situation in world football, I would imagine,” he smiled. “But it could be the reality. We will be judged at the end of the season – if we are still here. Everyone wants us to be in the Champions League. But we are still at the top of the Scottish Premiership, scoring goals most weeks and entertaining. We are in the semi-final of the League Cup and still in the Scottish Cup.

“People will say ‘that’s nothing’ but a lot of clubs in the world would like to be going for a domestic treble. We are top of the league and some people say it is rubbish.”

Celtic’s recruitment policy is held responsible by some critics for their European struggles but Collins is content to try to secure Champions League football under the board’s existing financial policy.

“You have to keep believing we can do it,” he said. “The club has a budget. Look what happened to our opponents across the road. Would Rangers and their fans like to be where we are now?”.