Celtic boss defends Stefan Johansen after ‘dip’ in form

Stefan Johansen in action for Celtic against Aberdeen. Picture: SNS
Stefan Johansen in action for Celtic against Aberdeen. Picture: SNS
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Ronny Deila has defended Stefan Johansen’s contribution to Celtic and insists he has no desire to see the under-fire midfielder leave the club.

Norwegian international Johansen has attracted criticism from Celtic supporters this season as he has struggled to recapture the form which saw him named PFA Scotland Player of the Year in 2015.

Aston Villa have now been linked with a £5 million move for the 25-year-old this month as they seek fresh faces for their desperate battle to avoid relegation from the English Premier League.

Johansen, who joined Celtic from Stromsgodset for £2m two years ago, has 18 months left on his current contract with the Scottish champions and recently admitted to uncertainty over any negotiations for a new deal.

But Celtic manager Deila hopes to extend his compatriot’s stay at the club and believes the player is closing on a return to his optimum form. “We want to keep Stefan,” said Deila. “He has been very, very good for us. We want to keep him, that’s for sure. He is an important player for us.

“He is happy in the group here as well and that is important. The players enjoy his company. He has had a fantastic career at Celtic. Yes, he has had a dip but who has not had that in their career at Celtic? But in the last three or four games he has played, he is back to playing well, intercepting balls and winning balls and tackling hard. He is a good football player.

“I haven’t heard anything about this thing [Aston Villa] and there are always rumours about these things. We want to keep Stefan, that is how it is.”

Deila also questioned whether a move to Villa, currently ten points from safety at the bottom of the Premier League, would make sense for Johansen.

“If they get relegated, then they are in the Championship,” he said. “Aston Villa is a big club but for me you have to see the level they are playing
at. If you are playing in the Premier League, it is a step up, no doubt about that.

“But they are not a bigger club than Celtic, that is for sure. A lot of our players do not want to leave Celtic and a lot of other players who have left Celtic have then thought ‘why did I do that?’ I understand what is happening – it is because of the level and the money. But if you do leave, then go to a team that plays in the Premier League and can stay there.”

Deila’s own January recruitment plans include a possible move for Croatian midfielder Ljuban Crepulja who is currently spending a week training with the Celtic first-team squad.

The 22-year-old is out of contract at his club Slaven Belupo in the summer but could be signed this month for around £300,000, a fee Celtic are understood to have agreed in principle.

“He is here for some days to get to know us and for us to get to know him,” said Deila. “There is nothing more than that right now. We will see if he is the quality we are looking for.

“I don’t know [if we have agreed a fee]. Maybe. The club knows what they can get if something happens but again there is nothing confirmed, it’s just a week’s training. So far he has looked a technically good player but the training we’ve had, because we played a game on Tuesday night, hasn’t been at the tempo we normally have. So it’s been a little bit hard to judge. That’s why we want to see him for a little bit longer.

“We have watched him already for his club, of course, and seen him as well on video. He is a technical, creative player, a midfielder who can play centrally. He is still young and he has talent. He has quick feet and a good understanding.

“There are a lot of people watching Croatian football, when you see all the players they have who go to very good clubs and leagues. It’s one of the markets where there are a lot of good football players and it’s a market we are following.”

Deila, meanwhile, dismissed rumours that Celtic are monitoring St Johnstone striker Michael O’Halloran’s situation as his mooted move to Rangers remains unresolved. The 25-year-old, whose father is a youth coach at Celtic, is back in the Saints squad for their Premiership match at Parkhead tomorrow.

“He has played against us many times so we know all about him,” said Deila. “I speak to his father, who does a fantastic job for us, a lot. We know what is going on around us with players but we have to feel it is right for us. Right now, we don’t feel like it is the right moment for us to go in that direction.”