Celtic manager Ronny Deila has claimed that he is not worried about being dismissed after a dismal run of performances and results which have shattered his ambitions of winning a domestic treble and are now threatening the club’s prospects of winning a fifth successive championship.
Indeed, Deila described the final phase of the current campaign – beginning with Sunday’s Scottish Cup quarter-final against Morton – as “critical” in determining his future.
Last month’s League Cup semi-final defeat by Ross County was followed by a 2-0 reverse at Aberdeen in the Premiership and, although three victories followed against non-league East Kilbride, Ross County and Inverness, a 1-1 draw at Hamilton last weekend and a goalless stalemate at home to Dundee have ramped up the pressure on the Norwegian and his players.
Thousands of supporters have voted with their feet and, while official attendances include season-ticket holders who have stayed away, Celtic Park is barely a third full for some games.
Some of those who attended the drab draw against Dundee called for Deila to go but he claims that does not concern him, stressing that he knows how to effect a reversal of fortunes.
“I don’t fear anything but I’m aware of the situation and that it’s critical,” he said. “No-one feels that more than me but I believe I can change it and make it right and that’s what I’m working towards every day.
“[Wednesday] was a bad performance. It looked a little bit slow. Everything, everybody. That was as a collective. We need to get a much better performance on Sunday.
“There is pressure all the time and, when we are performing as badly as we’re doing now, of course there is more. If you see the big lines, we need to win the league; I’ve said that all the time and we are still four points ahead with ten games left.
“I know and I really believe that we’re going to do it.”
The first-team squad had a clear-the-air meeting at their Lennoxtown training complex after training yesterday but it is Deila who will suffer the consequences if Aberdeen are able to overhaul Celtic’s lead at the top of the table, which has already been whittled down to four points.
He claims he possesses the ability to imbue his charges with a more positive outlook but declined to disclose his techniques.
“A lot of different ways and I keep them to myself and my players,” he said. “I can’t be too open about that.
“I’m in good control of what is happening and I know exactly what to do to get it better. It’s a challenge but I know how good my players can be and I know how to get the best out of them.”
Deila did reveal, however, that he has no intention of employing a sports psychologist. He said: “No – there’s no need to do that; I take that role myself.
“It’s nothing about the attitude. The boys really, really want it. Nobody goes out in front of 40,000 people and wants to play badly or is lazy.
“The players really want it but lately we haven’t played at the level we’ve wanted. It’s small details that we have to do better. I know we’re going to get there; it’s just about turning it around as quickly as possible. We’re still in a good situation in the league but our performances need to be better.”
One of the accusations laid against Deila is that he does not know his best team, an argument he disputes.
“I have an idea of that,” he claimed. “I haven’t been able to pick them all the time. Also it’s been down to good performances from people coming in and doing well in training and in matches.”
The Norwegian has used 34 different players in 28 league fixtures (Derek McInnes, at Aberdeen, has fielded 25) and, while he appears wedded to his 4-2-3-1 formation, his tinkering with personnel has created problems.
Against Hamilton seven days ago Scott Allan, Kris Commons and Gary Mackay-Steven were the three players deployed behind Leigh Griffiths. Against Dundee Deila selected Patrick Roberts, Tom Rogic and Stuart Armstrong (a player many believe is being ruined through being forced to operate in an unnatural wide role), while Mackay-Steven failed to make the bench.
“That’s true,” he conceded. “That’s about trust, you know. And it’s about feeling to get a goal in the team. That’s something we need to have as well, of course.”
Deila also made the unlikely claim that more light-heartedness at training is required to lift his players’ spirits and liberate them on match days.
“There are three things important – first is physical and second its mental stress,” he said. “The mental things can be affected more.
“It’s about getting positive thoughts, thoughts you can do something about. Not about if you will win the league, if you will play, if the fans will get after you – you can’t do anything about that and you have to keep your mind away from those things. I have to be clear and make them feel safe. I have to show trust. If they don’t feel trust and I change the team all the time then there is no trust.
“Thirdly, you have to have fun – it’s not always easy to have fun when people are being critical but you need that culture. If you lack that then you will always drain energy.
“No-one tells me that Scott Brown or Charlie Mulgrew does not give 100 per cent. They may have been half a metre too late but it’s because they are drained and that’s what we have to turn around.”