We don’t see it often, but Ronny Deila does an impressive line in impassioned indignation. Sometimes, a rehearsed line, indeed. That thought took hold yesterday as the Norwegian got wired in over the treatment of Anthony Stokes compared to other miscreants in the Celtic squad during his time in charge.
Deila jumped on a point made about his admirable efforts to sort out Stokes’ head. He cut short the inquisitor when he had only gone as far as “you probably don’t need him [Stokes] and some players get away with things because the club needs them…”
Do you think you can get through to a group if you are unfair? How can I look the players in the eyes if I am unfair?Ronny Deila
The manner in which he pounced suggested he was waiting for this issue. Perhaps because the impression that a couple of narky tweets had done for Stokes suggested double-standards, led to him declaring yesterday that a “number of incidents” had led up to the player’s two-week suspension.
It didn’t help that the sanction was of a nature Deila had initally dismissed and contrasted sharply with the leniency shown Kris Commons for his insubordination towards the Celtic coaches in Molde, Scott Brown for being on the lash days before a cup final and Leigh Griffiths for chanting in a pub that “Rudi Skacel’s a f*****g refugee”.
“Why would you say that? Can you give me an example of that? Do you think you get through to a group if you are unfair? How can I look the players in the eyes if I am unfair? Do you think I don’t talk to them?
“Of course I do. Please, you know as much as me. I can’t understand why you ask it. You know I have to have respect among the boys. If I treat people differently, there would be problems and I would never do that.”
Stokes’ enforced break was “more to do with the culture than last weekend’s game”.
“Everyone understands you don’t get suspended for one incident. I’m not stupid, I understand better than that,” added Deila. “There have been incidents before and now we feel we have to put down a marker. Hopefully that will be good for Anthony and for us.
“I have talked a lot with Anthony. Many times, and I will do that in the future as well. Am I getting through to him? Hopefully. I felt we had to put down a mark and I hope it will be the turning point for him.”
Stokes has proved a challenge to all those who have managed him. Roy Keane at Sunderland; John Hughes at Falkirk; Neil Lennon and now Deila have found the player incapable of avoiding stepping over the lines set by them or even simply meeting the demands of the footballer’s existence.
At 27, it is hard to see the Irishman suddenly becoming the model pro, and for all Deila claims he will continue to seek to set him on the right path, he will surely be heading out of Celtic sooner rather than later. The treatment of Stokes has sent out a message to the the largely young squad Deila looks to mentor.
“I have to show everybody: ‘this is a culture we have to build and want to build’. If everything is acceptable what will the next thing be? It will never stop. So sometimes you have to do something. I’m very open-minded.
“Many players, staff and myself have made mistakes and I have no problem with forgiving people. That’s maybe my biggest strength – that I forgive. If players are afraid to have an opinion or to do something because I’m going to punish them hard then they will never improve.
“I have always said that I want improvements. But again the team is the most important thing and I have to see when you get opportunities to have a voice then it’s important that you also commit and make the changes when we agree on it.”