Attendance figures at Parkhead continued to look reasonably healthy due to the policy of including season-ticket holders who had not turned up, but the reality was different. Despairing not only of the enervating fare on display but also of the Norwegian’s inability or unwillingness to alter his 4-2-3-1 system in the face of diminishing returns, supporters voted with their feet.
Majority shareholder Dermot Desmond had favoured Roy Keane as successor to Neil Lennon in 2014 but chief executive Peter Lawwell, who had already identified the 38-year-old Deila as his assistant, then persuaded the board to accept him as the main man.
His remit was to develop young players and produce a leaner, fitter first-team squad, a policy which has backfired spectacularly, particularly in continental competition, where the club has gone 11 Europa League games without a victory. “They took a chance on Deila because he had been coming in originally as an assistant and then he found himself as manager,” said Hartson. “He has not taken the club forward. Crowds of 18,000 at Celtic Park will get you the sack. The board didn’t need to sack him – the crowd sacked him. When you are 30,000 fans down then, financially, it can’t be good if you are Dermot Desmond looking in on that.
“Why are fans staying away? They didn’t like the way the team were playing, they didn’t like the man’s tactics with one up front. It is time for Ronny to go, simply because he has lost every big game that Celtic have had to win. Look at the European qualifiers. Look at the Ajax and Fenerbahce games this season, when Celtic failed to hold on to a lead.
“The Malmö game? 3-1 up at home, concede a late goal and then lose over in Sweden. Aberdeen away? Your biggest challengers and you lose twice? If they hadn’t faltered, Aberdeen would be right in the title race. Celtic make the same mistakes and concede the same goals all the time.”
Sunday’s defeat, in the Scottish Cup semi-final by Rangers following a penalty shoot-out, convinced Hartson that Deila had to go. “Celtic need to be in the Champions League and I’m not sure they could have trusted Ronny to do that and deal with a domestic challenge,” he said.
l Hartson was speaking at the Know Your Balls golf day at Mar Hall, an event to raise awareness of testicular cancer.