Initial doubts about fitness regime are over, Kris Commons tells Andrew Smith
THE League Cup final experience has not been kind to Kris Commons. Until fairly recently, neither had the experience of adapting to Ronny Deila’s regime. The 31-year-old doesn’t care for the portrayal of him as a Deila doubter, resistant to change because he wanted “an easy way out” and simply to “plod away for the next two or three years”. Yet, neither does he pretend to have undergone some sort of Damascene conversion to the Norwegian’s methodology.
Commons sees great merit and the odd drawback in what is demanded by the Celtic manager. Above all though, as illustrated by his first-pick status and last month’s successful resolution to protracted contract negotiations, he has reached an accommodation with the ways of Neil Lennon’s successor. Fit again after niggles that have restricted him of late, he now wants to reach an accommodation with the League Cup.
A case of third-time lucky is what Commons hopes the decider against Dundee United at Hampden this afternoon will be. He endured defeat by Rangers in the 2010 final six weeks after signing for the club, and when Kilmarnock caused an almighty upset to win the trophy two years later, Commons was only called from the bench shortly after his team had gone behind and with only minutes remaining.
“I was a bit unhappy I wasn’t playing in that one I remember,” he said, demonstrating it wasn’’t always a love-in with Lennon. “That was one of our strongest teams. It just shows you that, on any given day, we can get beat. As the cup I have not won in Scotland, it’s a big deal. I think it’s only Scott Brown who has won in the whole squad so our lads will be looking to put a trophy in the cabinet early and concentrate on the other two we keep talking about.
“I have a lot of goals for myself – to win more trophies, more cups. I want to win a treble and play in the Champions League these next couple of years. It’s not signing a deal where I think ‘oh, that’s great, I can get my feet up’. He [Deila] will put pressure on me to keep improving so I’ve got to show signs of doing that and that’s one of my goals – I want to get better as a player as I get older.”
The forward has found – if you will – common ground with Deila over that constant striving to extract more from mind and body. He isn’t about to suddenly become a stick insect, a buzzbomb, but there have been incremental improvements. Commons has lost “about three or four kilos”, but gives context to the fact that while Gary Mackay-Steven – as Deila has delighted in – can run 1,300m high intensity in a training session, he will be 400m shy of that.
“That’s not necessarily running forward; he could be running back, doing anything. With distance covered as well, he might not be running as far. He might be doing 11k a game, Broonie [Scott Brown] might do 14k, and only do 400 high intensity. The fact is everybody has made it, ‘oh we are fit and playing this high pressing game’, but it’s not like we are running any further. We are trying to stamp our authority from the word go and that is putting teams under pressure and trying to get them to make mistakes so we can win the ball higher up the park, rather than standing off. But the high pressing game you can’t do against European opposition; I think that is very difficult.
“You [also] can’t do it for 90 minutes nor can you do it three times a week. You probably saw that against St Johnstone [with Celtic’s 1-0 loss last week]. You can’t do ridiculous levels week in, week out. You have to adapt your game. The important thing for Celtic is to win every single game, whether that’s grinding out a 1-0, or battling and doing the different ugly sides.
“It’s just up to me to put as much pressure on the manager to keep me in, no matter what style of football we play. If I am involved in setting up goals and scoring goals, it’s very hard to keep a person who’s doing that out the team. That’s my aim, to get in there in the first place and then just give him a headache for the next game.”
Commons does, though, confirm that Deila and his backroom team of fitness fanatics John Collins and John Kennedy pursue their fat-busting with a real zealotry. “They see the likes of [Cristiano] Ronaldo, who is this supreme athlete. He’s the pinnacle, isn’t he? He is the quickest, he can jump highest, he can score most goals. He is the target, and has probably no fat. So whatever I am over that, that is the target. That is not just me. Even Craig Gordon has had words about it, Nir Bitton, Charlie Mulgrew. It’s not just me and the likes of Anthony Stokes and James Forrest; the lads who have picked up injuries.”
Yet the playmaker offers up “probably, yeah” to the question over whether too much has been made of the fitness regime put in place by Deila. It “isn’t that different from a year ago” he claims. The apparent acceptance of the club captain going on the razzle in the midweek before today’s final might indeed back-up Commons’ assertion that even the current Celtic manager allows his “24-hour athletes” time off.
It was how Deila started off in post last summer that Commons confesses caused anxieties in the dressing room. “It is always difficult when you feel like you’ve come off a season doing really well then someone comes in and wants to change things, that he sees for the better. But through that transitional period we got knocked out the Champions League and didn’t get off to a great start in the league. So, it was a case of trying to make change without affecting too much on the park, but it had an effect on the park.
“I think Aberdeen away [in November] was a big result, when big Virg [Virgil van Dijk] scored in the last minute; I think that was a big turning point. But we see the benefits on the training field, and did before that. We are trying to play this high pressing game and everyone is looking to try and improve as much as possible – whether that is a 19-year-old kid that’s just come in or me at 31. He wants everyone to make targets to get fit, get healthier. It is just completely different from last year. Then if you were doing well, it was a case of just keeping doing what you were doing.
“[It was a problem for me at the start] because I wasn’t playing; there were big games I wasn’t involved in. But that was another thing of me trying to play the way the manager wanted me to do. In recent weeks, when I have been fit and healthy, I’ve felt like a different player and added more to my game.”