That bigger is not always better has been painfully exposed by the misfiring of Celtic that has caused Deila to do the honourable thing. There may be envy from the man who will occupying the away technical area today as Celtic seek to rubber stamp their title win against Aberdeen, but the fact that Derek McInnes’ side made the title issue live for a time does not reflect well on Deila’s use of his resources.
Former Celtic assistant Billy Stark last week said he would have sleepless nights over the size of a squad that has had 35 different individuals used and, incredibly, 52 distinct starting line-ups across the 54 games the club has contested this season.
Stark said there were too many players. “I totally agree,” was Deila’s response to having this assessment imparted to him. It was Champions League qualifying calamities that did for Deila, but the two-year project with the Norwegian was further blown off course by an increasingly overblown squad.
“I also had that issue when I came in here. There were too many players here at that time,” he said. “There have been mistakes but we have taken chances with players, trying to find the right ones. When you don’t have a lot of money and you can’t get the ones you know are real quality, you have to take chances. In the end it has been unbalanced and that’s a challenge and it has to be resolved. We had a very good unit here last year and also into the qualifiers and then in Christmas. But after that we got stuck with too many players and that is my responsibility. There are things I should have done better.”
The curious aspect to Celtic collecting players like they were Panini stickers is that last summer Deila made plain that one of the tasks ahead of his second season was to reduce the numbers he was working with. He said then that the ideal figure would be 22 plus three goalkeepers. Something has gone badly awry but he refuses publicly to see the problem, in part, as arising from certain signings being, essentially, foisted on him.
“Different things have happened and we have done things that we shouldn’t have done – that’s something you learn from,” he said. “I saw at the end of January we had too many players. Some of the players were injured – so we took on extra and in the end there were too many. Also we had people in on short notice as well – loan deals.
“Had we been involved in Europe and both cups it might have been different, but it’s been too many. Sometimes [it’s] hard to move players on. You always wait to the last minute and things can go wrong because all the clubs want to get players as cheap as possible.
“It will be up to the new manager to change things and do things he wants to do. Yes, I wanted to work with a smaller squad but that’s not the biggest factor here – it’s about quality in the end. I have spoken to [Celtic chief executive] Peter Lawwell and my staff about which players should leave and they have a good view of that.”
This lunchtime Deila will have his last chance to have a good view of the only team to mount any sort of challenge to his side in the league these past two years. With the second-highest budget in the top flight, Aberdeen should have been pushing Celtic closer than any rivals, but McInnes said last week that his team hadn’t received the appreciation they warranted for preventing the Premiership being a strictly one-horse race on a sixth of the budget the five-in-a-row champions can command.
Although relations between the management teams of Aberdeen and Celtic have often been far from cordial, Deila considers he has not been guilty of not acknowledging the Pittodrie side’s prowess. He might not be in McInnes’ good books for his attitude to the Dons’ manager’s claim that his team deserve more credit for bridging a resources gap.
“That’s what every manager says. Leicester don’t do that, do they? They didn’t have the same budget as Manchester United, or whatever. I didn’t have the same budget as Rosenborg when I won the Norwegian title with Stromsgodset. I think he’s got a lot of praise. He has had peace all the time and he has done a lot of positive things. Aberdeen have been a strong unit and that is why they have been hard to play against.
“They have had the fans behind them. They have a manager who is safe and feels a lot of confidence. The players have been there for a long while and they have a pattern of play that you can just close your eyes and you know exactly what is going to happen but it is hard to stop. Everybody is so into it, there is good spirit in the team.
“Aberdeen is a big club in Scottish terms so there are possibilities. I remember a certain Sir Alex Ferguson did it before, so it has been done. But I have given him a lot of positive feedback this year and I’m going to do it again because of the consistency, the unity, the style of play, with which you can achieve a lot of things.”