Celtic’s Champions League clash with Malmo will be an engrossing tale of two Norwegians, writes Andrew Smith
The overarching narratives at Parkhead on Wednesday night are hardly going to be short of intrigue or importance. It could hardly be otherwise when there will be so much food for thought as Celtic bid to set themselves on the way to the Champions League group stages courtesy of first-leg efforts against Malmo in front of a support ravenous to feast at European football’s top table. Yet the sub-plots, too, offer up some chewy morsels. Not least the Norwegian v Norwegian face-off trackside.
“It’s special for me to play a Scandinavian team – it doesn’t give me less of an appetite, that’s for sure,” said Ronny Deila. The Celtic manager believes being pitted against Malmo coach Age Hareide will give their countryfolk more of an appetite for the tie, too. “It won’t be portrayed as a negative – it will be a positive thing back in Norway. Two Norwegians are fighting for the Champions League and there will be a lot of hype. The games will be live on TV and there will be a lot of interest.”
Deila earned himself the right to be talked about in the same breath as Hareide when he guided Celtic to Premiership success in his first season. The two men, along with Stale Solbakken and Henning Berg, are the only Norwegians to win a title outside their own land. Yet, that hardly does justice to the three decades in the coaching sphere enjoyed by Hareide, which followed a playing career that brought the doughty defender 50 caps and stints with clubs such as Molde, Norwich City and Manchester City.
Hareide keeps select company in winning titles in three different countries. He claimed the honour with both Malmo and Molde in Sweden – “there is something special about him and there, it is unbelievable,” said Deila – Danish club Brondby and with Rosenborg in his native land. Only Trond Sollied and Sven-Göran Eriksson, Ernst Happel and Giovanni Trapattoni have also done so.
Deila crossed paths with Hareide when he was an emerging coach at Stromsgodset and the now 61-year-old was enduring an unhappy time with Viking from 2009 to 2012. The Celtic manager rarely came off second best to the former Norwegian national coach, who was coaxed out of retirement in January 2014 to take charge of Malmo. He subsequently led the club to the Swedish league title and the Champions League group stages last year. Yet, the 39-year-old Deila will not be the pupil meeting his mentor when he welcomes Hareide to Celtic Park in midweek. Even when both men played the same position. Differences of age and approach seem to determine that Deila appreciates Hareide from a distance.
“I don’t know him personally but I do know others who know him very well and of course I have followed his career closely,” the Celtic manager said. “He’s an experienced guy and has been a lot of places, as well as being a very good footballer also. He knows what to do and is a good motivator.
“We are different in a way, especially offensively, but of course there are things that are common because we were brought up in the same system and I have learnt a lot that Age and the other older guys have brought into Norwegian football. He knows what I am doing and I know quite well what he’s doing.
“I have to admit I was too young to have watched him play. He played in the 80s and I remember a couple of games but if he had been five or 10 years [younger] then he would have been a big player. For me, it was the 90s generation that I looked up to that had Rune Bratseth, Henning Berg and Ronny Jonsson, those kind of players were more in my time.”
Deila’s predisposition towards Hareide might hardly have been strengthened by the Malmo coach’s comments in May that his team were better than other Champions League aspirants from modest leagues such as Celtic, Rosenborg, Molde and FC Copenhagen.
“We will see on Wednesday when they have to show that they are better than these teams,” Deila said. “It’s good that they have confidence but we know how good we can be and we know how good we are at our best.
“European games are settled by small differences. You could see that with Maribor and Karagandy [in Celtic’s Champions League play-offs over recent years]. It’s only one goal. You have to be disciplined and have a match plan.
“[Hareide’s comments] were something he has said before – I don’t know if he said it in the way and meant it in the way [it has been taken]. But we will fight to show that he is wrong. It puts pressure on the people who say it. If they put the standard up there and say they are better than teams in Scotland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark then we will see on Wednesday.”
Motivation will not be lacking from the Malmo side, either. Another Norwegian, forward Jo Inge Berget, has spoken of embracing the opportunity, effectively, to show there is much more to him than he produced in a sorry loan spell with a Celtic in a state of flux across Deila’s first six months.
However, Deila prefers to dwell on the opportunity presented to himself and his players. It feels as if the Norwegian has been building towards the two assignments that will await his team in the next 10 days. Deila personally needs the Champions League as much as his club, and its supporters. What happens against Malmo will determine what perception of him holds. Every title-winning Celtic manager in a decade-and-a-half has delivered Champions League group stage football in their second season.
Failing to follow that pattern would seriously dent Deila’s credibility but his confidence in achieving his European goal showed through when he was asked about Berget’s special motivation on his Celtic Park return.
“There are going to be 22 players plus the subs who are unbelievably motivated,” said Deila, who believes that the game of the former Cardiff City man is better suited to Scandinavian football than that played on these shores. “It is how to deal with the situation. We have so much experience in the team and so much quality and we have gone a long period with a lot of good results and a lot of good performances, and that is what is going to make us go through. We have to believe in ourselves and what we have done and get the best out of ourselves. If we play a fantastic match and we lose, then we are not good enough. If we are at our best, then we will have a very good chance.
“We are ready for Malmo and they would have been the play-off draw if I could have got to choose before. I would have said that is a good test for us and it is a test that we can pass. So I am respectful of them – they are a good team – but I really, really believe that we can show that we are better and go through.”