IT IS almost an act of heresy for anyone connected with Celtic to in any way diminish the significance of the club’s 1967 European Cup final triumph against Inter Milan.
But as a sold-out Celtic Park gets set to be enveloped in nostalgia tonight when the Italian club visit on Europa League business, Ronny Deila is determined to avoid being stuck in the past.
Ahead of his biggest test yet as Celtic manager, Deila has revealed he is only aware of the bare details of his club’s seismic success in Lisbon 48 years ago when Jock Stein’s celebrated team became the first British winners of European football’s premier trophy.
The Norwegian coach is not completely oblivious to the emotional resonance of the Europa League last-32 tie against Inter but his focus is keenly trained on trying to make his own contribution to the club’s folklore.
“I admit that I have a lot of other things to do than sit down and learn about the history of Celtic,” said Deila. “I have to make history here, not watch it.
“I haven’t educated myself in the history between the teams, I just know about the final in 1967. If you don’t know that, then you don’t really know anything about the history. It’s the best memory in Celtic history, so this is going to be huge.
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“It is a dream to be remembered in the history of Celtic for good things. Getting through the group stage of the Europa League this season was a good achievement but obviously beating Inter Milan to win this tie would be much bigger.
“Realistically, it’s hard to say what we can achieve this season. We have the possibility to win everything. This is a cup and Celtic have done it in Europe before. But we also understand that it is the small details which can make it work out well or go the other way.”
Celtic are not short of confidence or momentum as they go into tonight’s first leg against an Inter side who, despite improved form in the last couple of weeks, still languish in tenth place in Serie A, a massive 22 points behind leaders Juventus.
On an unbeaten domestic run which has seen them win their last seven games in all competitions, Deila’s team have certainly improved since the opening months of his first season when their erratic and unconvincing levels of performance saw them flop badly in the Champions League qualifiers. But many will regard how they fare against Roberto Mancini’s Inter as a more reliable indicator of the progress Deila is convinced he has made in the past few months.
“The team has totally changed from the start of the season to now,” added Deila. “I know more what I want from them and also know the staff better. The togetherness is very good and there has been a lot of progress, both individually and as a team. I’m really looking forward to this game because we are ready for it. Even if we don’t get the result we want, that will give me some answers as well. The most important thing is to continue and test ourselves in these matches. I understand people are looking for signs of progress from myself and the team. But people also have eyes and see what they see. Against Inter, we will meet a good team and a big club, but everything is possible.
“Inter can buy players from teams like Bayern Munich and Arsenal, so you can see the level we are talking about here. They pay for one player a fee which is equal to the price of our entire team. Mancini has not gone to Inter to finish in the middle of the table. He has got money to spend and will get more. Every one of his players are internationals and the Europa League is their best chance to win something important this season.”
While he is bullish about Celtic’s prospects of getting through the tie, Deila is also irked by suggestions that achieving his much-stated aim of winning the domestic treble this season would not bring him as much credibility in the job as European success.
“There have been only two managers here [Jock Stein and Martin O’Neill] who have won the treble before,” said Deila. “So it can’t be right to say that.
“I think people will judge me and the others based on whether we are entertaining the fans, whether they are enjoying watching us.
“Are we winning trophies and are we seeing progress? Can we see the club is moving in the right direction? I work to improve the club and if people are happy or not, we will see.
“But you also have to see behind results. If we beat Inter Milan and have been so lucky, with Craig Gordon making 15 saves or something, I’m still not stupid. I know we have been lucky. You have to see behind the results and hopefully on Thursday night we can produce a good performance and show we can deal with these big teams.”