DURING what often seemed an interminable contract saga, it looked as if Celtic regarded Kris Commons as a luxury they simply could not afford.
Now that he has finally put pen to paper on a new two-year deal, Commons has claimed the club’s hesitation was down to manager Ronny Deila’s concern that he would be unable to teach an old dog new tricks.
Scotland’s reigning Player of the Year is more renowned for his artistry than his industry, with the latter quality a prerequisite for anyone seeking regular first-team football under Deila who promotes high tempo, pressing tactics.
“I absolutely had to change Ronny’s mind about me,” said Commons. “He was probably a little bit sceptical about whether I could change the way I am at 31. When my age was spoken about in terms of why I might not get a two-year deal, I thought that was just an excuse, something he said because he didn’t want to say I was lazy or not fit enough.
“It has taken hard work and dedication to show him I am willing to not so much change my game, but adapt to give him what he wants on the pitch while winning matches. It was mainly off-the-ball things he wanted. Being a ‘number 10’, you can get away with being a little bit lazy in the SPFL. I wouldn’t say I was lazy, I would just say you can probably get away with it.
“There are certain games where you don’t have to produce your best football but can still find yourself in good areas, bright enough and intelligent enough to hurt the opposition without actually putting in the work. But Ronny wasn’t asking me to do anything I wasn’t capable of. I now feel fitter than I’ve ever been. Since day one, Ronny has come here and wants us to try and play not like a Scottish team, but in a Barcelona or Bayern Munich style. He’s a real big fan of Pep Guardiola, the way he plays and treats his players.
“He wants us to be elite athletes, 24 hours a day. That was a big hit for lads who had not done that for four years and getting that way when you are not winning games, as it was at the start of the season, is more difficult than when you are winning.
“But we are all on the same page now and going in the right direction. The lads are flying and we have some good games to look forward to.” Deila confirmed he held reservations about Commons but has been won over by his performances since the turn of the year.
“Kris and I have talked a lot over these last eight months since I came to the club,” said Deila. “I always told him I thought he was a very, very good football player. I can’t teach him so much about football but he still had something more to give in the way he trains and with his fitness. If we could get that even better, what a player he could be then.
“In the beginning, I didn’t see that kind of improvement from him. That’s why I waited to give him the contract that he wanted. But in the last month he has really bought into it and has been working really hard. You saw his performance against Rangers last Sunday was really good. So I’m happy that he understands what I want and agrees how we are going to do it.
“You need players who want to develop all the time. From the first day I came to Celtic, I told the players there were two things I would demand. One, you have to be fit. Two, you have to give 100 per cent in training every day. Players had to know what that means and it was maybe a little bit of a change from before. But Kris is an intelligent guy. I’m delighted he has signed now and I think he will play a better game now because he can stop talking and thinking about the contract. It will make him a better player.
“The best players, the ones who achieve things, always look forwards and learn. They have to make the small things better. I’m delighted he is staying because he is going to be important for us. But it was also important for me to see that he wanted to do it, because he is a role model for the youngsters. If the role model doesn’t buy into what we want to do, then it’s very hard for him to continue.
“When you come in and take over a successful team, who have won the title for the last three years and been in the Champions League, it’s so hard to change. They are thinking, ‘Why should we change when we are winning?’ But I’m not Neil Lennon, I’m Ronny Deila. I have to do it my way. I believe in my way.”
Unsurprisingly, Deila feels he has just experienced his best week yet as Celtic manager with the Old Firm League Cup semi-final victory followed by the transfer deadline day signings of Stuart Armstrong and Gary Mackay-Steven before Commons agreed his new contract.
But he knows there is little time to savour it as his ambitions of a domestic treble go on the line again in today’s Scottish Cup fifth round tie against Dundee at Dens Park.
“It will only really be a good week if we beat Dundee,” he said. “I have to thank Peter Lawwell and the board for getting us what we wanted from the transfer window, both in signing new players and keeping hold of our best ones.
“It shows the players that the club really wants this treble and they are giving everyone the trust they need.”
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