TWO Celtic teams will effectively be fielded by Ronny Deila in today’s friendly against Rennes as he juggles game-time for his players as “everything” is geared towards Wednesday’s Champions League qualifier at home to Azerbaijan champions Qarabag.
Two considerations did not jostle for supremacy in the mind of the Celtic manager, though, as he yesterday pondered the importance of guiding his side to the group stages of the competition. That feat is rarely talked about without the £20 million bounty for doing so being given top-line status. For Deila the prestige of group-stage qualification forever trumps the pounds sterling that this would bank. Footballing ambition always runs the risk of being dulled if finances are prioritised, believes the Norwegian.
We need a lot of people to the match, create an atmosphere at Celtic Park. We really, really need thatRonny Deila
“It is the same as with the players: you don’t get money out of thinking always about money,” he said. “You have to love the game and you have to love to train and then the money will come. This is what I say to my players: if you want to think always about wanting to be rich you won’t get it. You have to be the best in something and that is how it is in football. Good performances, ok, you get the experience and you also get money. It is about what happens on the pitch, it is about everything. The money is nothing compared with the experience but when you do well everything gets higher.
“[The £20m would] help the club get more secure and we could build even more. The money is not so much an issue. There is a lot of experience in the team and there are many stages that are important for us to get in. It is a positive, but if you took away the money it is the atmosphere to really experience the Champions League and fight against the best teams in the world that is the most motivating.”
Deila as good as appealed to supporters to make that atmosphere classic Celtic Park for the first leg of the third round qualifier in midweek – the first of four ties the Norwegian has fingers, toes, legs and arms crossed will lead his team to the land of milk and honey...and memories that can mean so much more.
Yet, the 48,000 attendance achieved in the home leg of the qualifier against Stjarnan that Celtic closed out with Wednesday’s 4-1 victory in their Iceland return might prove difficult to match. That campaign curtain raiser was included as part of the season ticket package. Punters will have to fork out extra to see a Qarabag team that represent awkward and dangerous opponents following their form in the Europa League group stages last season. Deila is desperate for supporters to make the evening as energising for his players as possible when pitted against a team that secured draws with Internazionale – as did Celtic, of course – and tournament finalists Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk.
“We need a lot of people to the match, create an atmosphere at Celtic Park – we really, really need that for this game,” he said. “We are going to be ready to perform at the top of our game, then we see how it goes. The crowd make a difference. The atmosphere is so important. You saw that against Inter Milan. It’s a team who are not so very well known, Azerbaijan is not in the centre of the football world – but this is a good team. They did well last season, so we need to have everything at the top of our game to beat them.”
Following the dismal defeats in his early weeks at Celtic as qualification to the Champions League proper eluded the club, Deila must deliver on what the club’s followers crave to avoid creating an unwelcome first. Since the competition came into being with the 1990s no title-winning Celtic manager has failed to lead the club into the group stages if remaining in post for a second season. Martin O’Neill, Gordon Strachan and Neil Lennon all enjoyed their best moments in the competition with one full campaign behind them.
Deila has stated repeatedly that Celtic are a team transformed from 12 months ago and ready and able to make good on their pursuit of reaching the elite level of European football. The 39-year-old is not willing to be presumptuous, though, and declare he now has a Champions League side-in-waiting. “We’ll see. Soon we’ll know. I think we have a much better team than last year, now we face a big test. I think we’ll go through if we play at the level we did against Inter, although we have to be slightly more compact defensively at home. I think in those two legs [a 3-3 draw and 1-0 defeat with ten men in the San Siro], the way we played, that’s enough to beat Qarabag.”