RONNY DEILA has revealed plans to scale down Celtic’s pre-season programme for the 2015-16 campaign in a bid to ensure the club cash in on Uefa’s increased financial rewards for Champions League participation.
When he arrived at Celtic last summer, Deila inherited a preparatory schedule in which his squad faced four matches in Austria, two in Germany and a further friendly fixture against Tottenham in Helsinki.
“We have to be more prepared for the Champions League than we were this season”Ronny Deila
The Norwegian coach believes it was an itinerary which impacted negatively on Celtic’s poor performances in the Champions League qualifiers. In addition to the travelling involved, the Scottish champions also suffered a blow to their prestige when they were crushed 6-1 by Spurs in the match in Finland.
If Celtic retain the Scottish Premiership title over the course of the next two months, they will begin their Champions League qualifying campaign next season on 14 or 15 July.
Deila intends to base much of the preparation at home in Scotland and will limit the number of friendlies they play, either in Europe or elsewhere.
Although he is appreciative of the lucrative nature of some of the offers Celtic receive to play challenge matches, Deila points out that it is vastly out-stripped by the new prize pot Uefa announced this week for the Champions League.
If Celtic make it through the three qualifying rounds they would have to face, they will now collect a minimum of just under £11 million simply for reaching the group stage. With ticket sales and broadcast income to be added, Celtic could earn up to £18m even if they lose all six matches in the group.
It is an added incentive for Deila to oversee an improved qualifying campaign, having effectively been knocked out twice this season. Celtic lost to Maribor of Slovenia in the play-off round, having been reprieved when a 6-1 aggregate defeat by Legia Warsaw in the previous round was overturned because the Polish club fielded a suspended player.
“We have to be more prepared for the Champions League than we were this season,” said Deila. “I know we are going to be. It is not going to be the same as last pre-season.
“We are going to play less games, travel less and really prepare for those qualifiers. I want to do it differently than we did it last year. I think we did way too much travelling and played way too many games. It is not positive to play games with half a team and lose 6-1. It is not positive for the confidence and the atmosphere in the club. We don’t like to lose.
“We haven’t decided 100 per cent on the pre-season schedule but I think we are going to stay here for the first 14 days and have games around here. We will have a couple of games that we go away to play, maybe two or three.
“So there will less travelling, more calm. Players will have been abroad on vacation and will come back and prepare the right way and play games here. When we play, we want to prepare as good as possible and that is going to be the main issue now in pre-season.”
The USA has been a favoured destination for Celtic over the past decade and often offers the most financially rewarding and highest profile fixtures. But Deila says the club’s chief executive Peter Lawwell understands his desire for a less hectic and lower-key schedule.
“Peter is with me, we are on the same lines so that hasn’t been a problem,” added Deila. “We are talking about the United States but then everything has to be perfect there. So I think we are going to stay here.
“Yes, the pre-season games can be attractive financially, but there is more money in the Champions League. It is so important. We want to win the league and get into the Champions League group stage, that’s the main target.
“There is even more money now in the Champions League. So to get a good team to compete in that tournament is everything. It is more important than selling players. Our prime target is Champions League and we have to do what is best for the club.
“It is even more pressure, but you can’t think about money. You just have to do the job the best way you can. I feel if we can keep consistency in this team and maybe add a player or two, we will be ready for it.
“It’s not only about the money. It’s about the supporters and the reputation of the club. It’s about the experience of the Champions League.
“They are knockout ties in the qualifiers, so anything can happen. We just need to do everything as good as possible so the preparation is 100 per cent.”
If Celtic fulfil Deila’s ambition of winning the domestic treble, there will be little time off this summer for those of his players who also have international commitments in June.
“Our dream and hope is to get to the Scottish Cup final and win it,” said Deila. “If we do that, then we will be playing our last game of this season on 30 May.
“After the cup final, the players will get three weeks’ holiday. If they are playing internationals in June, they will get one week more. So players like Scott Brown and Stefan would come back on 1 July.
“In three weeks, you can’t ruin too much. It is just positive for their bodies to rest. They know what is coming when they come back to training.”
Celtic will look to take another stride towards a fourth consecutive Scottish title tonight when they face bottom of the table St Mirren in Paisley. Victory would put Deila’s side eight points clear of nearest challengers Aberdeen with nine games left to play.
“We want to win it as soon as possible,” added Deila. “The games coming up now are important games but we have good momentum now.
“We play good football, we train well, there is good harmony in the squad. I am comfortable we are going to keep performing well.
“I expect a good performance from us against St Mirren. We have a lot of players who have been rested a lot and should be ready for the game.”
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