Manager tells fringe men to find another club as he begins trimming group to around 21 or 22 players
It is a twist on a familiar close-season theme. Ronny Deila is certainly seeking player movement. It seems, though, that shedding more players than he adds is priority for the Celtic manager this summer.
Judging by the personnel listed on their website, as it stands Celtic have a senior squad of 27 players. That figure doesn’t include those shipped out on loan last season who have no way back, but equally no clear exit strategy. Forwards Amido Balde and Holmbert Fridjohnnson, and winger Dylan McGeouch come into that bracket.
Deila wants to operate with a senior pool of “21 or 22 players, without the goalkeepers”. One individual it is obvious he would cut away in an instant is Derk Boerrigter; the rarely fit, and rarely seen Dutch winger. When assessing the Celtic manager’s approach to squad pruning, it becomes apparent that Anthony Stokes, Callum McGregor and Liam Henderson could be others left fearing the shears.
To be brutal, it is difficult to see opportunities presenting themselves for this trio. Even before the likely addition of another forward and wide midfielder. When a player permanently retreats to the fringes of a squad, Deila believes that creates an intolerable situation for both the unfortunate professional and his club.
“Some players need to try to find another club. It’s not fun to be in a situation that you don’t play. We want a smaller squad so we can get youngsters in to train with us from our academy. That’s why we do it. It’s important to develop the club that way and if you have too big a squad and they end up 23, 24, 25, a 26-year-old who is No.26 in the squad, there’s no future for them. And it is hard for me to see them every day and give them what they need as well. So it is best for everyone.
We want a smaller squad so we can get youngsters from our academy in to train
“For us to get down to be at 21, 22 that will require evolution, and we have to maybe take one more window to get to that number. But we’re very clear on what we want and we’ll see how quickly we can do it.”
Deila wants his side to move at pace, on and off the pitch. That is the next stage in the development of a team that, 12 months on from coming under his tutelage, he has complete faith can become a Champions League side over the next two months. Three ties require to be negotiated – starting with a second-round qualifier that brings FC Stjarnan to Glasgow weeks on Wednesday. Deila wants his team to deliver in these crucial qualifiers in dashing style, after last summer they failed in the first tests in desperate fashion.
“Everything has to go quicker,” the Celtic manager said. “That is what we are working on. We have to create the pattern offensively. I think the pattern is starting to get quite clear, players know what they have to do. Now the goal is to get that as quick as possible. We just have to work on quality in training and in everything we do so we get better.
“If things get quicker then it is going to be very, very hard for other teams to beat us. We have much to work on to do that, but we have consistency in training and the players have learned from their experiences. We are on a totally different level now than we were one year ago.”
Many of Deila’s core performers were signed by his predecessor Neil Lennon. He has no qualms, though, about stating that the current Celtic is very much his team. “It’s more about what I started in terms of the style of play, because it’s totally different to the one Neil used. He had his team and I had to get them to be my team. From where we started and where we are now, it’s miles apart. I think the players feel that as well. It was a lot about them getting to know each other and getting used to the change.
“You could see from the results that we weren’t ready. The performances weren’t good enough. Everyone has a responsibility for that, especially me. We feel we are in a good place now and that we have some exciting months ahead of us.
“[Team building] is like a relationship – it gets better as time goes on... hopefully! You experience things together, positive and negative. You build trust and start to know each other and know what you can expect from one another. We’ve had one year, we look happy and we want to continue like that. Maybe I am the wife.”
Deila certainly might be considered a romantic. Dedryck Boyata didn’t succeed in establishing a lasting union with first-team football at Manchester City. However, the Celtic manager is convinced the £1.6m purchase will enjoy a happy marriage with the Scottish champions in the mould of Jason Denayer, the fellow Belgian centre-back he has been signed to replace, because the TLC won’t be rationed in his new posting.
“He needs love, he needs trust and opportunities to play over time. As did Jason. They have to deserve it, so they have to show it in training and matches. But when you feel you are number four [centre-back] and don’t get any minutes you’re just there and you don’t feel the love you need. I told him when we first met what we were capable of and that we really believed in him, that he can be a great, great central defender.
“I know that if we can get the best out of him he has the potential to be a top international player. City agree and they will follow him in the future to see if he can take the next step, like Virgil [van Dijk] is trying to do now.
“Jason has shown that. A year ago he hadn’t played an important match in his life – now it’s quite different. But that’s also one of the reasons he wanted to come here because he saw what happened with Jason. The way we work, we have good material to work with. If we get it right we can make a top player.”