Monday 22 January 2018

Deila in at deep end as Hoops try to navigate Euro qualifiers

Ronny Deila is unveiled as the new Celtic manager
Ronny Deila is unveiled as the new Celtic manager

Roddy Forsyth

Celtic attempted to lure legends and were rebuffed. Roy Keane turned them down. Henrik Larsson was savvy enough to appreciate the need to supplement his managerial experience before taking charge of the club where he has the status of a demigod.

Having reached fruitlessly for charisma, Celtic were beguiled by a man from nowhere, which – with respect to the undoubtedly professional and enthusiastic board and staff of Stromsgodset IF – is exactly where their team was located on the map of Hoops fans' knowledge of the world game.

Their most notable result in European football was an 11-0 aggregate defeat by Liverpool in 1974. Stromsgodset, who hail from Drammen, Norway's ninth largest city, are rather more celebrated at home as the team which won the Tippiligaen in 2013, for the first time in 43 years.

They did so under Ronny Deila, a former teacher and something of an exhibitionist, as he demonstrated by stripping down to his underpants and throwing his clothes into the crowd after one victory in 2009. With that in mind, he had better buy himself some spare rig-outs because he is certainly the first incoming manager of an Old Firm club to be guaranteed to win the Scottish title before a ball is kicked.

But if Deila has, for all practical purposes, been presented with a domestic championship, his most pressing challenge begins in five weeks' time when the second round of Champions League qualifiers get under way.

Neil Lennon steered Celtic through the same hazardous waters – two rounds of qualifiers and a play-off – twice in succession and spoke about the pressure of knowing that the consequence of failure would be a season decried as a failure before it had got properly under way.

This is the world Deila now inhabits and it will take time for him to grasp just how surreal it is, but a good start would be to slip away for a moment to sit in the main stand at Celtic Park and cast his eyes slowly over the precipitous walls of seats.

If he has ever wondered what the 66,000 population of Drammen gathered in one place would look like, Celtic Park on a high-octane Champions League night will provide the equivalent.

However, if there is no European football after August, there are supporters who will head for the hills faster than medieval monks tipped to an impending Viking raid.

Deila comes with glowing testimonials. Celtic CEO Peter Lawwell described him as a "progressive, intelligent and modern manager ... with a fantastic record in winning and developing a team."

That reputation, however, has been derived from a single small outfit on the margins of the European game and, those who are wary of such a slim volume of reference will cite the example of Paul Le Guen, who won three successive titles with Olympique Lyonnais in the far more demanding French league before arriving at Rangers in the summer of 2006 – and departed the following January.

Le Guen never understood the demands of Rangers. Deila certainly seemed to have mainlined a full vial of Hoops tradition when he said: "I know what I want for Celtic and our fans and that is the best of everything. It is what our fans deserve."

Still, Celtic will attempt to put insurance in place with the appointment of an assistant familiar with the incessant demands of life at Parkhead, probably their former midfielder, John Collins.

Thereafter we will see whether Deila represents the inspired appointment of a young manager on the verge of a breakthrough – or a gambler's punt on an unseasoned hopeful.

As for the man himself, Norway boasts a geographical wonder whose name perfectly describes the world Deila has just entered: maelstrom. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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