As the midway point of the Scottish Premiership campaign approaches, Celtic fans can now reflect on the first six months under the stewardship of 39-year-old Norwegian coach Ronny Delia.
Former Strømsgodset manager Deila joined the Scottish champions in June following the departure of Neil Lennon who spent much of the last fourteen years at the club. Lennon’s reign as manager included three successive league titles and relative success in the Champions League –a hallmark of Celtic’s most successful managers.
Delia therefore had a difficult act to follow, however there would be no grace period for the inexperienced coach with the Bhoys strong favourites for a fourth successive league title while a battling performance in Europe also seemed to be mandatory.
Deila’s opening spell started with some good fortune at the expense of Polish side Legia Warsaw. Legia comfortably dispatched the Hoops in Poland in a Champions League qualifier with a 4-1 win and grabbed victory at Celtic’s temporary home Murrayfield the following week. Scottish blushes were spared however and they were given another shot at qualification as the Polish side fielded an ineligible player in the return leg.
Celtic opened the defence of their Premiership title with a 3-0 away win at St. Johnstone and a resounding 6-1 victory back at Celtic Park against Dundee United. The promising start proved somewhat deceiving however as the Parkhead club again crashed out of the Champions League.
An encouraging 1-1 away draw at Maribor ensured another home win at Celtic Park would confirm Champions League qualification with Celtic fans hoping for more famous nights under the lights in Glasgow’s East End. It was not to be however and a disappointing 1-0 home defeat ensured Deila’s men would have to settle for Europa League football.
Shaky League form
Prior to and immediately following the September international break, Celtic won only one of their four league matches and trailed surprise league leaders Hamilton.
Celtic fans may have been willing to accept the Champions League failure given the same fate was experienced by Neil Lennon and Gordon Strachan in their opening years. Deila however was struggling to dominate the Scottish Premiership despite the continued absence of crisis-hit Rangers.
As their Glasgow rivals work towards returning to the top-flight, Celtic fans looked to the Norwegian to build his version of Celtic which could reign supreme in Scotland for the foreseeable future whilst competing in Europe.
Just as questions over the future of the manager began to gather momentum, the Celtic boss appears to have built a level of general consistency which has seen to club clamber to the summit of the Premiership and ensured Europa League football after Christmas.
An almost flawless October highlighted progress for Celtic’s side as summer loanee John Guidetti played a starring role for Delia’s side.
As the Celts appeared to be improving, albeit somewhat passively, a Saturday lunchtime match in Aberdeen proved a potential turning point in Deila’s Celtic career. After going a goal down to the Dons, Celtic looked set to grab a point following Stefan Johansen’s equaliser. Virgil van Dijk however, went on to grab a late winner to secure all three points in what is always a tough encounter.
Celtic’s players celebrated the victory in front of the travelling support and were joined by a visibly passionate Deila who whipped the crowd into a frenzy with his own celebrations. The Norwegian arrived in Glasgow with a reputation for his relationship with the Strømsgodset fans but the Hoops supporters had to wait until early November to get a glimpse of that character. To outsiders, the vigorous celebrations appeared to be a release of stress but it clearly endeared the coach to his new followers.
Providing Deila’s Celtic continue their strong domestic form and can make an impression in the Europa League, the Hoops fans and board will continue to buy in to the philosophy of the young coach.
In addition to the on-field performances, the Norwegian could pull of a real coup if he can capture the signing of Swedish striker John Guidetti who is a firm fans’ favourite in Glasgow.