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Celtic head coach brings substance to demand for style

THE result is more important than the performance.

Home from home: Ronny Deila led his Celtic squad through a training session at Murrayfield ahead of their Champions League qualifying match. Picture: SNS
Home from home: Ronny Deila led his Celtic squad through a training session at Murrayfield ahead of their Champions League qualifying match. Picture: SNS

How often have we heard that old line trotted out from our managers when the kind of game that can define a season or damage a career, no matter its fledgling status, comes around?

Given everything at stake, personally and collectively, when Celtic endeavour to build on a 1-0 first-leg victory against KR Reykjavik at Murrayfield this evening in the second qualifying round of the Champions League, it seems a natural philosophy for Ronny Deila, still getting his feet under the table at the SPFL Premiership champions, to buy into.

"I will never say that," exclaimed the Norwegian when confronted with the very suggestion. "Never."

As manifesto statements go, it is fairly emphatic. Of course, Deila and his assistant manager, John Collins, have been perfectly clear from the get-go about their determination to establish an attack-minded style based on possession football.

That takes a bit of time, though. They are only beginning to learn the names of some of their players far less develop relationships with them. Deila has not even been afforded the luxury of taking charge of a game at his home ground yet.

Not even the most ardent defender of playing football the "Celtic way" would criticise him, given the circumstances, for getting his side to the group stages of the European game's showpiece competition by any means necessary and saving us all from pretending to get excited about a domestic championship likely to be over by Christmas.

That is clearly not the way the former Stromsgodset head coach plans to go about things, though. The wisdom of his outlook, really rather pure and virtuous, will be judged through time, but the blueprint has now been set in stone.

Every game matters. Every day provides an opportunity to move closer to what is demanded. Everyone knows that substance really does have to be regarded as the equal of style.

"The players understand how I'm thinking now, how every training session is important, how every game is important," said Deila. "This game, in particular, is unbelievably important to get through, but it is also important to get a performance.

"We want to go out and be better than we were the last time because we need progression and we need to use every day to get better. If we go through, but have played badly then I will get angry because we haven't used the day in a good way. If you play badly, you can lose as well. Then it's double s***.

"If we win, I will say I am very happy with the result, but I will also say if I am not happy with the performance. In the game against Krasnodar in pre-season, we were lucky. We should have lost that game, but we won [3-1]. That sometimes happens, but I can't fool myself or my team."

Working methods and footballing culture established, Deila is, slowly but surely, making decisions based on what he sees in training and in games. He gave Charlie Mulgrew a real vote of confidence when making him his captain for the first leg in Reykjavik in the absence of Scott Brown and the versatile defender, a Celtic supporter since childhood, makes no secret of how honoured he will be to lead the team again tonight.

"It was a great confidence boost to be handed the armband after Scott got injured," he said. "He's a great captain and it's good that the manager has come in and sees me as a captain, too. It's a dream come true to do it. Even if it is in a reserve game, it is a proud, proud moment.

"Paul McStay was a great captain when I was growing up. Neil Lennon was a good captain, too, and Henrik Larsson captained the side a few times. There have been all sorts of great captains down the years. Billy McNeill won the European Cup and there was the likes of Jackie McNamara. I know these guys. I grew up as a Celtic fan and watched some of these guys play."

Mulgrew, of course, began his career in the Parkhead youth system and was sold to Wolverhampton Wanderers in August of 2006 in part-exchange for Lee Naylor.

The memories of that rejection and the effort that went into securing the return ticket granted by Neil Lennon have made his recent successes all the more enjoyable. "When I left Celtic the first time, I never thought something like this would happen," he said. "When you leave, coming back is the last thing on your mind never mind captaining the club."

Tonight's Icelandic opponents provided fairly stubborn resistance in the first leg when eventually losing 1-0 to a late goal from Callum McGregor. Their gameplan will be based resolutely around packing the defence once again and they are not ashamed to admit it. "We have a strategy to try to slow Celtic down and we will attack when we get the chance. I believe in it," said Runar Kristinsson, the Reykjavik head coach.

With Anthony Stokes ruled out with a leg injury, Teemu Pukki may find himself afforded the chance to build on a pre-season campaign that brought four goals in four games. The Finn has been a disappointment in Glasgow since signing from Schalke, but Deila has assured the striker that he can become a regular performer.

"Everyone has the chance to make a career for themselves here," he said. "Teemu has worked hard, but I want him to develop more. His fitness could be better, but I think he is more conscious of what he is doing on the pitch and I'm looking forward to seeing more of him."

With the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games taking place at Celtic Park tomorrow, Celtic spent last night familiarising themselves with the hybrid surface - part astroturf and part natural grass - at Murrayfield.

Both Deila and Mulgrew acknowledged that they were happy with the surface and surroundings on their first visit to the stadium. Clearly, as with many west of Scotland boys, the latter is no aficionado of the oval ball game. "It was the posh schools that played rugby," he added.

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