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Summer of love for Deila

RONNY Deila last night became the latest high-profile figure to support the introduction of summer football in Scotland.

Callum McGregor's away goal in the 1-1 draw in Slovenia could be worth a fortune to Celtic when they take on Maribor in Tuesday's Champions League play-off 	           Photograph: PA
Callum McGregor's away goal in the 1-1 draw in Slovenia could be worth a fortune to Celtic when they take on Maribor in Tuesday's Champions League play-off Photograph: PA

Echoing an earlier statement from SFA president Campbell Ogilvie that such a change is inevitable, the Celtic manager said he would support a move to copy the league seasons in his native Norway - which run from March to November - or an earlier start to incorporate a winter break in December. Either of these options, Deila insists, would give Scottish clubs a better chance of qualifying for the group stages of the Champions League or Europa League.

Celtic have the precious advantage of an away goal going into Tuesday's second leg play-off match against Maribor, but would have been out of the reckoning already were it not for Legia Warsaw fielding a suspended player in the previous round.

"Playing European matches is so important for Scottish football, for the national team, for the money, for the interest in the game and for developing young players," said Deila. "A month of league football before these ties would be fantastic. You can see the difference with us now that our level is getting there.

"This isn't important only for Celtic, it is also important for Aberdeen, St Johnstone, for every team playing in Europe. Our pre-season wasn't ideal because the qualifying games come on you so quick. I believe we have to start playing earlier than we did this year but if, hopefully, we get to the Scottish Cup final we'll play on May 30. So the players would have almost no holiday.

"To improve the chances of Scottish teams qualifying it would be much better to do what we do in Norway. If we'd met a Norwegian or Swedish team in the first round, like Malmo, we would have struggled. However, if you then go through to the group stages - and it's not so often that Norwegian teams do that now - you have a problem in the winter because then you're not in shape. It is the opposite problem.

"Maybe if you have a break in December then stop a bit earlier, switch it around a little bit, we can get more power into our game."

To be in the Norwegian's company this week was to witness a man who had refound his idealism after the chastening events against Legia. He revealed that he is appalled by the lack of full-size undercover pitches in Scotland - we have just three, compared to around 70 in Norway.

Of more immediate importance to Deila, assuming everything runs to plan on Tuesday at Celtic Park, is that he will be able to spend the last week of the transfer window methodically upgrading his squad, with particular store being put on solving a long-standing problem, the lack of a tall, imposing striker. The manager admitted that one attempt by Neil Lennon solution to fill that void, Amido Balde, has to "improve a lot to be a player at that level", and acknowledged that Serbian forward Stefan Scepovic, of Sporting Gijon, is one potential solution.

"We're looking for a target man who can hold the ball up and be strong on crosses, and be physical," he said. "We have good strikers but they are similar and not that type, so we want to bring something new to the team so our opponents don't know what is happening. I always had a big striker at Stromsgodset, just to have that on the bench so that opponents knew if they defended low he could come on and make trouble."

Retaining a Scottish core will be crucial to his Deila's squad-building plans. "It is important to have that so people recognise the players and feel they are theirs," he said. "Good Scottish players are always welcome at Celtic, I hope we get more. If I had to choose between a Scottish talent and a German talent, and they are equal, I'll take the Scottish one."

How many native players fall into that category remains to be seen but one former player of Deila's who is making waves is Martin Odegaard, the Stromsgodset midfield prodigy who is in line to become Norway's youngest-ever international at the age of 15. Odegaard is reportedly interesting Manchester United, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich but Deila is also following his career keenly. He said: "We'll see what happens with Martin but we're not the only ones who want him. He lives with his parents and starts senior school this year. I believe in Martin because he's so mature. You need those players who love football rather than money. And Martin loves football. He finishes playing on a Sunday and on Monday morning he's out on the artificial pitch training again. I think Callum McGregor is the same."

McGregor's three European away goals this season could be worth millions of pounds for Celtic but the player himself is a blank canvas for Deila to work with. Under the club's rigorous regime of testing fitness and body fat, the young Scot feels fitter than ever before.

"The manager definitely puts a lot of emphasis on fitness and working hard," said McGregor. "You have to do it or you won't play. Thankfully, that has always been a pretty decent part of my game, even when I was down at Notts County. You can see the boys are working harder, they are getting fitter and stronger."

Deila and McGregor were both spectators at Parkhead last season when Celtic hosted Barcelona in the Champions League. On Tuesday they will both get to sample a big European night at Celtic Park for real.

"It will be one of the nights of my life, one of the experiences you'll think off when you finish football," said Deila. "You remember the small things, not the trophies."

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