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Celtic must stick with Ronny Deila and show the rest of sport the way . . .

AS Scotland's top team in the country's favourite sport comes to terms with having been knocked out of the Champions League not once but twice before the competition proper gets under way, an opportunity for healthy, introspective reflection presents itself.

 Celtic Park and the Emirates Arena stand in close proximity in the East End of Glasgow. Picture: Jeff Holmes/SNS Group
Celtic Park and the Emirates Arena stand in close proximity in the East End of Glasgow. Picture: Jeff Holmes/SNS Group

This was designated to be a very special sporting year in this province that likes to think of itself as a country and, in terms of putting on a show, it already has been so, with the Ryder Cup still to come.

However, that more important opportunity now lies with Celtic and how the Champions League exit is addressed. I suggested as much, less than two years after the Glasgow Centre for Population Health produced a study entitled Still the Sick Man of Europe?

To paraphrase slightly, its authors effectively seemed to suggest that, as fast as health experts come up with solutions to specific conditions, so Scots become ever more creative in finding ways to kill themselves early.

What has this to do with Celtic's Champions League exit? In terms of direct cause and effect absolutely nothing, but, in terms of the cultural shift required, the club's unique position in Scottish society, allied to its history and geography, gives it the chance to become a standard bearer.

My own belief is that Scotland's physical problems are, like so many ills, irrevocably linked to psychological issues which, in this instance, are exacerbated by the cultural cringe that undermines the collective psyche in many ways.

In the field of sport, that has been a result of constantly looking to those from larger nations whose natives speak our language: in particular the United States, Australia, South Africa and England. On their arrival from their superior sporting cultures, they are frequently shocked by what they encounter and, understandably, set about trying to address the sporting symptoms by seeking to impose practices they have seen work elsewhere.

In the process, they can hardly help but convey contempt for what they encounter. That, in turn, reinforces the insecurity of our ain folk within the organisations, many of whom then undermine fellow Scots in order to curry favour.

The outcome is a collective unwillingness to trust in Scottish knowhow, a minor but personally memorable example of which was outlined in this column previously. The result was me having to persuade the governing body of a sport determined to recruit its head of performance from overseas, to consider a Scottish candidate who was running a shop at their national championships.

As bowls is one of the few sports that consider the Commonwealth Games to be their pinnacle, I note with some satisfaction that Scotland's men claimed three of the four available gold medals as David Gourlay, former shopkeeper, identified Scottish solutions to Scottish problems. This was manifest in the return of their top players to the squad, several having opted out four years earlier.

The fact that we cannot yet claim all our bowlers have meantime become exemplars of all that we should aspire to in terms of lifestyle may seem to contradict any argument for relating sporting success to improving our health problems, but the two must be worked on simultaneously.

Scotland must build belief in itself and its citizens if it is to deal with its health issues which, disguised as it was by the specific targeting of medals at the Commonwealth Games, most obviously manifests itself in our dreadful sporting culture. To that end, Celtic's dominance of the domestic football scene presents a club, which has a heritage based on addressing social issues, with that aforementioned opportunity. It has hired a relatively unknown manager - not a Scot admittedly but from a country of similar size, climate and resources - who seems to be looking to change attitudes within the club.

Many will see the Champions League failures as being down to under-investment and will demand a change in approach. However, in domestic terms at least, Celtic have both the time and clout to be patient - in a way Rangers were unable to be under Paul Le Guen eight years ago - and allow Ronny Deila the time to bring about the cultural change within the club that, publicly at least, has so far has focused on his concerns about diet.

In a corner of the world that prides itself on its egalitarianism and sense of fairness, then, there is a chance to address matters such as football's ridiculous wage structure which in turn affects gate prices, thereby inviting many working-class families to make disturbing choices about spending priorities.

In seeking Scottish solutions to Scottish problems, Celtic's directors and executives can now, should they have the resolve, reject short-termism and pursue longer-term solutions by investing in development of sensibly remunerated homegrown talent, thereby leading fundamental sporting cultural change.

That the club's home ground also sits beside the Emirates Arena, with its velodrome, and close to Tollcross, is another happy accident of geography that should be seized upon by involving Celtic more directly with the wider sporting community in Glasgow's east end.

Founded to help feed the poor and sitting as it still does in an area associated with social deprivation, Celtic can conceivably help show the nation how to feed itself properly, physically and psychologically.

Or they could just sack the manager and spend kazillions on a couple of strikers . . .

And Another Thing . . .

Rugby union's Guinness Pro12 is finally to receive overdue coverage from pan-British television channels. The forelock-tugging response of organisers of this Irish/Scottish/Welsh/Italian competition? To stage the season's official launch this week in London, just as that of the Six Nations - that's right: Six Nations - Championship is every year. Oh dear, oh dear . . .

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