Undoubtedly, Ryan Christie deserved his ‘Man of the Match’ award on Saturday with 3 fantastic strikes from outside the box (random question: who, if ever, was the last person to score a hat trick for Celtic from outside the box, answers on a postcard) and a lovely assist for Mikey Johnstone as well, it’s safe to say that Christie has developed a lot since his move from Inverness to Glasgow back in 2015.
Then, aged only 20, Christie was signed by Ronny Deila on a 4-year deal and immediately send back to the highland side for a season-long loan. It was always earmarked that Christie would be a long-term investment for the club, but he had shown lots of promise so early into his career. A Scottish Cup winner following Inverness’ success back in 2015, a final Celtic really should have been involved in but that’s a story for another day, Christie was also awarded the SWFA Young Player of the Year award rounding off an incredible year for the home town boy.
After a knee injury sustained in a game against Motherwell in November, Celtic recalled Christie to allow their specialist medical team to dictate his rehab and eventually he was able to make his debut in January of 2016, as an 88th-minute sub for Stuart Armstrong, receiving rapturous applause from the Celtic Park crowd.
This article is not about Ryan Christie though, it is about a man already mentioned and how his vision for developing the future of Celtic has now put us in a position where we are dominating Scottish football, winning trophies left, right and centre and on the road to making history once again. That man is Ronny Deila.
Ask a group of 10 Celtic fans what they think about Deila’s time in charge of Celtic and you will almost certainly get a mixture of views. It’s safe to say that the Norwegian certainly split the Celtic support but in hindsight, he has played a massive role in the position that we are in today.
How do you ask? Well let’s take a look at some his signings; Craig Gordon, Stuart Armstong, Jozo Simunovic, Dedryck Boyata, Ryan Christie, Kristoffer Ajer, Eric Sviatchenko and Patrick Roberts. Throw into that mix players that Deila gave debut’s to during his time in charge like Kieran Tierney and Callum McGregor and you have in that list 8 of the 13 players who played in the Invincible Scottish Cup Final of 2017.
That in itself is not a bad feat for a man who was often criticised for his dealings in the transfer market and perhaps rightly so in some cases. Players like Alexander Tonev, Carlton Cole, Colin Kasim-Richards and Jo-Inge Berget had absolutely no place in any Celtic side all for very good reasons but what can’t be argued is that Deila had an eye for a young developing player. Even the signing of Moussa Dembele from Fulham has to be accredited to Ronny Deila in some instance with Moussa telling the press that he was aware of Celtic’s interest in him from January of that year suggesting that it was a player that Deila was aware of before his departure from the club.
As Neil Lennon watched the 8th Championship flag be raised on Saturday, it is pivotal to remember the role that Deila played when he took over from the Lurgan man in 2014. Inheriting an ageing squad, Deila knew he had to reshape the side following the 3 in a row success. Fraser Forster was the talking point of the summer as clubs down south eyed up the big man after his impressive performances in Europe over the previous seasons. The team had only lost one league game the previous season but without the 32 goals of Kris Commons, it could have been a much different story.
Attendances were also down at Celtic Park, with a banner covering the top half of the Lisbon Lions Stand, a sight that had never been seen before in the new development. It was clear as well that the board were trying to rein in spending, which was allegedly one of the reasons why Neil Lennon walked away from the job at the end of the previous season. Deila himself was not even in the running to become the manager, the board’s main target was Roy Keane. Speaking recently at the Celtic FC Festival, Peter Lawwell confirmed that Deila was a project, similar to the signing philosophy in which Celtic look to develop players to sell out for a profit, the aim was to give Deila the training to make him attractive to teams down south or across Europe. He was supposed to come in as Roy Keane’s number 2 but to no one’s surprise, Keane refused to accept this and Deila became the man for the job.
Fraser Forster departed for Southampton in early August for a fee of around £10million and the departure of the eccentric Tony Watt for just under £1.5m would have suggested to the fans that there was money to be spent in the transfer window. Backing this up would be that in years previous Celtic had managed to make the riches of the Champions League group stages. Instead, however, a total of £2.3million was spent, and all of that on one player, Stefan Scepovic from Sporting Gijon. Five loan players joined the side with Jo Inge Berget, Aleksander Tonev, Jason Denayer, Mubarak Wakaso and eventually after almost missing the deadline, John Guidetti all making the move to Glasgow, it was clear that the board was on a mission to reduce costs, much to the dismay of the Celtic support.
An administrative error looked like it would redeem Celtic’s Champions League hopes after a humiliating defeat to Legia Warsaw but defeat at home to Maribor in the play-off round meant that Celtic for the first time in 3 years had failed to qualify and dropped into the Europa League. In the League, things were steady if not overly convincing, early defeats to Inverness and Hamilton Accies following European matches were thankfully not pivotal as the team lead the league from week 2 until the end of the campaign.
The Europa League campaign didn’t go terribly either with 8 points being picked up from the first 4 games to put one foot into the last 32 of the competition. It was at this point we started to see the changes in the side, Stefan Johansen was becoming preferred to Kris Commons, Jason Denayer was forming a solid partnership with Virgil van Dijk and Callum McGregor was really cementing his place within the side following his debut earlier in the season.
A near-perfect League Cup campaign in which the team did not concede a single goal on route to lifting the trophy, turned the focus onto the Scottish Cup and the chance for Celtic to win their first treble since Martin O’Neill’s first season in charge. Step forward Ryan Christie and Inverness who dashed those dreams with the help of some questionable officiating, to say the least. A double in Deila’s first season in charge was certainly an impressive feat, especially winning the league by 17 points from Aberdeen. There was a sense of optimism around the support that if the board would back Deila, he could certainly make a mark domestically and in Europe.
Unfortunately, though, as is becoming accustomed in following Celtic in recent years, your best player becomes a target for a team down south and for this we had to say goodbye to Virgil van Dijk, only two seasons after he joined the club. It did look however that the club was going to make the funds available for Deila to replace the big Dutchman and the arrivals of Dedyrck Boyata and Jozo Simunovic looked to fill the holes left by the departures of van Dijk and Denayer’s return to Manchester City. As previously mentioned though, money was wasted on signings such as Nadir Ciftci, Scott Allan, Logan Bailly and Tyler Blackett but the main talking point of the summer was the emergence of young Kieran Tierney replacing the popular Emilio Izaguirre at left-back. It was now clear to see that Emilio had real competition for his jersey and in the chances that Tierney got, he certainly looked to impress.
Things started well once again for Deila in Europe, dispatching of Stjarnan and Qarabag to make the play-off round, which once again proved too much with the Bhoys falling disappointingly to Malmo of Sweden with former loanee, Jo-Inge Berget coming back to haunt us. Domestically, the league was taking care of itself once again, despite the challenge from Aberdeen, wh|o themselves had turned Pittodrie into a fortress over the first half of the season, losing only once. Disappointment became the best word to describe Celtic’s performances in the cup competitions and in Europe, crashing out with only 3 points in what was a difficult group containing Fenerbache, Molde and Ajax. Defeat to Ross County at Hampden in the League Cup Semi-Final started to put the nails into Ronny’s coffin amongst the Celtic support and another defeat at Hampden later in the season to the side from the championship really killed off any chance of Deila returning the following year.
3 trophies in 2 seasons don’t reflect on the importance though of Deila’s reign in charge. As mentioned, the signings of Armstrong, Simunovic, Sviatchenko, Roberts, Christie, Boyata and indeed Deila’s last signing Kris Ajer all laid the foundations to allow Brendan Rodgers to come in and guide the team, which was clearly very talented, to achieve what they should have done. It’s easy to forget that Celtic was Ronny’s second main job in management and his first outside of his homeland. Sure, his tactic’s and training methods may not have been what the players were used to but that doesn’t mean that what he was doing was wrong, in fact, Rodgers himself continued to use the 4-2-3-1 tactic that Deila introduced and is still used to this day.
I truly believe that it was simply a case of right place, at the wrong time when it comes down to Ronny Deila, the man was given a near-impossible task of replacing Neil Lennon, a man who, after everything he had gone through in his time at the club, would go down as a Celtic legend. Hindsight is an incredible thing but honestly looking back on his time at the club, it has to be said the foundations for our continued success begin with the transformation of the side from when Ronny Deila took over. Only one player remains at Celtic from the side that Neil Lennon left, our captain Scott Brown but with some luck, there will be a few of Deila’s side around to lift that 9h and hopefully 10th league trophy aloft and when the time comes, we should welcome back Ronny along with the rest of the managers, coaches and players that year after year chased the impossible dream and made us the most dominant side in Scottish Football. So here’s to you Ronny Deila, my unsung hero of 8 in a row! Listen to Ronny talk about his time at Celtic below.
Colin WattListen to the award-winning A Celtic State of Mind podcast