By Connor Gordon
Celtic are in a new era. The departure of ex-manager, Neil Lennon, came as a surprise to some whereas others seen it coming a mile off. There weren’t many who could argue with Mr Lennon as he said goodbye to the club he loves and had been involved with for the better part of 14 years. It had been a roller-coaster ride of emotions on and off the field from the man who hails from Lurgan. During his time as a player and manager, ‘Lenny’ accumulated eight league titles, six Scottish Cups and two Scottish League Cups as well as a memorable UEFA Cup final in Seville. This is some feat, but not a surprising one, Lennon was a winner. Neil installed this in his own teams as he did on the playing field. The Celtic team’s he was a part of and took charge of were fighters to the end, and stood up to anyone who dared cross his path. After another successful league campaign, with only the one defeat, Lennon decided to call it quits at Parkhead. After weeks of speculation, it was to be Norwegian League winner Ronny Deila who would take the helm at Scotland’s top club.
Deila arrived at Celtic as a surprise, coming in as an unknown man with a reputation of building a small team from nothing into the best in their land during the six years he was in charge at Stromsgodset. The media’s reaction to Ronny Deila was met with as much confusion as the Celtic fans, and soon picked on a rather revealing picture of Deila after winning the cup in his native land- which would later be brought up in his first press conference as Celtic boss. Ronny came into the job practically unfamiliar with the Scottish Premiership and Celtic. The only knowledge or experience Deila had with the Parkhead side was a visit to Celtic Park to see The Bhoys take on FC Barcelona, and that his player of the year at Stromsgodset, Stefan Johansen was the central midfield talisman of his new side.
As soon as Deila was in the job, he was whisked off to Austria at the pre-season camp, in which he tried to adjust to being the boss at Celtic, such as being the centrepiece of an online video chat with supporters. Ronny took questions from fans of all ages and from every corner of the globe, with queries such as if the new gaffer was familiar with brown brogues. It was naive of the Tim who asked, indeed- give it time. Deila had an arguably steady pre-season with nothing too much to stand out in the way of results except the defeats to long time pals of the club St Pauli and the drubbing that the youths and Teemu Pukki got at the hands of Spurs.
Europe was to be where Deila’s first Celtic side would be put to the test. Celtic were given a relatively easy draw against Icelandic minnows, KR Reykjavik, which Celtic overcame without too much trouble. It was to be the next round where more familiar teams entered the path of Celtic-, Legia Warsaw met the bill and more. The Polish champions came with a reputation… or their fans did, and they were Artur Boruc’s team… surely a friendly atmosphere and an easy progress for us, their team was apparently in turmoil after all.
How wrong were we! Henning Berg’s men overcame an early scare to trounce Celtic 6-1 on aggregate, putting Deilas and Lawwells head on a spike immediately. Little did we know that Celtic would progress on a technicality, leaving what will be a lasting bitter taste between Celtic and the Polish champions. Surely Celtic would fare better against Maribor in the next round, wrong again. After a pleasing performance over in Slovenia, the return leg saw Maribor do a smash and grab, leaving an uninspired Celtic side behind.
In domestic competition, St Johnstone were set aside in Perth and Dundee United were trounced at home, so at least something was going right. Once again, everything was flipped on its head after lacklustre performances by a changed Celtic side against Inverness and a boring draw away to Dundee. Luckily, Celtic had overcome the usual start of the season blues that plague the side season upon season. The Bhoys racked up six games unbeaten, including a European jaunt at Salzburg and beating Dinamo Zagreb at home. Celtic still needing points to gain top spot, were beaten by high flying Hamilton Accies at Parkhead, as an un-clinical Celtic were punished, and Deila’s tactics were in question. This signalled the start of the best run of games under the new manager spanning eight games, including one unfortunate draw against Astra. Celtic continue to continue the lengthy unbeaten streak domestically, but this was interrupted temporarily in the Europa League as tactically smart, Red Bull Salzburg outplayed Celtic to claim a 3-1 victory over the hoops. Nevertheless, the performances which have come under much scrutiny are improving slowly as Deila tries to implement his style on the side.
The stand-out players thus far have arguably been the new signings. Free agent, Craig Gordon arrived as Fraser Forster departed, and the Celtic faithful hoped that the man who replaced ‘La Gran Muralla’ would live up to his former hype having been out the game for two years. Gordon has surpassed expectation, producing performances mirroring his former self, much to the delight of Celtic fans. Jason Denayer has arrived on-loan from Manchester City, also with a reputation as the next Vincent Kompany. The Celtic fans have seen why as the 19 year old Belgian has looked calm, composed and professional next to Virgil van Dijk this season. Last but by no means least is the ‘Super Swede’, John Guidetti, another Man City loanee. The arrogant Swede has rekindled the fond memories of the past departed Gary Hooper, by banging the goals in at domestic level. It’s not only the newbies who have impressed this season, as Stefan Johansen is becoming a more prominent name in the Celtic side, having been moved to a more advanced position behind the striker. Deila’s main man has shown Celtic why they bought him, as he has excelled in proving his world-class fitness, range of passing and vision. It seems that Johansen has regained his Stromsgodset player of the year form, as some had felt that the Norwegian internationalist wasn’t up to the task at Celtic, much like Deila was too.
What we need to learn is when it comes to first impressions at Celtic, don’t go by them as there is a good chance that they may not turn out to be that way as time goes on. John Guidetti will now sort out the drama up front in the Europa League as he is now eligible to play, having not been registered in time to play in the group stage. The team and the manager are definitely showing some character and team spirit, as was shown with the post-match celebrations in the latest matches. Celtic have been given an extended run in Europe and will face a top side in the knock-out stages, so let’s see how long this character lasts, as most fans will want it to last the entirety of Ronny Deila’s tenure.