Celtic Seal League, But Summer Transfer Window Will Bring Challenges
Before a ball was even kicked in earnest this season, Celtic were 2014/15 Scottish Premiership champions in the minds of most. This weekend they confirmed it on the pitch, with three matches to spare.
It is still, of course, an achievement for Ronny Deila to have won a league and league cup double in his first season in Scottish football, but European success – these days meaning progress to the Champions League knockouts – is the real goal for Celtic. It is not at all long since Tony Watt sunk Barcelona en route to the Last 16 and Celtic fans expect, at the very least, to be participating in the same tournament as Messi and co.
That did not happen this season when Celtic lost 6-1 on aggregate to Legia Warsaw in the qualifiers before a stroke of luck – an administrative error from the Polish team’s front office – afforded Celtic a second chance. Again, they looked anything but a Champions League team and fell 2-1 to NK Maribor over two legs.
Deila cannot be solely blamed for that horrendous mess; the Celtic board had shipped out players such as Fraser Forster, Gary Hooper and Victor Wanyama to the English Premier League in previous summers. Deila, remember, was a brand new manager tasked with a qualification campaign which began just two days after the World Cup final.
This summer, however, lack of preparation time cannot be an excuse, nor can not knowing his squad. Delia has had plenty of time to establish himself in Glasgow’s east end and has had time to plan his strategy for this summer’s transfer window, where he will have to improve on last summer’s failures which saw a £2.5million Stefan Scepovic fail to inspire before loan signing Aleksandar Tonev was subject of a racist comments controversy.
This, then, will be the real challenge for Ronny Deila. Securing qualification for next season’s Champions League will be significantly more impressive than keeping the Scottish Premiership trophy in Celtic Park’s trophy cabinet. Again, Celtic must overcome three rounds to make it to the group stages with the first leg of their first round taking place on the 14th or 15th July.
Deila must, therefore, begin his summer transfer business early if he wants to have his best squad available for what are the club’s most important matches of the whole season. Too often Celtic have waited to see if they will have the money that comes with Champions League qualification before making the signing that are, ironically, necessary if they are to make it that far. Deila will either have to seek concessions from the board, or else be especially smart with low budget signings and loanees.
Equally vital will be the task of keeping the best players currently in the squad. Virgil van Dijk and Scotland Player of the Year Stefan Johansen are both on the radar of several European and English clubs, while 19-year-old Jason Denayer’s loan deal is set to expire and will require tough negotiation with Manchester City for a renewal.
So when the green and white confetti falls around Celtic Park later this month, Ronny Deila will celebrate. Deep down, however, the Norwegian will know that his toughest challenge is to come over the summer months.
Scottish Football Talking Points Of The Week:
· Nothing has been decided in terms of who will be safe and who will be forced to fight for their Scottish Premiership life in the play-offs. Saturday's crunch match between 10th and 11th placed Ross County and Motherwell finished 1-1, meaning that Motherwell remain six points from Ross County and from safety with three matches to go.
· Plenty has been decided in terms of who will take the play-off spots from the Championship. Competing for the right to challenge Ross County or Motherwell's top flight status will be Hibernian, Rangers and Queen of the South. 2nd placed Hibs will have a bye before facing the winner of Rangers and Queen of the South's two legged match-up.
· In a rare sesnible move by the SFA - even a broken clock is correct twice a day remember - prices for the Scottish Cup final on May 30th have been slashed in an attempt to try to fill Hampden Park as much as possible. Given that Inverness and Falkirk's average home attendances would - even combined - fill under a fifth of the national stadium, the SFA has set the cheapest adult ticket price at £15 and the cheapest concession at £5.