Change takes time. Changing something you do well to do it better can also be frustrating. I once went to a golf pro for lessons. He told me my current swing would get me from my 15 handicap to about 9 or 10 but to get lower I’d need radical changes, ones which might feel alien and have my game appear to be going backwards initially as I unpicked the habits I’d become comfortable with – I’m not that much of a golfer so I didn’t bother. We all know of such examples. Sometimes change is worthwhile and we embrace it, sometimes it isn’t and we don’t. All change takes time.
Despite knowing this obvious truth, the criticism and derision Ronny Deila suffered when he first arrived at Celtic was unfathomable. He did not come in looking to take the club forward from the solid foundations built by Lennon, he came in with the remit to have a stronger emphasis on homegrown talent and also to radically change our style of play – how often did he talk in the early part about playing a high tempo pressing game?
In trying to change the style of play it was always going to be similar to my golf swing analogy, except more pronounced. Changes to the style of play would suit some and not others and changes would be embraced by some and not others. Whilst I hoped for an overnight transformation, I feared for a stilted transition as some adopted the changes and others resisted and others weren’t sure what they were doing. It was frustrating but I had to give him time because he was offering everything I wanted – a young positive manager with a young positive team playing the football of Europe’s elite; fast attacking football, unrelenting for 90 minutes. Playing football the Glasgow Celtic way.
Whilst some results were poor, it was obvious what the manager was trying to achieve. Goals lost were often as a result of one player trying to implement the change but his colleague not being quite there yet. Our fullbacks were pushing on, but not properly linking with our attacking 4 and leaving behind our defensive two. The inability to implement this change compounded by playing twice a week with little time to work on team bonding, cohesion and formation…then came the winter break.
Since the trip the Gran Canaria everything appears to have clicked. Our full backs push on and are defenders in name only yet our two centre halves are rarely exposed due to the role of Brown and Bitton where one always drops back when required to protect. Our attacking 4 play as a unit with the focal point striker and movement all around. Of equal importance is the mentality of the players. To be 2 down at home to Inter Milan after only 13 minutes yet claw themselves back to the point where, despite playing with 10 men for 70 minutes of the 2nd game, we were one goal from winning the tie right up to the final 5 minutes. And so to the Aberdeen game.
On Sunday I felt we played much of the 1st half like a team who’d come home from Milan at 3am on Friday however no matter how much pressure Aberdeen had us under I didn’t feel worried. I believe in this team and I believe in their strong mentality, their confidence in themselves. Once Celtic scored I relaxed, the game was over. At halftime we discussed the fact that after the goal Celtic played 10 yards further up the park. Into the second half and I knew we would go on to win and win well. We just have that self-confidence.
Ability is not a gift from God, it is derived from hours upon hours of hard work. The Celtic team have put in those hours and in 2015 we have seen the results. Provided they continue this attitude, provided the hours of hard work are added to by further hours of hard work, I believe we are on the verge of something very special.