RONNY DEILA believes an on-fire James Forrest will be a key man to.Celtic’s Champions League ambitions this season.
As the four-in-a-row title winners prepare to face Iceland’s Stjarnan in the first leg of their second qualifying round at Parkhead on Wednesday, the Hoops boss reckons the winger has a massive role to play.
The 24-year-old has spent more time in the treatment room than the dressing room in the last three seasons.
Forrest has started only 32 league games during that period after suffering groin, knee, calf, hip and hamstring problems. He was also hospitalised for a week with a virus which kept him out of the Champions League group stage match against AC Milan in September, 2013.
Deila said: “James can be very important. He has something special on the ball. He can get past people and create chances. He looks stronger.
“We have to be patient, but we hope that he will be at a high level for these qualifying rounds. Last season he was at 40 per cent and now he is on 60/70 per cent. If we get him up to 100 per cent then everybody knows what his potential is.
“Now, though, he is training every day, playing games and what he needs is the same as Mikael Lustig and Charlie Mulgrew – more matches to get into top shape.
“Does he trust his body now? He looks very confident and I’m not afraid when he is on the pitch now. In my first six months I would watch him play through my fingers!
“I was hoping nothing would go wrong, but you knew it would happen because he wasn’t in a good shape, his whole core and everything was not right then, but we have got that right now.”
The Hoops suffered six defeats in European competitions last season and Deila said: “Maybe I wish I had done things differently, but, at the time, there were a lot of new things to deal with.
“In any case, you can’t be something you are not. I need to do the things I believe in and the things I know and I can say that we will continue with the same things we did before.
“From the first day I have tried to be myself. Is it easier to be me now? Of course. That’s obvious. When you come to a new country it’s a different culture, a new language and new players. This is also a new level because Celtic is a bigger club.
“For the players, too, it was a change because they’d had the same coach, Neil Lennon, for four years until I came. So there was a transition but we are in a better place now than we were one year ago.
“The defeat against Maribor doesn’t annoy me at all, but I hate the feeling I had in my body. That is a feeling that I fear and that fear drives me on. I hate losing, that’s in my blood.
“However, when I think back, we just weren’t good enough, so I’m not irritated by that. Everyone here does everything they can every day to prepare for these games.
“We believe that we can do it, but, if we don’t, it’s because we are not good enough. That’s how it is but I now really believe that we are good enough.”

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