So where did it all go wrong for Ronny Delia? First of all, it didn’t all go wrong. He won two leagues, and if you think it was impossible to lose those, just think back to a team in last season’s Championship, who enjoyed an equally superior income over their competitors, but lost the league to Hearts by the length of the M8.
It was just as possible for Aberdeen to win the league this season or last, as it was Hearts (reeling only months after going into administration) to win the Championship last season. Ronny delivered the primary requirement each season – the league title, but he failed on the second tier requirement – qualify for the Champions League.
Soon after the Legia Warsaw debacles Ronny reflected on the question about whether it was right to ask his new team to adopt his tactics, instead of waiting until he’d recruited players to fit his system.
Two years on we are still remarkably short of players to play his system. Innumerable wide midfield players have come and gone, with many still lingering in the stands. We have an enviable list of creative mids in the squad, yet none have been able to dislodge Stefan Johansen, who by his own admission is having a disappointing season.
Then there’s the striker roles. Leigh Griffiths has been a significant reason why we’ll be crowned champions again over the next few weeks, but he’s pretty much on his own. No one has been able to put pressure on him. For a while Leigh had to wait until John Guidetti and Stefan Scepovic dropped out of the picture, but you’ll struggle to recall this season’s striker arrivals, Carlton Cole and Colin Kazim-Richards, three years from now.
For these reasons, we can say recruitment is where it all went wrong for Ronny. It’s not about 4-2-3-1, half the top teams in Europe play with that formation, nor is it (the now abandoned) zonal marking system, also the dominant top-level defensive system.
We’ve simply recruited the wrong players for creative midfield and striker positions. It’s also subtler than to just say we’ve not recruited good enough players. Some who have escaped Celtic Park after arriving in the last 22 months have done pretty well elsewhere. Guidetti and Scepovic are La Liga strikers, while Jo Inge Berget also made it to the Bernabeu this season.
None of them are great, but I suspect we made them look poorer than they are. Kazim-Richards is unlikely to trouble Sergio Ramos next season, but there’s more to him that what we’ve seen, or will see. We’ve been a place careers diminish disproportionately.
On the positive side, Ronny brought the best out of Leigh Griffiths. He moved the disintegrating Emilio Izaguirre aside for 18-year-old sensation, Kieran Tierney, (the biggest winner on Sunday). And he finally resolved some of the least-organised set-piece defending known to man with the recruitment of Erik Sviatchenko (on this point, you cannot over-estimate the value of adding one good player to a team).
One thought crossed my mind several times this season: If he hadn’t spent so much money fruitlessly trying to make one system work, would he have acknowledge he was on the wrong road and changed tactics?
He backed himself into a corner so stuck with the same faltering policy at Celtic, but surely, surely, if he walks into another job soon, unhindered by that wasteful use of budget, he’d not follow the same tactical strategy which failed him?