IN Norway, they call him “Super Ronny”. When news of his prime candidacy for the Celtic manager’s job reached Scotland yesterday, the initial reaction was “Ronny Who?”.
It’s fair to say that, even among the most avid students of European football, Ronny Deila is something of an unknown quantity.
Celtic, however, have certainly done their homework on the 38-year-old who has suddenly emerged as the leading contender to succeed Neil Lennon in the highest-profile job in Scottish football.
They have been aware of his burgeoning reputation as one of the brightest young coaches on the continent since they began scouting his Stromsgodset team more than a year ago.
The dossier they compiled on the side crowned Norwegian champions in 2013 led to the signing of midfielder Stefan Johansen in January this year. Now it looks as if Celtic are going to follow that up by recruiting the man who transformed the Drammen club from relegation fodder to Champions League qualifying contenders.
Deila, a qualified teacher, has worked uncomplainingly on a limited budget at Stromsgodset, recruiting shrewdly and combining young talent with a smattering of more experienced professionals. His biggest strengths are said to be his man-management skills and ability to communicate his tactical philosophy to his players.
He is committed to an attacking style of play, built around pace and sharp passing, with a favoured 4-3-3 formation. Deila has drawn comparisons in recent seasons with Jurgen Klopp, the often eccentric but highly successful Borussia Dortmund manager whose own football philosophy has earned so many admirers.
In his own quest for self improvement since becoming Stromsgodset coach six years ago, Deila has visited several European clubs, including Dortmund, to study their coaching and training methods.
“I have great respect for Klopp’s achievements at Dortmund,” said Deila in a Norwegian newspaper interview last year. “There are so many questions to ask him. I like to know more about the way they develop their players so that they are ready to star at top international level so quickly. The comparison with Klopp is a huge recognition of my work at Stromsgodset and it is nice to have it put into such a context, but I do not feel like Klopp yet. Our style of play is very similar to that of Dortmund, but we must remember that we do it at a very different level.”
Deila, who has also spent time with Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers as well as visiting Manchester City, Barcelona, Ajax and Rennes to satisfy his desire for personal and professional development, would certainly embrace Celtic’s policy of sourcing relatively unknown talent, maximising their potential and selling them on for a significant profit.
Born in the southern Norwegian town of Porsgrunn, Deila began his playing career with his local lower tier club Uraedd. He was spotted by top-flight outfit Odd Grenland and soon became a mainstay of their defence, following his first-team breakthrough in 1993.
Deila was capped nine times for the Norwegian under-17 side and then made two appearances for the under-21s in 1996, both of them on a tour of the USA, but never represented his country at senior level.
The highlight of his playing career was the Norwegian Cup Final of 2000 when he played in the Odd Grenland side which defeated Viking Stavanger 2-1 to lift a trophy which still carries as much prestige, if not more, than the league title in Norway.
After leaving Odd Grenland in 2004, he had a brief spell with Viking before joining Stromsgodset as a player in 2006. He became an assistant coach at the same time and on retiring as a player in 2008, he was appointed manager of the club.
His first two seasons in the job were a battle for survival. In the 2009 campaign, he pledged to strip off on the pitch if Stromsgodset managed to avoid relegation, claiming it would be a huge achievement given the limited resources at his disposal. When they duly stayed up on the last day of the season, Deila was as good as his word and the photographs of him down to his underpants and socks were splashed across the Norwegian media.
If that was an unusual way to raise his profile, it is results on the pitch which have enhanced Deila’s reputation ever since. As his work started to bear fruit, Stromsgodset won the Norwegian Cup in 2010 and made steady improvement in the league.
After finishing runners-up in 2012 to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Molde side, Deila’s team were crowned champions last year. It was only the second title success in Stromsgodset’s 107-year existence and the first since 1970.
The club were aware that Deila was beginning to attract attention outwith Norway and handed him a new contract, which runs until 2016, in order to head off interest from Swedish champions Malmo who unsuccessfully attempted to poach him in January this year.
Stromsgodset are currently second in the table as they defend their domestic title, five points behind Molde after 11 games of the Norwegian campaign which runs from March to October.
Their success under Deila has been built on a remarkable home record which has seen them go 44 league games unbeaten at their Marienlyst Stadium since June 2011. They are just one short of the all-time Norwegian record set by Rosenborg.
There is no doubt Deila will be making a huge step up if he lands the Celtic job. Stromsgodset play to average home crowds of around 6,000 and operate in a generally low-key media environment. The contrast at Celtic Park could hardly be sharper.
Deila also has limited experience of European football. He took Stromsgodset into the Europa League twice – losing 4-1 on aggregate to Atletico Madrid in the third qualifying round in 2011 and then 5-2 on aggregate to Czech side Jablonec at the same stage two years later.
With Champions League group stage participation now the benchmark for success as a Celtic manager, Deila will be under pressure to hit the ground running in the qualifiers next month where Stromsgodset are, coincidentally, among the potential opponents for the Scottish champions.
If he can ensure Celtic enjoy a third consecutive season among Europe’s elite clubs, then no-one will be asking “Ronny Who?” for long.