THERE is something refreshingly different about Ronny Deila. It goes beyond his welcome tendency to deliver unvarnished assessments. Without suggesting any naff connotations, there is a touch of the New Age about the Celtic manager.
The Norwegian has endured turbulent times since succeeding Neil Lennon in June. He is fond of motioning the trajectory of a rollercoaster with his hands when reflecting on this four-month period. He does so because his Celtic project almost careered off the tracks when Champions League disasters against Legia Warsaw and Maribor gave way to faltering league form.
Recent emphatic wins, and Europa League progress which means Thursday’s Romanian encounter against Astra Giurgiu could potentially propel Celtic to the last 32 of the competition, are now allowing Deila to experience the adrenaline rush of being Celtic manager without feeling sick or disorientated. The 39-year-old has not come through a steep learning period on his own.
As with many in the game, Deila has coaches that he uses as sounding boards. Associates to mentor him through difficult times. It is just that, with the Celtic manager, these coaches are of the life, not football, variety. He declines to name them but, for the past eight years,he has had these people, he says, so he can “work on myself, my values, my leadership, how I am coping with situations, conflicts and how to get all my energy into what’s important”.
“There are a lot of choices, decision-making that you have to do, and without that I wouldn’t be here to do the job,” he adds.
For Deila, there is clearly much soul-searching and self-reflection on a daily basis. He explains that he is often on the phone to his life coaches, and that he writes an e-mail to one every day. In his early days with the Scottish champions, he might have been tempted to read these e-mails and weep.
“The problem I had in the beginning was that I was working too much and too hard,” he says. “Too many things were new to me. You couldn’t find a place to get out and then you lose the edge and everything goes straight to your head. You are then just shit and you feel you’re under the tide. When things are going bad you need energy to turn it around. That’s something you learn and I have been there before, but it’s in a new country. It’s the same when new players come in from a new country. You can’t go straight into Celtic Park and be a king. You have to let them adapt a little bit.”
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Deila himself has had to adapt. While Lennon would mention chats with Gordon Strachan, Martin O’Neill or even Alex Ferguson, Deila felt his new environment was so alien to him he wouldn’t have been able to understand what they could tell him about handling a job of such intense pressure and profile. Only now is he beginning to appreciate these “mechanisms”. But he would never slavishly follow any other manager’s methods for fear of seeming a fraud. “If you’re not real, they [players] will not believe in you,” he says. “So I have to be myself. Then I know who I am and I can go out and stand for my values and my kind of leadership. You can get things from Alex Ferguson, but I’m not Alex Ferguson. I can take things from him, but I can’t copy him. I have to be me.”
The qualified teacher sees the benefit of sports psychology for his players, as well as himself. But, perhaps stung by the reaction to his dietary changes, he talks of them making use of former Gaelic football coach Jim McGuinness, now a member of the club’s backroom staff, as an option rather than obligation.
Without sounding trite, ultimately Deila sees his development as a person as his priority. “Many people are good at their jobs. That’s one thing. Many people say you are a fantastic manager or you are a bad manager. But, when people say you are a good person with good values, that’s the important thing for me. When I leave I have to get my head up, I have to stand for what I stand for and be a good person. I have to see this in the big perspective and try to respect everybody. If you do that I think you have a good opportunity to succeed.
“Nothing is easy to do in the beginning. It takes time. But still the pressure has been there. We’re not in the Champions League.
“[But] I think we can still win everything, we are in the Europa League and things are going the right way. We know things will go up and down but we hope it goes the right way, higher and higher.”
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