WHEN Celtic slumped to a 1-0 defeat at home to Hamilton Accies back on 5 October, few would have readily agreed with manager Ronny Deila’s defiant post-match assessment that his team were making progress under his command.
The groans which reverberated around Celtic Park that Sunday afternoon, with the Scottish champions languishing in sixth place in the Premiership table after dropping ten points from their first eight games, were an indicator of the doubts surrounding Deila’s credibility in the role.
What a difference two months has made to how the affable Norwegian coach is perceived. Deila has just been named Manager of the Month for November, his first such individual plaudit in Scottish football, as Celtic begin to impose themselves on all fronts.
Since that shock loss to Hamilton, Deila’s team have racked up seven consecutive league wins to lead the Premiership table by three points. They have suffered just one defeat in their last 12 matches in all competitions, taking them into the last 32 of the Europa League, the semi-finals of the League Cup and the fifth round of the Scottish Cup.
Deila recently admitted he has been forced to compromise some of his more idealistic footballing principles in order to meet the relentless demands placed upon any Celtic manager to deliver positive results on a consistent basis.
According to one of his lieutenants, first-team coach John Kennedy, Deila has now fully acclimatised to an environment in which he was very much an unknown quantity upon his arrival in June.
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“The manager was new to me as well when he came in,” said Kennedy.
“Initially he was finding his feet and the thing that catches people off guard at Celtic is the magnitude and size of the club, the focus that’s on them every day.
“He’s certainly settled in now, he’s the right type of character for this type of job and he has all the players on board for where he wants to go. I think we’re beginning to see more and more of that.”
Kennedy, who was promoted from his role as a development coach at the club to join Deila and assistant-manager John Collins in the new-look first team technical staff, was never overly concerned by the team’s unconvincing start to the season which saw them win just five of their first 13 games in all competitions.
“At first it’s always the same,” added Kennedy. “You have a new manager with new ideas and things take time. Sometimes it looks as though it’s stuttering along and question marks start to be raised.
“But in recent weeks you can see a team that’s fully committed to what the manager’s trying to do. Once you get that, things can only move forward.
“Winning is the big thing at Celtic. If you go two matches without winning, all of a sudden the question marks come out but that’s the nature of the beast and that will never change.
“When you are the manager or a player at Celtic, you just have to have the mentality to deal with that and that’s something he knows about now. He’s well aware that when we don’t play well, it’s about just making sure you still win the match.
“Performance-wise, you want to win with style. But when that style doesn’t come across in a specific game, just make sure you win it and move on.”
Although Deila has adapted his approach when it comes to prioritising results over performances, the manner in which he deals with his players has remained constant.
“He hasn’t changed his style in the dressing room,” said Kennedy. “He can be heated when he wants to be and really enthusiastic when he wants to but generally he’s very calm and thoughtful about what he’s trying to do. He doesn’t get too worked up and he makes sure that when the players go out on the pitch, whether that be before the match or at half-time, he’s very clear about what he wants. That’s very important.
“You obviously also have to have the character and everything else to drive the players on, which he’s got, but at the right time he’s got a calm head to make sure that he is clear in his instructions.”
At 31, Kennedy is still at the formative stage of his own coaching career, which began when his playing career was cut short by a serious knee injury five years ago. The former Celtic and Scotland central defender is relishing the experience he is now gleaning from being alongside Deila on a day to day basis.
“From my perspective it’s been a fantastic learning curve working under him,” added Kennedy. “He is very specific in what he wants from us all and he certainly makes sure that in training every day he drums it into the players what he wants on pitch at match time. It has probably taken time but certainly from my perspective we’re beginning to see that coming through in games.”
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