ALTHOUGH Celtic’s decision to turn to Ronny Deila took many by surprise, chief executive Peter Lawwell yesterday stressed that the new manager was “top of the list” when it came to searching for potential successors to Neil Lennon.
He claimed that no candidate was offered the job before Deila, who met majority shareholder Dermot Desmond earlier this week, after Roy Keane had withdrawn from the running. Other high-profile names such as Henrik Larsson, Owen Coyle and Steve Clarke were also linked with the club before confirmation of the 38-year-old Deila’s appointment yesterday.
“They were all very good candidates in their own right,” said Lawwell. “There were no job offers [to other candidates].” He added that Deila was the “most outstanding” of those the board considered. Deila has been known to Celtic for longer than only the last couple of weeks, after the Stromsgodset manager’s name was discussed as a potential replacement for the departing assistant manager Johan Mjallby.
Lennon revealed yesterday in an interview with an Irish newspaper that Deila was “going to be brought in as number two when Johan left,” although the Norwegian was slightly cooler on this subject yesterday.
He claimed that he only wanted to come as manager. Lawwell stressed that Deila was always uppermost in their thoughts when they began a two-week process of pinpointing a successor for Lennon, one who would fit the profile required by developing up and coming young players.
“He’s following a very good manager, a very successful manager,” noted Lawwell. “Neil is different to Ronny in some aspects but also very much the same in others.
“The way the club is organised, the structure we have, the ideal remains the same. Neil’s gone out and we’ve replaced him with Ronny. We’ll hopefully go on being successful.”
“There were people in England who we knew and who knew him [Deila] well,” added Lawwell. “His name came up, we spoke about him and explored it and then always kept his name at the back of our minds.
“Then, after it emerged Johan was leaving, I spoke to Neil about Ronny. We had a chat about it but no more than that.
“Then when Neil left it came to the front. We immediately tried to arrange to meet Ronny and that didn’t occur until very recently. Then we were happy to move on [with it].”
Lawwell revealed he had discussed Deila with Stefan Johansen, the midfielder who signed for Celtic from Stromgodset in January. “When Ronny’s name came up in the process, I asked about him and Stefan said he was absolutely fantastic,” said the chief executive.
“He also made it clear that Ronny had done a lot for him,” added Lawwell. “And I’m sure he’s a pretty happy young man this morning when he’s heard that we’d done the deal with Ronny.”
“Ronny met virtually all of the board. He met Dermot initially, then myself, then he met two other board members this morning. So it’s a board appointment. Everybody’s 100 per cent behind it.”
Lawwell is hopeful about giving Deila every chance to be a success by retaining the services of players such as Fraser Forster and Virgil van Dijk, both of whom have been linked with moves away this summer.
“We are in a position where we don’t need to sell,” said Lawwell. “We don’t want to sell. But these things normally sort themselves out.
“The frank answer is that we can say what we want, that we don’t want to sell a player and we want him to stay. But if someone offers a player four or five times their salary, it turns their head and things become more difficult. We have said to Ronny that we don’t have to or want to sell. But there is a reality out there that we might have to face. We hope not, though.”