PETER Lawwell’s caveat that he would not talk about Rangers, or any other club, on the day Celtic announced a new sponsorship deal with New Balance was not completely accurate. While assessing Ronny Deila’s impact at the club to date, the Celtic chief executive referenced Paul Le Guen’s experiences at Ibrox to illustrate the benefits of patience.
Lawwell has even given a name to the condition where a clearly talented manager struggles to acclimatise to the unique set of circumstances found in the frenzied Old Firm environment : “the Le Guen hump”.
Le Guen, Rangers’ French manager, arrived at Ibrox in the summer of 2006 with a glowing CV and yet was gone just seven months later, amid reports of fall-outs with players unwilling to adopt his ideas about the game.
According to Lawwell, Deila has managed to overcome the inevitable bumps on the road following his own arrival at Parkhead in May. It was inevitable that he would need a period of grace as the young manager from Norway became accustomed to life in the Glasgow football hothouse.
While Le Guen, at his own volition, walked away when he realised changing people’s perceptions was going to prove more difficult than he had bargained for, Deila, and his chief executive, toughed out an initially stormy period, which included not one but two Champions League qualifying exits.
“When we set off with him, we knew we were going to give him time,” said Lawwell yesterday. “If you go back to Le Guen – I always say to Ronny about the ‘hump, the Le Guen hump’. When he came in, he’d won three titles in a row in France [with Lyon], had new ideas, a new philosophy and a new culture. Bang, it didn’t work.
“It was revolution rather than evolution. Bang. The players revolted and he went out. So we had to get over that Le Guen hump, if you like. We had to manage through that. You get the players on board and get everything settled down. He’s done that brilliantly.”
Coincidentally, a home loss in the Scottish Cup to then First Division side St Johnstone was one of the signs that Le Guen was struggling back in 2006 – he eventually left, by mutual consent, in the first days of 2007. Despite the previous evening’s shock 1-0 loss to the Perth side, Lawwell was still happy to extoll the virtues of Deila.
“He is a highly intelligent guy; he is a progressive coach which is exactly what we need and through time, it will prove that we were right,” Lawwell said.
“Genuinely, when Ronny came in we understood where he was strong and where he was weak; he was weak in terms of experience. Nothing prepares you for Celtic, as a manager or even as a player coming here. We knew there would be a transition period. We knew it would be a baptism of fire. The Champions League was right on us. There was a risk.”
A first league defeat since December, which still leaves Celtic six points clear at the top of the Premiership, cannot be described as ruinous. Neither has it altered Lawwell’s verdict on Deila, the manager who is still well-set to deliver the treble in his first season as manager.
The verdict is this. “Eight out of ten in terms of results”, said Lawwell, even given the previous evening’s setback. “In terms of how he’s come in and acclimatised and shown progress, ten,” added the chief executive. One of the first signs of Deila having become accepted, after rumours of dissatisfaction within the camp, came after victory against Aberdeen at Pittodrie in November. “I think that was a change, yes,” said Lawwell. “No question. That helped change the fans’ perception of him in terms of his emotion that day.”
The chief executive believes that Deila’s force of personality is only now coming to the fore. Like everyone, he has had to build up confidence. But since that 2-1 comeback win over Aberdeen, when Deila led his players in fist-pumping celebrations in front of the away support, Lawwell believes Deila has felt the warm glow of acceptance. Now, after every win, Deila performs a ritual of going to celebrate in front of the Celtic fans.
Even the leaked camera footage of the manager singing “Delilah” in a bar the day after the 2-0 League Cup semi-final victory over Rangers has helped endear him to the fans. Le Guen, by contrast, never seemed truly settled in Scotland. The Frenchman was a distant figure, who came across as remote from his players.
Deila, on the other hand, has developed a close relationship with his squad. “He has become more relaxed, more confident,” observed Lawwell. “Results bring that. He is fitting in to the environment here and outside, which again is a big change for him. The players are buying into him. The players are with him, you can see that with the team. That is giving him the confidence to push on.
“He’s always had that personality but that’s ready to come out now. He’s always been a passionate guy and an emotional guy – maybe that didn’t come through initially. But you can see that now through his connection with the support. No matter who it is, nothing prepares you for the intensity of this job. You guys know the intensity of it, the scrutiny of it. And he is a young guy. But he is a quick learner. And I believe that with a tail wind and a bit of luck he can be a great manager here.”
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