HAD a sense of loyalty not persuaded him otherwise, Ronny Deila might have been standing in the visiting team’s technical area at Celtic Park next week as head coach of Malmö.
Now that fate has decreed the Swedish team stand between him and a place in the group stage of the Champions League, the Celtic manager is convinced he made the right career choice back in January 2014.
They (Malmö) have more experience than last year. It will be a tough tieRonny Deila
Deila had just guided Stromsgodset to their first Norwegian League title in 43 years when Malmö approached him with a view to becoming their new boss.
Despite regarding Malmö as Scandinavia’s pre-eminent club, Deila declined as he did not feel ready to break his bond with Stromsgodset.
Five months later, that loyalty found its limit when Deila could not resist the chance to take charge of Celtic.
“Of course it was a tough decision not to take the Malmö job,” reflects Deila. “They are a big club, the best team in Scandinavia and also maybe the biggest in Scandinavia.
“They have regular crowds of 20,000 at their games with fantastic fans and have a great history as well, reaching the European Cup final in 1979 and then winning a lot of titles in the 1980s under Roy Hodgson. Now they are back at a good level again.
“I spoke to them at the time they were looking for a new coach but I decided to stay with Stromsgodset. I felt a lot of loyalty and commitment to them and I also knew the Champions League qualifiers were coming up with them later that year. But it was harder to stay when Celtic came along. It was a good choice I made back then when I see where I am now.”
Having failed to tempt Deila to join then, Malmö opted for another Norwegian coach in Age Hareide. The vastly experienced 61-year-old duly led them to the Swedish League title at his first attempt last year and also took them into the Champions League group stage for the first time in their history.
“I know him (Hareide) very well,” added Deila. “He’s a coach I respect and he’s one of the best coaches we’ve ever had in Norway.
“He’s won titles in Sweden, Norway and Denmark. He’s done it twice in Sweden and has also brought them to the Champions League.
‘So it’s a team that’s going to be tough but also we know how good we can be when we are playing our best. It’s going to be an interesting game.
“Malmö have changed a little bit under Hareide. There’s maybe even more intensity in their team and tempo. There’s a little bit of the Norwegian style in them. It’s going to be a physical game and they have some good individuals.
“There are similarities between Malmö and ourselves. It was a great achievement of Malmö last year to come through and beat Salzburg in the Champions League qualifiers. They did it again this year as well, which must be a nightmare for Salzburg.
“They have more experience now than they had last year. It’s going to be a tough tie but we feel we have a good team now and have a good chance.
“We are now a better team than when we played Salzburg in the Europa League last season. That, I think, we have shown already. But you have to be good at the right moments and that’s next Wednesday in the Champions League. It’s an exciting draw with two big clubs with a lot of prestige.”
Before the first leg against Malmö, Celtic have domestic business to take care of with a trip to Kilmarnock tomorrow night followed by a home fixture against Inverness on Saturday as they look to extend their winning start to the defence of their Scottish Premiership crown.
“We need these games,” said Deila. “We need to play and keep the momentum with good quality in games and training to make us ready for Malmö.”
Celtic captain Scott Brown is likely to be absent again at Rugby Park, having missed Sunday’s 2-0 win at Partick Thistle with a hamstring problem. But Deila has no concerns over his availability for the Champions League tie and is similarly content with the condition of his other players who have been nursing knocks recently.
“Everyone is available for Wednesday but maybe we will rest some players and play them on Saturday,” added Deila.
“We will make the right decision to get the best out of everyone in the games coming up. Charlie Mulgrew is ready. Scott Brown is maybe there, but we will maybe wait. James Forrest is ready. Stuart Armstrong might miss Wednesday but will definitely be ready for Saturday.
“Scott is saying he needs a break. He has a lot of experience and knows his body really well. So he has good control of it. He is tight in his hamstring and we won’t take any chances with him.”
Deila, meanwhile, has dismissed fresh speculation from Belgium linking him with a move for Club Brugge central defender Brandon Mechele.
“I haven’t heard that name lately,” said Deila. “I think it is hard to buy players from Brugge. We are looking all the time but I am happy with the players I have. Some players might go out and some may come in. We keep on working and there are still three weeks left in the transfer window.”