THERE may have been only one man sitting alongside chief executive Peter Lawwell at Friday’s press conference, but the inescapable impression is that Celtic made two football appointments this week – a head coach and a life coach.
There seems to be no demarcation between the two in the eyes of new Celtic manager Ronny Deila. It is why the 38-year-old Norwegian feels prepared for the step up that his move to the Scottish champions represents. A monumental step up, indeed, when his only other coaching experience has been six years in charge of Stromsgodset.
Deila is the small-time player who became a small-time manager, and has now been catapulted into the pivotal role of a club that, with its support and regular access to the Champions League, is a name.
So often such clubs also take on a “name” player to guide them. Celtic would have done just that had Roy Keane wanted the job, but Deila feels the absence of a gilded career has been no roadblock to his ambitions. Not when the impressive figure feels he can call on intellectual and inspirational qualities that are often lacking within these stellar performers.
“It’s OK to do that [work your way up without being a name]. To be a manager, you have to be educated,” he says. “You have two parts. One is about football and if you have played 100 Champions League games then of course you have an advantage. You have been there. But the other 50 per cent is leadership – to treat people right. To make them feel in a good way and progress.
“In that part, I have a lot of education. And it’s about personality as well. The hard way is sometimes the best way. For me, it’s about learning through experiences. Everybody makes mistakes. Learn from the positives and do it again, but also learn from mistakes.
“What mistakes have I made as a manager? I’ve been naked…I’ve made many mistakes. One of the biggest was in my first year as a manager when I lost six games in a row. I hope that’s the only time that happens. Every match was going wrong and the pressure was harder. I stopped believing in people. I thought I was the leader and the only man who had answers. I pushed everybody away.
“I told them all: ‘This is not good enough.’ And it got worse. Everything was so bad. But then I asked: ‘What is happening here? You have no energy.’ They said: ‘Everything is perfect but we are mentally tired because of the demands.’ I then understood what I had done wrong.
“You have to work with people, not push them down when you think you are on top yourself. You have to see a humanistic side to people, to believe they want to perform, want to do well, want to develop – they just need the responsibility. So I learned, I changed it, and they won the week after. If you lose games, you have to think of the same things. That was a mistake I made that I learned very quickly from.”
It is remarkable how much enthusiasm there has been for Deila’s elevation among the Celtic support. The attraction of the new and different is patently powerful. In one sense, Celtic have hired the Norwegian Stuart McCall. The top flight from which the new Celtic manager has arrived is essentially the Scottish top tier without the Glasgow club. Deila achieved his title win last year with the ninth biggest budget of the 16 teams in the Tippeligaen. McCall’s Motherwell have been the best of the Scottish league without Celtic in the past two seasons while operating with the sixth highest football spend out of 11 rivals. Both men have built teams with off-cuts, enthusiasm and a willingness to pursue results by scoring a few goals, and losing a few goals.
It is not McCall that has been bracketed with Deila, though, but such as Liverpool’s Brendan Rodgers, Borussia Dortmund’s Jurgen Klopp and Manchester City’s Manuel Pellegrini. The Chilean is dropped into conversation by the Norwegian himself.
“It’s about leadership, about the modern type of football trainer,” Deila says. “The trainer who is always kicking their players and saying they’re not good enough have distance from their players. [Not] the new ones, like Klopp, Rogers and Pellegrini. I talked to him, he is close with his players, he’s calm and he has one style of playing which made them champions.”
Deila does see himself as much mentor as manager. “Of course. When you have players at this level they have goals and they are there to perform. They want to go far. Some of them want to win trophies and many of them want to go to the next stage.
“Celtic are a big club but if we had the same money as the other clubs then everyone would stay here. That is the difference. That is the way it is now. But they have energy to be better. I can’t do the work for them but I can help them get better. I can help them reflect on what is around them and what they use their energy on and what they don’t use their energy on.”
Deila did all of that for Celtic midfielder Stefan Johansen. He takes pride in his transformation of the career of the midfielder he acquired on a Bosman and sold for £1.5m. “Stefan had a hard time before he came to Stromsgodet. He was out the team at his club Bobo/Glimt and unhappy. His career was almost going under.
“I thought if we get something out of this then it is a positive and if not it is no problem because there was no financial outlay. I heard before he came he had problems with his attitude but from the first day he arrived he worked very hard.
“If you are not in the team you can say the manager is a bad manager. But you have to think ‘why am I not in the team?’ Stefan was always patient. It took him over a year to get into the team and he was ready then. He replaced Anders Konradsen, who joined Rennes, and after that his career has gone upwards. He must still work hard to keep getting better. Everyone must take the barrier even higher.”
Deila has no problems with the fact that he will still be expected to buff up unpolished gems for selling. “[At Stromsgodset] I said to the boys, also to Stefan, that I am going to drive you there if you get a possibility. It is true. Because if you make people get their dreams that is what it is all about. You can talk about trophies, and I want to win, but if you can do something with people that they progress and fulfil their dreams, then that gives me energy. If someone calls from Barcelona, and says they want one of our players, then fantastic. It is like Stefan now at Celtic, he has won the championship, and it is an unbelievable achievement for him.”
And yet winning the championship is no real achievement for anyone at Celtic; it is a given, as Deila’s predecessor Neil Lennon ruefully discovered. As with Lennon, the Norwegian will be judged on his ability to win through three qualifying rounds in the Champions League, even though the first of these ties is a mere five weeks away.
“It takes time but I also think it is very wrong to say I need two years to do something. You have to do it now. I have to come in and do everything I can to take my team in the right direction.”
To stamp his Celtic out as an exciting, attacking team with constantly improving players might be the vision, but he will surely never lose sight of the fact that all else is secondary to winning when it counts.