Ronny Deila returns to scene of a pivotal moment

Ola Kamara of Molde played previously for Ronny Deila at Stromsgodset. Picture: GettyOla Kamara of Molde played previously for Ronny Deila at Stromsgodset. Picture: Getty
Ola Kamara of Molde played previously for Ronny Deila at Stromsgodset. Picture: Getty
Molde was the venue for key win in Celtic boss’s title triumph while in charge of Stromsgodset

APART from his old stomping ground of Stromsgodset itself, there is no more appropriate venue for Ronny Deila’s return to Norway as Celtic manager than the Aker Stadium in Molde.

The ground where the Scottish champions hope to significantly advance their Europa League ambitions tomorrow night has already provided Deila with one of the most defining moments of his coaching career. In April 2013, he arrived in Molde for a fixture which proved pivotal to his emergence as a title-winning manager in Norway, the achievement which ultimately attracted the attention of Celtic power-brokers Dermot Desmond and Peter Lawwell when they sought a successor to Neil Lennon the following year.

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Deila had been in charge at Stromsgodset since 2008 and while his progress at the club earned many plaudits, as well as securing a Norwegian Cup success for the unfashionable Drammen club in 2010, Molde were providing a major barrier to his ambitions of landing an historic Tippeligaen title. Under the guidance of former Manchester United striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who had replaced Uwe Rosler as manager, Molde became the dominant side in Norway with consecutive championship successes in 2011 and 2012. For Deila, the 2012 campaign was especially painful as Stromsgodset led the way for most of the year, only to falter in the final two games and finish as runners-up to Molde. The club from the Romsdal Peninsula, halfway up the Norwegian coast, had come to be something of a bogey side for Deila.

Going into that fixture at the Aker Stadium in April 2013, he and Stromsgodset were on a miserable run of eight matches over four years without a win against Molde. That sequence included five consecutive defeats, while Deila was yet to oversee an away victory in the fixture. So the psychological effect when Stromsgodset ended that barren spell with a 2-1 win over the reigning champions that afternoon was of tremendous importance to Deila and his players. They kicked on to mount a sustained title challenge which was further enhanced when they crushed Molde 5-2 in the return fixture in Drammen four months later, helping them claim only the second Norwegian championship in Stromsgodset’s history and the first for 43 years.

It also raised Deila’s stock to a new level, one which saw him reject the opportunity to become Malmö manager in January 2014 before he jumped at the chance to replace Lennon at Celtic five months later.

Inevitably, there will be much interest and intrigue from a Norwegian perspective as Deila returns to his homeland today on football business for the first time. He faces a stern challenge against a Molde side who reclaimed the Tippeligaen crown last year and have made an eye-catching start to a Europa League group in which they were widely predicted to be the makeweights. Having kicked off with a stunning 3-1 win over Fenerbahce in Istanbul on matchday one, they followed it up with a solid 1-1 draw at home to Ajax three weeks ago to lead Group A by two points. Deila is well aware of Molde’s capabilities, regardless of an indifferent 2015 domestic season in which they currently sit in seventh place in the Norwegian league table and with only an outside chance of qualifying for European football again next season.

One player Deila is especially familiar with is Ola Kamara, the 26-year-old forward who is Molde’s leading scorer this year with 20 goals from 37 appearances in all competitions so far. Deila signed Kamara for Stromsgodset in 2009 and helped develop him into a full Norwegian international. Kamara scored when Deila’s side won the Norwegian Cup final in 2010 and also performed a crucial role in the 2014 title triumph.

Two of his goals that season, in fact, came in the 5-2 win over Molde which emphatically removed that metaphorical monkey from Deila’s back. The Celtic manager will hope Kamara can be subdued tomorrow night as he seeks another telling victory over Molde which would elevate the Scottish champions to the top of Group A.