A SMALL but significant moment occurred the other day as Ronny Deila faced the Sunday press, writes Andrew Smith. In the wake of the latest jarring, scarring European outing for his Celtic team, the Norwegian, largely unprompted, spoke of his potential “sacking” – a word he has tended to avoid.
His use of the term was in the context of how he came through a desperate spell at Strømsgodset before achieving title success in a remarkable six-year spell with the unfancied club. Even so, his use of it was tacit acknowledgment that growing numbers among his own support are becoming disenchanted with his fixed plan for continental competition that is yielding toe-curling performances such as the 2-1 home defeat by Molde.
“I had very tough times in Norway,” Deila said. “It was the same as I feel now but this is a bigger scale. It took time. And they wanted me sacked there as well at that time. I said things they didn’t like and they went ‘we can’t have a manager like that’. But the club stood behind me and I got a new contract when we were last in the league in 2009. We built up a new team. I’m difficult to get rid of.
“I have trained four teams in my life and every one of them has got better and better. But in Strømsgodset, it was a special thing that we needed to sell the older players and get in players like [Ola] Kamara and Stefan [Johansen] for free that nobody else wanted and build them up. Now they are producing players all the time and they are selling and players are coming back again.”
The “difficult to get rid of” comment was made with tongue firmly in cheek. Deila has retained his good grace in the face of growing questions over his ability to deliver the domestic and continental results demanded in his role. The problem is that, after 19 months in post, there isn’t really one success that can inoculate him from the digs of his detractors.
Celtic have produced some entertaining football and his playing principles and team building are laudable. However, the inflexibility that sees him unwilling to be cautious in Europe suggests a worrying absence of pragmatism. Celtic’s success in Europe in the post-Jock Stein era depended on Martin O’Neill, Gordon Strachan and Neil Lennon setting out in a safety-first fashion. Mind you, Deila can hardly build from the back when that area of the team seems to be a perpetual wrecking ball for European hopes.