As the end comes, Ronny Deila harbours regrets over how he allowed his Celtic career to begin. The Norwegian will bring his time in Scotland to a close by holding the Premiership trophy aloft after Motherwell provide the opposition in his final league game. He feels he could have been bolder on taking charge in June 2014.
“I think in the beginning I was feeling myself into this job, and if I could do it again I’d maybe bring my own people in at the start. I came in here alone,” said Deila. “In football, if you have a long time, it’s not a problem if there are staff around you that you don’t know from before. When you have a short time, you need to get started at once. I’m not saying they are bad or good. I’m just saying they are different and you have to get to know each other – how we are thinking.
Small clubs can play Leicester’s system but big clubs could never play like that. You have to attack and entertainRonny Deila
“Also, I would be more revolutionary – looking back I chose to do it little by little by little. I think you have to be yourself: you have to say ‘it is my way or the highway’. I think that is something that I didn’t do. But, again, it is very hard to say. If I had done that, maybe it would have been very hard on the players, with things being very different from what they were used to.”
This may be considered a surprise assessment. Among the early criticisms of Deila as two cracks at the Champions League ended miserably was that, with his 24-hour athlete demands and 4-2-3-1 playing orthodoxy, he changed too much. The success of Leicester City with a 4-4-2 formation doesn’t lead him to now believe there was any problems with the system he was so focused on?
“Small clubs can play Leicester’s system but big clubs could never play like that,” said Deila. “Tell me one big player who wanted to go to Leicester? We have to stop talking like this. Small clubs can play like that. St Johnstone play like Leicester. Very direct, good on set plays, hard work. But stay low at Celtic Park? Good luck to the manager who tries to do that. You have to attack and entertain.
“It’s not about only winning at Celtic. I expect my successor will play the same. You have to control the game. You don’t control it in a 4-4-2. Then it’s more that they have the ball. You have to win the midfield if you are going to control it. Ninety per cent of teams in the word are playing 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 because it’s about getting control of the game.”
Deila has control over his destiny now, but isn’t sure if he wants to go straight back into a management job. “There is always a return to television punditry work – I’ve been asked to go back into television in Norway and it’s tempting. I always loved doing television,” he said. “It’s a very easy job!”
There was nothing easy about a move to take up the figurehead post in a club of a magnitude he couldn’t fully appreciate. He will churn over one night as he considers why his time at Celtic has come and gone. That evening came in August of last year, when Celtic looked like blitzing Malmo but only ended with a 3-2 lead to take into the away leg of their Champions League qualifying play-off.
“That is the one that irritates me. The stadium was rocking. We were 2-0 up and it could have been three when Leigh [Griffiths] was through on the goalkeeper. It was a blow not to get the goal and then what happened next. That was the one that hurt the most. And the semi-finals [against Inverness in the Scottish Cup that year, and Ross County in the League Cup this year] irritate me, the small things, the red cards killed us. We were one up and then we got a red card and things turn around. But again this is football and the small details go with you when you do a perfect job.”
Deila delighted in his job at Celtic but it came with a loss of freedom he found difficult. “It doesn’t matter where you go, people think that they own you,” he said. “There are hundreds of photos every day. I never said no once, but it is hard. I must admit with every month that has passed I have been more and more staying in the house. I lost my freedom.”