On the Norwegian podcast ‘Fotballklubben, Ronny Deila has given a fascinating insight into the events leading up to him becoming Celtic manager, his efforts to bring in a new culture at the club and the reasons why he could not continue in the role. In the first of two articles with extracts from the podcast, exclusively translated from Norwegian for 90minutecynic.com, Deila explains what happened behind the scenes when a young manager from a medium-sized club in Norway was approached by one of the biggest clubs in the world.
‘You have to experience Celtic before you can start comprehend what it’s like’ (Ronny Deila)
Deila: ‘About a month before I came to Glasgow the club had got in touch with me via a contact that Strømsgodset had at Manchester City. He said Celtic was interested and asked if I could come over to Manchester to meet them. It was a very informal meeting, chatting mostly about how Celtic had needed to change their way of doing things. Early this century Celtic could compete on wages with English Premier League clubs; they brought in Chris Sutton, John Hartson and managed to keep Henrik Larsson for many years. Then the TV revenue in England exploded, every club now getting something like 2 billion (£200 million) per club, while Celtic gets 30 million (£3 million), the same as Rosenborg would get in Norway. The difference is now so big that it forces you to think differently, to look at different markets, buy younger players, develop your own talent.’
Interviewer: ‘Scottish clubs could also afford to bring in big names in terms of managers. I mean, you’re probably not as expensive as Dick Advocaat?’
Deila: ‘Exactly. So we agreed on how Celtic had to be run and how they needed to do things differently. Then I didn’t hear much more for a while. I went to Marbella (during the mid-season break in Norway) with a mate. It had been a very good first part of season, second in the league despite all our injuries. This was a well deserved holiday.
While I was there Celtic phoned and said they wanted me to come to London the next day to meet the owner. To be honest, I was really enjoying my holiday but I obviously couldn’t say no. I flew over at 6am the next day. London was pouring with rain. I’d been given an address in a very nice area of the city, got a taxi there and rang the bell. Nobody answered. I phoned my contact and he said they were on their way back from lunch and just to ring the bell again as the maid would let me in.
When I got in I was showed to a room with a big harp, a massive piano and with big Irish murals on the wall. You could tell this was a man who knew his history, was intelligent and had money. I sat down and waited, feeling a bit like a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman. They came back from lunch and I met the owner, who reminded me a bit of Donald Sutherland. I thought I just needed to tell them who I am and what I stand for and then whatever happens, happen. Again, it was quite informal.
After a while he said it was obvious that I knew what was I doing and asked whether I could replicate what I had done successfully at Strømsgodset in Scotland? I said I didn’t know, as I haven’t tried yet, but that I believed people are very much the same in Scotland and that what I’d done in Norway was transferable. Then he asked what I thought it be like to coach multi-millionaires? Again I said I didn’t know, I would need to try it.
It was all clever questions – this was clearly a man who knew what he was looking for, where he wanted to go and someone who could tell what people stood for. He did say it could be difficult for me to come to Celtic as an outsider, not knowing what it was all about and being as young as I was. He asked whether I thought it would be easier to be an assistant manager at first, learn that way and then take over as manager at a later time.
I said that if I were to be an assistant manager, it had to be under a really good leader. The owner said; “So it would have to be someone with a big enough name that you’d say ‘yes’ immediately to be their assistant? Like, you would you want to be Arsene Wenger’s assistant?”
And I said, yes, then of course would I’d want to be an assistant, who wouldn’t want to work with him.
Soon after that the meeting was over and I was back out in the rain, trying to get a taxi back to the airport to return to Marbella. I was so exhausted when I got back I turned off my phone and didn’t talk about Celtic with anyone for 24 hours. I only told my mate that I had been was myself so we’ll see what happens.
Two days later Celtic phoned again and said they were very interested in bringing me to the club. They thought it would be best that I started as an assistant manager in order to build up my experience in terms of the culture, the club and everything else, and then perhaps move up to the manager role eventually.
They asked whether I wanted to be Roy Keane’s assistant manager. I almost laughed out loud as the whole thing was so surrealistic. I have great respect for Roy Keane, he has a fantastic personality and it was an opportunity I just couldn’t say no to. It would have been an experience for life, no matter what would have happened, although I’m sure it would have been some tough times under him as well! So I agreed to be his assistant. Then the deal with Keane fell through and everything was up in the air again. Apparently, other managers were being discussed and a lot of talks taking place.
Two days after I’m back from Marbella, Celtic phoned me again and said they wanted me for the manager role. They had been enquiring about me all over, checking if I was strong enough to take on such a role. At that point there was no going back for me, not a single thought that I wasn’t going to do this. I was adamant that I was taking the job. I didn’t even look at the contract offer, I wasn’t interested in it at all, I just wanted the job.
I went into Jostein’s (Flo – sporting director at Strømsgodset) office and said I had been offered the Celtic manager job and that I wanted to go.
Jostein said: “You’re joking. That’s not true. That’s the most stupid thing I’ve ever heard”
I said: “Jostein, it’s true. They’ll going to phone you this afternoon.”
He just kept saying “you’re joking, this isn’t true”. He just couldn’t comprehend it.
Finally, he said: “Ronny Deila, do you know what it means to be manager of Celtic? You’ll have to be completely in charge, a total boss. You’re aware of that? You have to think very, very carefully about this.”
The negotiations between the two clubs started and they turned out to be very difficult. This was a Monday and the very next day we were playing Tromsdalen away in the cup. At this point the media interest had suddenly exploded. Peter (Lawwell) phoned me and said that Jostein had asked him to travel to Norway for face-to-face talks. He was reluctant to come and that Celtic wanted a quick resolution, otherwise they had to start looking for alternatives. It was a very stressful period and I felt under intense pressure, as it made it clear to me how much I wanted the job.
Peter eventually said he’d go to Oslo airport for talks on one condition; that I would come back with him to Scotland regardless of what happened during the negotiations. I said that’s fine, no problem.
We went up to Tromsdalen and lost in the cup, a terrible performance, total chaos around the match. My head probably wasn’t in the right place and the same for the players.
Then on the Thursday the talks between Peter and Jostein started at the airport in Oslo. I was at home but Peter said that he might bring me in early if the talks stalled. About five minutes after they started he phoned me and asked me to come in, as the clubs were miles apart. In one way my presence only made things worse because it brought a personal element (between him and Jostein) into what was a professional negotiation. But this was just too important to me and I that it might not happen if I didn’t get involved.
But no agreement was reached, Strømsgodset went away and Peter said; ‘We’re going to Scotland’. I got on the club’s private plane with my agent and Peter and flew to Glasgow. When we landed we were escorted to a car and as we drove away from the airport, Jostein phoned me:
“How’s my boy?”
“Yeah, I’m good, thanks”
“Where are you?”
“I’m in Glasgow”
“You’re not in Glasgow, Ronny.”
“Yes, I’m in Glasgow, Jostein”
“No, you’re not”
“Yes, I am in Glasgow”
He finally believed me and asked me if I understood what kind of consequences that could have. But I said: “Jostein, I am going to manage Celtic. You just can’t stop this. Now both of you have to get a grip and agree on this”
I was telling him how Celtic were confident that Strømsgodset couldn’t stop me and that they would have ten lawyers for every one Strømsgodset had and it would end up in total chaos if they couldn’t agree between them. I had nine years at Strømsgodset, it had been a fantastic journey, but this was the opportunity I wanted. Jostein still wouldn’t budge, saying Celtic needed to match their demands and that I was worth that much to the club.
I guess there was still the chance that this wouldn’t go ahead, but Peter is so experienced and seemed to have total control of the situation. In the car he said I’d be presented as the Celtic manager at noon the next day. It would be too much commotion if I went to a hotel in the city so Peter took me to his house outside of Glasgow to spend the night. But even there photographers were lurking in the bushes, managing to get pictures of us as we got out of the car.
I woke up the next day and nothing had happened, still no agreement, nobody talking to each other and it was only four hours left to the press conference.
We drove to Celtic Park, up Celtic Way and there is already about two thousand people there. It’s my first time at Celtic Park, this gigantic 60,000 seater stadium, I’m in a suit which isn’t really me and I step out to this big roar from the crowd, people saying “Welcome to Paradise”. Again, a surrealistic experience.
Then, about five minutes before the press conference is about to start, Peter says to me: “We’ve got a deal with Strømsgodset, it’s fine”.
As I’m about to put the pen on the paper, Peter looks me in the eyes and says: “Ronny, your life will never be the same”. And he was right.
Peter Lawwell and Jostein Flo are the two people in my life I have the biggest respect for, what they’ve meant for my career and what I’ve learnt from them is fantastic. And they get along fine now, they were both at my 40th birthday party – the negotiations were just work.’