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 this second article with extracts from the podcast, exclusively translated from Norwegian for 90minutecynic.com, Deila talks about the role of the manager in Britain, his efforts to shape 24 hour athletes and how he came to the conclusion that his time at Celtic was up.
‘To be a part of Celtic is like being part of a family, the saying is “a club like no other”, and it’s true, it’s something special.’ (Ronny Deila)
Deila: ‘As a manager in Britain, you’re above everybody else. You’d never have a prank made on you or something like that, it’s total respect. They don’t even call you by your name, it’s just ‘’gaffer’’. The hierarchy is very fixed and strong in Britain. It’s a big thing being captain as well, you’re in charge of the group. Your captain is your right hand on the pitch and for me Scott Brown was great, we had a very good relationship, which was important. He was an essential player for me and he still is for the club.
In a way, the culture within the squad was similar to Norway 15 years ago, both in a good and bad way. It’s a tougher atmosphere, there is more yelling and harsh criticism between players. This is something we need more of in Norway; a winning mentality, big personalities driving each other on. You need to have something special about you if you are to succeed at the top level.
However, they were not as conscious around nutrition and the concept of being a “24-hour athlete” as we are in Norway. Quite frankly, it was shocking, but it had a lot to do with the wider society in Britain and the diet norms. It’s fried food, there is sugar in everything, alcohol, basically all the things that are the worst imaginable nutrition wise. We had to change everything about it at the club. I said to the nutrition expert at the club at the time that players can’t eat cornflakes for breakfast, and the answer I got was that they don’t like anything else! For me it would be better not to eat breakfast than having cornflakes, which they didn’t agree with’
‘The player’s fat percentage was being measured at Celtic but I didn’t trust the readings; on some of the players I couldn’t even see their abdominal muscles. I brought in the nutrition expert I had worked with at Strømsgodset and it turned out that I was right; the measurements were wrong and too lenient, the fat percentage was actually higher.
In my first six months at Celtic the squad lost a combined weight of 60 kilos (9 ½ stones). John Collins had a very European mind-set when it came to fitness, having played at Monaco. He was fitter – at almost 50 – then some of the players in the squad when I arrived.
It was difficult at the start but we achieved some good results and got the players on board. After all, everybody wants to have a better beach body! Virgil van Dijk weighed 104kg (16st 4lb) when I arrived and when he left for Southampton he was 95kg (15st) and looked like a proper athlete. He was the best football player I’ve ever coached but 9kg (1st 4lb) will have a big impact on your ability to quickly move around the pitch.
The drinking culture was different. It is a lot more of a working-class culture within football in Britain – which there is absolutely nothing wrong with – and everyone was professional before games as you just can’t get away with drinking regularly if you have 60-70 games a season and with the intense media scrutiny there is on players.
But when they are given the opportunity to drink, they do it properly, which is fair. Especially because they do it together, something we also used to do in Norway. You don’t go out separately, you go out as a team. You must be able to trust each other out on the field, in good times and bad times. You must experience things together, celebrate together and it should be painful when you lose with people telling some harsh truths. To achieve that kind of relationship you have to spend more time together than just at training’
Interviewer: ‘If you have to choose one memory above all others from your time at Celtic, what is your favourite?’
Deila: ‘Inter Milan at home. After a tough start that season our progress had been very good and in the second half of the season we were great, we hardly lost a game and we conceded the least amount of goals domestically by any Celtic team ever. In that period we met Inter at Celtic Park and that atmosphere with 60,000 people was incredible, the intensity from the crowd was like at a rock concert. When Guidetti made it 3-3 late in the game the whole stadium exploded and it was just insane. That feeling just can’t be bettered, with the fans applauding you off the pitch’
Interviewer: ‘60,000 on Celtic Park is completely different than 60,000 at Camp Nou?’
Interviewer: ‘What was John Guidetti like?’
Deila: ‘Guidetti was great in the changing room, he had an energy out of this world; singing, dancing, talking and laughing. In that sense, he was a great loss when he went. On the pitch he read the game well, worked very hard, had a winning mentality, a very good free-kick taker but probably lacked a little bit of explosively. He had an illness when he was younger that basically reduced the muscle structure in his legs, which really put him back.’
Interviewer: ‘In terms of your biggest regret at Celtic, the one thing you’d wish you’d done differently?’
Deila: ‘We didn’t get the player recruitment right, especially the second season. We ended up with a squad that wasn’t balanced enough and we weren’t able to replace Van Dijk, Denayer and Guidetti. There’s reasons behind that which are a bit too sensitive to talk about, but I felt we didn’t manage that part properly and that’s my responsibility. Simple as that.’
It was difficult in terms of the wages we could offer, there was a lot of times we couldn’t compete with Championship clubs in England, with players we were interested in going to clubs like Norwich instead.’
Interviewer: ‘Many people mockingly say that to win the league with Celtic all you have to do is chose 11 players to put on the pitch. Was there any truth in that – if you don’t win the league with Celtic you’ve automatically done a bad job?’
Deila: ‘If you don’t win the league, you’re fired. It’s that simple. If you had a great side challenging you then not winning the league could maybe be accepted. However, the situation when I took over Celtic was that not winning the league would mean getting fired. But we won the league handsomely in the first season and we were a refereeing decision away from playing a cup final for the treble.
After a tough start, I’d say my first season was a great success. There was a generational shift underway when I took over. Neil Lennon had built up a great team, but in my view they were probably on a downward trajectory. We’d lost some players and the squad had to be renewed, so I had to build up a new team. I think the team we built that first season was very good.
I renewed my contract, everything was great and the club said they wanted to keep me for a long time. Then things can change incredibly fast – just ask Claudio Ranieri! You have to continuously perform and I think there are very few people who could handle this job. First of all you have to gain respect in a squad filled with multi-millionaires, every three days (when you have a game) you communicate your vision to millions of fans and you have to handle standing in front of 60,000 fans that demand that you win every game – league and cup.
The reason I lost my job at Celtic was essentially our failures in Europe. Our first half against Malmo at home was incredible, we were so good. All the colour had drained from Åge Hareide’s face (Malmo’s coach). We were 2-0 up and Stefan Johansen could have made it 3 when he was one-on-one with the goalkeeper. The stadium was rocking, it was amazing.
Then Jo Inge Berget – of all people – scored after half-time, but we made it 3-1 and were in control. Then in 93rd minute Jo Inge scored again. After that we just couldn’t handle the pressure in Malmo. We played a terrible game and I didn’t manage to get the players to perform, maybe I picked the wrong team as well.
But it was similar this season with Celtic leading 5-2 after the first game against Hapoel and then being so close to going out in Israel. It shows the incredible pressure everybody at the club is under when it comes to the qualifiers. At that time Champions League feels like it’s the be-all and end-all for the club so the pressure is so intense. It’s something you must experience to understand. There are many people talking about Celtic but unless you’ve personally been through that situation you can’t know what it feels like.
My second season was a failure. Like I said at that first press conference, I measure myself on whether the team is getting better. Throughout the whole first season we got better and better and better. Then we had a great pre-season, we did well in the first qualifying games, we beat Malmo in the home leg, everything was going upwards and then we lose in Malmo.
I lost Van Dijk, which really impacted on the group and the pressure on my position started to intensify. After that we had a couple of bad losses in the league and the pressure on me continued to increase throughout the season to such degree that I could tell it was starting to impact on the players’ performances as well.
The worst thing that could ever happen was that we lost the league to Aberdeen. The difference between the clubs is so big that if I didn’t win the league I might as well never come back to Glasgow and just retire as a coach. No way I was going to be the first manager to lose a league to Aberdeen since Alex Ferguson was there!
I thought: “This isn’t about Ronny Deila, this is about Celtic”. The best thing I could do to save the season, to release some positive energy among the players and make sure we won the league was to say that enough is enough, and that I would be leaving.
In the end, it was the best thing that could have happened for all parts with Brendan Rodgers coming in. If I was allowed to chose any manager to replace me, I would have chosen Brendan Rodgers. Because I know that we share a lot of the same ideas and values and that he would be able to really push through and develop that culture that we had tried to implement over those two seasons.
I’m very proud that 80% of his team (Brendan Rodgers’) are players that I brought in or that I developed and that six of those played in Scotland’s 2-2 game against England recently.
People who know football, people I talk to in Celtic and in Scottish football understands what has happened; there has been a generational shift and I played a part in changing that internal culture. That new generation coming through also got the experience of playing in the Champions League qualifiers, especially the pressure around the Malmo tie and then they managed to get through that game in Israel. They’ve now also had fantastic experience through playing in the Champions League. There is such a bright future for this team.
I was back at Celtic Park last year for the Champions League game against Barcelona. I would have preferred sitting in the corner with the fans, as watching from the director’s box is so boring. I’d much rather sit in the stand, have a hot dog and relax, than having to put on a suit and go into a VIP area. They even rejected me at one ground in Scotland because I wasn’t dressed smartly enough for the director’s box! But it was great seeing everybody again at the Barcelona game.
Celtic have changed everything. If I go back to Glasgow in 15 years’ time, people would still come up to me. If Henrik Larsson – the greatest of the greatest – went into Glasgow city centre, he’d be mobbed. And Celtic fans are everywhere, all over the world. To be a part of Celtic is like being part of a family. The saying is “a club like no other”, and it’s true, it’s something special.’