After a wait of just under two months, New York City FC has a new head coach — Norwegian Ronny Deila.
The 44-year-old arrives with a strong resume containing three league titles in two different countries. Despite that, Deila promised evolution, not revolution.
“The way I want to play and the way NYCFC has played is very similar,” Deila said. “I’m a very attacking coach. We want to have the ball as much as possible, but also try to be direct when you have those opportunities.”
The team’s newest appointment is their third European head coach and someone familiar to those at City Football Group.
“I think some might see it as [out of] left field, but some thought has gone into it,” commentator Derek Rae told MLSSoccer.com. “There’s no doubt that Ronny Deila has been on the radar of people at Manchester City for some time. If you go back when I interviewed Ronny a lot when he was at Celtic at that particular time he’d been recommended to Celtic by Manchester City. He’d spent a bit of time studying there, and that’s very much what he is; he’s a student of the game. He tried to visit as many destinations in European football as he could with a view to improving his skillset.”
Deila’s proclivity to traverse Europe in search of insight from other coaches first began when he was at Stromsgodset, where he spent the final throes of his playing career as player/coach.
He became head coach in 2008, and initially helped the club battle against relegation. It was during that same period he made a rather bold promise: If the club avoided relegation at the end of the 2009 season, he would strip down to his underwear. Stromsgodset did just that after a win against Viking and, true to his word, Deila undressed and proceeded to do push-ups to a backing of cheers from supporters.
“I think he does those things quite deliberately,” Christian Wulff, an Oslo-native, Scotland-based podcaster and writer with the 90 Minute Cynic media group told MLSSoccer.com. “It’s about showing a passionate side of himself, about creating a connection with the fans. At Vålerenga he said that if the fans raised 50% of the money for a new tifo framework, he would put up the rest. He also did a team talk at Vålerenga almost naked to break the tension before an important game. So it’s all about giving of himself, about creating that culture, a bond between him and by extension the club and the fans. It’s probably similar to what Klopp tries to do at Liverpool, to bridge the gap.”
Deila’s crowning moment with Stromsgodset came in 2013 when he lifted the club to a league title — their first in 43 years. His brand of football -- involving short, quick possession, and overloads on the flanks -- went against the grain in Norway, and earned him many admirers. He even drew some bold comparisons to Jurgen Klopp (Deila has long been an admirer of the Liverpool boss).
That convinced Celtic to hire him in 2014 during what was an odd time for Scottish football. The absence of Glasgow rivals Rangers from the top division made the Hoops the unquestioned favorites for the league, and to that end, Deila delivered back-to-back titles. His record in European competition was, however, not as stellar.
“He got a tough opponent, Legia Warsaw, in the Champions League qualifiers when he was just in the door and when an illegal player gave Celtic another chance they had lost rather embarrassingly to Maribor," Wulff said. "They managed to squeeze through the Europa League group stages, and the two games vs Inter Milan in the last 32 were definitely the highlight — they could have gone through had it not been for [Virgil] van Dijk being sent off in Milan.”
“The Champions League qualifiers the next season were perfectly executed up until injury time and 3-1 up vs Malmö at home," Wulff continued. "That late goal by Jo Inge Berget was a knockout blow. The two missed opportunities to reach the Champions League hurt Ronny at the time, but it’s been put in perspective by Celtic missing the last two seasons as well.”
By the time Deila left in 2016 he still had a positive rapport with supporters. His next step took him back to Norway with Valarenga. He spent three years in Oslo, finishing 8th, 6th, and 10th. It’s fair to say Deila’s tenure was underwhelming. Still, those closer to the situation point to the fact that the club has underperformed for many years, as well as reservations about player recruitment.
Deila will find an altogether more stable situation in the Bronx. NYCFC feel they are have hired a talented tactician with an ability to build bonds both on and off the field. And Deila will hope he can bring the club their first trophy, and in return, perhaps they will let him keep his clothes on during those harsh New York winters.
“At NYCFC, he will be able to get on with the job of coaching,” Rae said. “Fans have a right to express their opinions, but it’s not quite the same as the goldfish bowl that is Glasgow. Being the coach that he is with his ideas on how the game should be played, there’s every reason to believe an organization that believes in him should be a good fit.”
Tom Bogert contributed reporting to this piece.
Kristan Heneage is a freelance soccer writer specializing in European and U.S. soccer. His work has appeared in a number of publications including The New York Times, The Guardian, CNN and ESPN. You can follow him on Twitter @KHeneage.