Ronny Deila: Nothing Personal, This Is Business

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I am old enough to remember (39 this year; it sounds worse than it is) a lot of Celtic bosses, and I have impressions in my mind of what all of them were like.

My earliest memory is of David Hay, raging on the back page of a newspaper about a dodgy, and corrupt, decision – I think it was a sending off involving He Who Shall Not Be Named – and threatening to take Celtic to play in England.

My view of him, from that moment on, was that he was a no-nonsense guy who would fight our corner, and his.

The next boss who sat in the Celtic Park dugout was Billy McNeil himself, another leader who seemed to be about discipline and leading from the front.

I never saw him as a player, but as our boss I saw glimpses of the man who commanded the field that day in Lisbon.

He was a victim of the Murray era and our board’s inability to imagine a better Celtic, probably the first victim.

It’s ironic, and horrible, that the match that finally ended a lot of people’s love affair with the current boss should have come on the day he was honoured in the manner he deserves.

Liam Brady was next, and he came to our club with many accolades as a player but no experience whatsoever as a coach.

His appointment was a bizarre risk, and the only miracle was that his tenure lasted two years.

I liked him, as a man, and I still do; it’s hard not to.

Cultured, educated, decent and phenomenally knowledgeable about the game, he found his niche as head of the Arsenal youth academy, helping to develop their brightest talents.

I remember little about him as Celtic boss except that he was a decent man who knew when the game was up and went voluntarily when he realised things weren’t improving on his watch and weren’t likely to.

I remember the short, and awful, Lou Macari era, a season when our top scorer was the midfielder Pat McGinley, with a little over a dozen goals.

I remember his tenure as being the first time I saw a playing senior players out of position, and of him selling Andy Payton to bring in Wayne Biggins. I remember him buying Willie Falconer and garnishing him with the faintest praise of all; “He’s not the best player out there, just all we could afford”, and of him trying to sign us two kids in the army.

Those were not good years.

I remember thinking, watching him on TV once, that this was a guy who seemed to be hopelessly out of his depth, even more so than Brady, and getting away with it as long as he did because we lacked killers in the boardroom.

When Fergus took over that was the ball up on the slates, and not before time.

Tommy Burns was next, and I loved the guy as a person and as a boss and I was so taken with what he tried to do at Celtic Park. He had us playing the right football. He knew the kind of players he wanted and who would entertain the fans. He did everything right except win lots of trophies, and in the season when we lost a single game we’d have won the title but for the lack of a potent goal-getter.

I remember a who loved our club more than any of the others, a man who was one of the fans, who encouraged every signing to immerse himself in our culture and history and appreciate what it meant to pull on the Celtic shirt.

Was Tommy harshly treated?

I actually don’t believe that he was.

When Fergus decided he had to go I had no argument with that at all.

He won a single trophy as Celtic boss, a solitary Scottish Cup, and had to be judged on that above all.

As a man, I loved him until the day he died and I cherish his memory now. As a boss, Tommy Burns had some of the best ideas I’ve seen from a Celtic but could not realise them and that, my friends, is what matters in a “results business.”

Wim Jansen doesn’t evoke many memories, oddly enough, probably because he was only at Celtic Park for one year, a year in which there were no disasters and only the euphoria of a last day title win that stopped Rangers winning ten titles in a row.

I remember a guy who was pilloried by the media but shut them all up in spectacular fashion, a guy one despicable headline said was the “Worst Thing To Hit Hiroshima Since The Atom Bomb” in reference to his time as the boss of a Japanese side, and who’s curly perm and big beaming smile were soon to adorn flags and banners.

He had the last laugh, the loudest of them all, but he ultimately didn’t get to finish what he had started.

I enjoyed his time at Celtic and I liked his understated style and the warmth he seemed to have, even when dealing with a media who he probably viewed with contempt.

Underneath it was a steely determination, as he proved when he left at the end of that tumultuous term, and a great eye for a player, in particular one sensational Swede, who was his first signing.

Jo Venglos was much like Tommy Burns; a man with superb ideas about how the game should be played, and when they worked – as they famously did in our 5-1 crushing of Rangers at Celtic Park on Lubo Day – the results were astonishing.

He, too, took a battering in the media upon his appointment and he didn’t enjoy success at the club, but he was a decent, genuine, good human being who brought dignity and poise to the job and moved to a role within the club where he paid dividends in spades.

I liked Jo as a man, but as a boss I didn’t mourn on the day he was relieved of his duties, in spite of his sometimes scintiliating football.

He was the “old guy”who had ideas ahead of everyone’s time.

And then there was John Barnes … a guy who proves that stats can be used to cover anything.

His win record is better than that of Gordon Strachan, Wim Jansen and almost the equal of Ronny Deila himself.

There was nothing inevitable about his removal from office at Celtic Park; like Ronny, he brought with him a different managerial style and tactical setup than we were used to and his opening run of wins seemed to vindicate his ideas.

But it all went wrong quickly, and it was clear that night against Inverness that he’d lost the dressing room and wasn’t going to make it.

I remember liking him a whole lot, even if I found his ideas bizarre.

His good start didn’t save him.

His genuine decency didn’t either.

The harsh reality was that Barnes and his ideas were out of place at Parkhead. He never properly rebuilt his managerial career, having a spell as boss of Jamaica and then a disastrous spell at Tranmere. His grand vision was smoke and mirrors. It wasn’t just unsuited to Celtic Park. It wouldn’t have worked anywhere.

Yet I’ve listend to this guy talk about football a thousand times and could a thousand more.

King Kenny took over briefly, and he won a League Cup.

What we’ll remember most about his tenure is the way he dealt with the press, treating them with wholly earned and justified contempt after they’d twisted his words once too often.

He decided then to hold the press conferences where ordinary fans could hear what he had to say, unfiltered by media bias. The hacks reacted with typical petulant fury and hated him even more, but he didn’t care.

I’ve often wondered what would have happened had he got the job on a permanent basis; there was talk of that when the season came to an end.

I would probably have supported it, although when you look at his record – ten wins out of eighteen games with four defeats and four losses – it was even less impressive than that of Barnes himself, who he’d brought to the club and then had to sack in his role as Director of Football.

That experiment was short-lived too, and in the summer he was gone.

Martin O’Neill was next, and he was the Real Thing.

He brought something to the club I hadn’t seen before, in any of the bosses.

Flare, ambition, passion and a drive to succeed that outweighed and outclassed everyone else at Celtic Park.

He famously told Dermott Desmond to butt out when they discussed whether or not Martin should spend a huge chunk of his early transfer kitty on one player – Chris Sutton – and that set the tone for his leadership.

I loved him. I was gutted, as we all were, when he left to take care of Geraldine, his beloved wife.

The treble in his first season, the Road to Seville, the big Champions League nights … he restored our place, not just in Scotland but in Europe.

And yet … he won only three titles out of five, losing two on the last day and whilst I didn’t want him to go there was a part of me that thought we needed to do things a little differently, that he was too wedded to one particular tactical system, that we didn’t seem to be learning anything in our European record away from home … that a change wasn’t a bad thing.

Gordon Strachan might well be the most misunderstood and unappreciated of them all, a guy I found myself cursing furiously at times such as when he made the “devil dogs and kestrel cans” comments about his critics amongst the support.

He was arrogant and chippyand a guy who was intolerant of stupidity or what he perceived to be that.

I didn’t always like the man – something, by the way, that has changed, markedly, in recent years and convinces me that what we saw at Celtic was a guy who was just pissed off having to deal, day on day, with half-witted media comments and armchair tacticians who knew less than a hundredth what he does – and there were times when his tactical decisions infuriated me … but I knew what we had, and future books about history will treat him with the respect he doubtless deserves.

He didn’t come to Celtic as one of us, but he left that way and his conduct since has endeared him to me in a way that eclipses how I felt about him when he was boss. He is a class act, a guy who looks back on his time at Parkhead with tremendous affection, and even love.

I never doubted his skills as a boss, even in the bad times.

I knew he was a guy who got results, who built teams and held them together, who liked flair players and could work wonders with a budget. Some of his signings, like Nakamura and Boruc, are cult heroes and amongst my generation’s icons.

Was I sad to see him go?

Yes, and no.

I thought at the time he’d stayed a year too long, that there were clearly issues developing, and that his revolution looked to have run out of gas by the time he actually departed …. but I’ve always wondered, and always will, if he’d have rescaled the heights, and it bothers me that we never found out. It’s not out of the question, and if Martin O’Neill was allowed to lose two titles without his time as boss being percieved with negative judgement I could have lived with Gordon getting more time at the helm.

Everyone I know loves Tony Mowbray, the man, a guy with an enormous and deep warmth and affection for Celtic, a guy who got a chance at his dream job and grabbed it. I supported his appointment because he seemed to tick all the boxes.

He had won a tough and brutally demanding league too – don’t let anyone kid you; the Championship is a bear pit. It’s a great achievement to win that title.

Everything about that appointment was positive.

And yet it turned swiftly into a disaster.

How big a disaster?

Statistically, he’s the third worst in our history, with only James McGrory (yeah, that surprises me too) and the spectacularly inept Macari finishing with a worse one.

13 defeats in 45 games, along with 9 draws and Gala bonus codes wasted is a terrible record to leave behind, but I still think he’d have lasted longer but for his face on the touchline that night in Paisley.

That look is what sealed his fate, that of a man who had lost any remaining shred of belief in himself or his plans, who was rabbit-scared and out of his depth.

I was never so pleased to see a Celtic depart, for his sake as much as ours.

Getting a kicking in the press every day of the week must be soul sapping and nerve shredding, and he was, and is, too good a man for that.

No in Celtic’s history has torn me as much as Neil Lennon.

If there was ever a guy I wanted to succeed it was him, especially with everything he went through, but I don’t do bullshit and whilst his appointment as interim boss was logical and even artful, I was wholly opposed to his getting the job on a permanent basis.

I thought it was an unpardonable risk and one that revealed a streak in our boardroom that still worries me today.

He was billed as a “box office” appointment, but I thought that was nothing more than cheap sentiment designed to disguise the fact we’d hired a guy with no managerial experience prior to taking his first seat in the dugout after Mowbray left.

The same logic will be deployed for the unveiling of Henrik Larsson should that day ever arise without his having a far more impressive managerial pedigree than that which he possesses right now. That, too, will be an act of utter folly and one that will risk ruining the enormous, universal, esteem in which he’s held by our fans.

Neil risked that, and whilst I was never 100% convinced – even with a win ratio that’s the third highest in our history (Ronny’s is fourth) – and thought he underachieved, Neil turned me around in many ways.

Let me be clear on this, I don’t think he’s a great manager and he never will be, but sometimes you don’t need to be great to do great things.

The marriage of Lennon and Celtic was a sound, stable and mostly fruitful one.

Sometimes it works that way. Sometimes it’s just a good fit.

Had he been properly backed by the board, had he been allowed to grow the team that beat Barcelona instead of watching it get dismantled, I think we’d have enjoyed years of solid success. Whatever his issues were, on the night he left I wrote a heartfelt thank you note to him (indeed, my first book is part dedicated to him) for On Fields of Green. I supported that decision, for the sake of the club and for the man himself.

Scotland was going to destroy him.

No manager in the history of our country has ever had to put up with what he did and none would have handled it with such grace and courage.

I am in awe of that and I think he deserved better treatment from our club than to be forced to take apart the team he had built.

No-one, and no amount of spin, will ever convince me that it wasn’t a factor in his decision to leave Celtic Park.

Which brings me to Ronny Deila, and my view on him is well known to everyone who reads this blog and On Fields of Green.

I’ve run out of patience with him as a boss, and my belief in his vision for Celtic is tempered by an impossible to shake feeling that delivering it is beyond his ability. I don’t see it. I don’t see any evidence of it. I see a team that’s getting by – just – against domestic opposition but gets found out when we step onto a bigger platform.

I see a boss who might have lost the dressing room, a guy no longer in charge of his own destiny.

I see a guy on a hiding to nothing, and a club going backwards if he remains manager.

I don’t like what I see, but I can’t deny it to myself and I certainly can’t ignore it when so many of my fellow fans see the same thing.

I like Ronny Deila as a man.

I think he’s got every quality you could want in a Celtic boss. He’s articulate, intelligent, genuine and passionate about the game and, I think, about our club. I would go for a beer with Ronny Deila and probably enjoy myself as much as it’s possible to do. Based on what I’ve heard from his own mouth, about his motivations and the style of leadership he values, I would find interviewing him a thrill, and every bit as inspirational as that speech I saw him give, and which every Celtic fan ought to watch on YouTube, no matter what they think of him as boss.

But when it comes to what’s best for Celtic I feel about as unsentimentally about Ronny as I do about all our others ex-bosses and ex-players.

There comes a time when each has to depart and let fresh ideas take shape, and if I lose no sleep over the sacking of Tommy Burns or the departure of Martin O’Neill I will not concern myself over-much thinking of the many reasons why the Norwegian deserves another year to get it right.

I supported his appointment, wholeheartedly. His successes in Norway were not little things. He built a club from nowhere into one that challenged for, and won, top honours. That is an accomplishment no matter what environment it happens in.

But that achievement was on a smaller stage, and therefore a smaller scale, and there was always a worry that he might get blinded by the lights and overwhelmed by the Celtic job.

I think he is overwhelmed by it.

I don’t think it’s a good match.

I think his vision for our club has already been washed away, and he’s dismantled much of it himself out of caution and fear of this thing swallowing him.

The high line pressing game has been abandoned.

The promise of attacking football has not been kept.

We look ponderous, slow, scared of our own shadow at times and that’s because Ronny senses that to do otherwise exposes us to too great a risk of failure, and he’s terrified of it. I heard him at the weekend claiming we’d lost that game because we’d been “too open” and I dread to think of what that means for our next few matches. We barely troubled the Motherwell goalkeeper, even in the latter stages when we were chasing the game. How can his percieved solution to that be our playing more defensively?

That’s fear talking.

That’s a perfectly human failing, and one I can understand, but it’s intolerable for a boss, and a problem that won’t be solved with time, only with experience, and we can’t afford for Celtic Park to be the proving ground for his ideas going into Europe next year.

None of this is personal.

This is business.

It’s the football business, the hardest business there is.

I knew Ronny would be a risky appointment and I saluted the board for taking that chance, but I also knew that if it failed I would want more than just his replacement.

Football is a game where one group of people – the directors – constantly escape the criticisms and survive the failings the of us, fans, players and manager alike, have to live with. Look at what’s just happened at Chelsea; Jose Mourinho has paid for failure with his job, and that’s as it should be because the scale of that failure is unpardonable.

But where does that leave the man who’s had to sack him for the second time?

Abramovich is guilty of being so lacking a plan to move his club forward that he moved his club backwards instead, with consequences many predicted in advance.

The issues that haunted Mourinho in his first spell at the club all returned in spades, as they hurt him at Inter and crushed his ambitions for Real Madrid.

The guy was damaged goods.

The Russian owner took a chance on him anyway.

If Ronny Deila is removed from his post as Celtic boss – and I believe that’s nearly inevitable, whether this season or at the start of next when we fail in another Champions League qualifying campaign – then I would want some of those above him to meet their own responsibilities and leave at the same time.

I repeat; I supported the appointment but knew it was a risk.

The question is; should our board have taken a risk like that instead of getting someone proven in?

That, too, is nothing personal, although I don’t expect you to believe that coming from a guy who’s on the record as staying away from Celtic Park because I don’t like our CEO.

It’s simple accountability and there’s too little of that in the boardrooms.

I don’t want to see any Celtic manager fail and if Ronny Deila wants to tell the world from the moment of his dismissal how unfair it all was I will have a degree of sympathy with that view, whilst knowing that it was certainly the right decision for our club to have taken.

The personal abuse he’s taken from some quarters is unbelievable, although not surprising as much of it emenates from a media that never subjects the “managerial genius” at Ibrox to the same, although he arrived in Scotland with no record of success to speak of and has done nothing thus far to justify all the wild accalim. The entire industry is populated by hypocrites and charlatans, and I understand those Celtic fans who still back Ronny because they think that on some level we’d be throwing his carcass to those wolves and can’t stomach doing it.

In point of fact, I’m beyond caring what they think or write. My feelings about Ronny have nothing to do with them.

So yes, I think some of the criticism has been disgraceful, but only that which gets personal, because this is a good man giving everything he can.

Although it isn’t enough it’s no reason for spite and hatred directed at a guy simply because he’s not quite at the standard this moment requires.

He deserves better than that.

It’s not an alibi though.

I am sorry about that, but this is no time for being sentimental.

It’s the time for action; harsh action, but ruthlessness has its place too.

It’s over to the boys on the board.

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  • andybhoy says:

    Nice read but i have to disagree with the point you make about a club going backwards with Ronnie as manager.
    We are going backwards and no manager will change that fact.
    Celtic have lost any ambition of going further in europe and are content to take what is on offer in scotland.
    Who would want to put their good reputation on the line at celtic??
    We as celtic supporters have a choice either support celtic or quit.
    I have tried to turn my back but i cant.
    When wim Jansen wasnt backed with cash i was so angry because i feel if we had spent a little more we would have killed rangers 10 years earlier.
    I really believe in my heart that we could and should have won at least 10 titles in a row from 98 on.
    If we had invested in a better quality player than we had we would have improved and kept ahead of that other lot.
    Our problem was when we were in a position of strength we stood still and let that other lot catch us up and overtake us (CHEATING) to do so.
    But we are where we are and unless the support make a real stand and all stay away for a few games and let the board feel the pain we have for our club then nothing will change.
    The board know we are hurting but untill they feel that hurt themselves then it will be same as.
    It could be worse we could support man united they have spent over 200 million and still cant win a game
    Merry christmas fellow CELTIC supporters and a prosperous new year to all and welcome the treble come may

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