Ronny Deila was in just his underpants, the crowd full of laughs.
It sounds like something pulled from a teenager’s nightmare, but the mood at Stromsgodset was far more dreamlike.
Deila, a former player with Godset, had promised to strip if his side survived relegation. After a dramatic win over Viking in their last home game of the season, Deila obliged in a public performance that included a set of press-ups.
He’d indulge in his unique motivational technique two years later before the Norwegian Cup Final. In an attempt to calm everyone down, Deila emerged to give his team talk wearing a thong with an elephant trunk. Godset won the game 2-0.
Deila’s focus on the human connection defined his six years in charge of Stromsgodset.
“I coach humans, not footballers,” he told Dagsavisen. “Good players can explain every step they make on the field. It is useless to tell a player to run somewhere if he doesn’t understand why that is necessary.”
The apex of Deila's time with Stromsgodset saw the club crowned champions in 2013 (it was Stromgodset’s first league success in 43 years). Deila's reputation was growing fast, and given his focus on personal relationships and a propensity for public displays of emotion he drew comparisons to Jurgen Klopp.
The 44-year-old had visited several clubs, including Klopp’s Dortmund, in a bid to learn more about the game. His style, involving short, quick possession, and overloads out wide was on-trend for the time and convinced Celtic to appoint him in 2014.
His time in Glasgow proved to be polarising. Deila arrived at a time in which Rangers were no longer in the top flight. He won three trophies during his two seasons in Glasgow, but his performances in Europe were poor.
During his first season, the club lost a Champions League Qualifier to Legia Warsaw 6-1 on aggregate. Legia were ruled to have fielded an ineligible player in the second leg, however, and Celtic were awarded a 3-0 win. The tie subsequently finished 4-4 on aggregate and Celtic went through on away goals. There was a greater embarrassment to come, however, when in the next round Maribor beat Celtic 2-1 on aggregate.
Things didn’t improve in year two, with Swedish side Malmo beating Celtic 4-3 on aggregate to send Celtic into the Europa League (Deila had spurned the chance to manage Malmo in favour of the Celtic job).
“It’s hard to look at Ronny Deila’s time at Celtic and not feel as though he was a victim of circumstances,” Stefan Bienkowski, a journalist for BBC Scotland, told Oddschecker. “The club weren’t as committed to spending fortunes in the transfer market as they perhaps were under his successor, Brendan Rodgers, and he didn’t have the quality of players that his predecessor, Neil Lennon. However, he also didn’t seem ready for the job to a certain extent.
“While under Lennon and Rodgers Celtic had managers that distinctly knew what the job was about, Deila seemed surprised and ultimately struggled to deal with the ferocity of the day-to-day pressure and attention he received. I don’t think he appreciated the absolute chaos that came from even the most insignificant defeat or the necessity to win every title. And as a manager that seems to wear his emotions on his sleeve, it certainly showed at times. He struck me as a nice man, but I think the job came a little too soon for him in his career.”
Despite this, when it came time to leave the club supporters were mostly appreciative of Deila’s efforts. The Norwegian is a humble character and one that wears his emotions openly. He arrives in the Big Apple after a spell with Valerenga. His time there saw the club finish 8th, 6th, and 10th, during what was a poor spell for the club that last won the league in 2005.
Deila does not shirk responsibility, however. During a poor run in 2018, he said, “It must be something I am doing wrong because it is not good enough. It is my responsibility.”
The responsibility falling on Deila in New York is to improve on the work of Patrick Vieira and Dome Torrent. NYCFC finished last season top of the Eastern Conference, but their playoff performance saw them fall at the Conference Semifinals. The 44-year-old first came onto City Football Group’s radar during his time at Stromsgodset. Manchester City had an affiliate program with the club that saw City loan players to Norway.
The hope now is that he can recapture that form and feeling in New York with evolution, not revolution, his brief. Pre-season is just days away, and as such Deila already has his work cut out for him. If he can win a trophy in New York, against the odds, then not only will he have successfully rebooted his managerial career, but also given himself a reason to strip off one more time.