It’s about people.
“What gives me something in life is to create something together with people and develop other people,” Ronny Deila said. “To feel that you are affecting something. That’s why I can't work with people that don't want to get better or can’t be better. To win because I have the best players I don't think it's fun - even though you need to get the best out of them.”
That realization of potential has been a central theme of Deila’s coaching career. His first major coaching success saw Strømsgodset claim the Norwegian Cup. They would follow that up with a league title – their first in 43 years – and saw a combination of academy graduates and shrewd signings from outside the club crowned league champions.
He would follow that up with more success at Celtic, where he quickly became a storied figure in the rich history of the Glaswegian club, before delivering NYCFC their first ever MLS Cup trophy last December.
In understanding Deila as a person, however, you must go back further than that. His coaching aspirations began while he was still playing and were about utilizing that passion for people.
“I've always been a very social person,” he said. “I started coaching when I was 16 years old, 17 years old. When I played at the top level, I was coach for the U19s all the time. I worked with the football association in Norway developing coaches and leaders. So it's always been a pathway for me, I just get a lot of energy from the environment - to work with people.”
It is that personable and empathetic personality that leaves so many of Deila’s former colleagues enamored by him. His journey from Europe to the USA was as much about his own development as those around him. The image of his post-game pushups in Portland circled the globe, but for many NYCFC fans, it was the tears shed at full-time that will live long in the memory.
“I think it was a lot of things,” Deila said when asked what caused his tears. “I think it was because of the drama in the game, I think there's so much emotion involved, and you have to keep yourself in control, but they score in the 94th Minute and it was like a brick to your head. Then you go through extratime and penalties. It's the end of an 11-month season and you finally understand that we have done it.
“I also think part of it was how much I missed winning. I hadn't won since 2016 with Celtic - that was the last trophy. I was so eager to do it again, and when you do it, all the suffering is worth it. You get back what you put into it.”
Now able to reflect, the path to success seems so clear. New York City FC entered the season with a group eager to work, eager to improve. Running parallel to that was the right environment. NYCFC had reached the playoffs before, but to do something new, a change was required.
“Two things for me was discipline and togetherness,” Deila said. “The main thing is that everybody is willing to buy in and willing to suffer together and do the tough jobs together. We are one, not two or three different groups.
“The environment needs to be that you come to work every day to get better. For that you need to feel safe, you need to feel trusted, and you need to have fun. You miss one of them you can never get better. You need to have that foundation. After that, you use all the energy to get better. Then it’s about thinking about the consequences. You can't do anything about the result. You have to just perform as well as possible. When you're performing, you have a good chance to win.”
The subtle shift towards a focus on performances was evident in the playoffs. NYCFC faced four very different tests on their run to the Club’s first-ever MLS Cup, and they managed to exert control for long periods of each game.
They will hope to reproduce that level of performance moving into 2022. The team is aiming to make a strong impression in the Concacaf Champions League, and there is already talk about defending their maiden crown. Maintaining the level is not where Deila’s head is at, however.
“Everything is about the culture,” Deila stressed. “It's about everybody making themselves accountable and making others accountable in the process and that we are curious and hungry to want to learn and improve our style of play on the pitch. To make it so everything is quicker and more effective.
“Again, everything is about the performances we put on the pitch. What we did last year is not good enough this year, that's what everybody has to understand. We need to get better, we have to chase what's coming, what's next in our development. We have consistency with the staff, in the squad with the players. We have a good opportunity to start from a level and build from that.”
A relentless determination and the pursuit of shared experience keeps Deila moving, taking him from Drammen in Norway, to Glasgow and now the five boroughs. Surrounded by like minds at NYCFC, with a taste of success and a hunger for more, Ronny seems right where he wants to be.
After all, it’s about people.