In his relatively short career as a manager thus far, Ronny Deila has racked up four major honours. First, he led underdogs Strømsgodset to the Norwegian Football Cup before causing a major upset when he lifted the Tippeligaen – Norway’s top flight – with the same club. He followed that up by achieving the double with Celtic last season after making the move across the North Sea to replace Neil Lennon in the summer of 2014.
He accepts there are different pressures between the two clubs though recognises the similarities in the respective competitions: “There’s a big difference, of course, between the two clubs because when you win something with a small club it’s a big, big occasion. When you win with Celtic you are used to it, it’s more expected,” he explained.
“Even though, you have to do it and I think the cups are very similar in Norway and Scotland. It’s a big thing and especially when you come to the semi and the final it’s a big occasion. So we’re looking forward to the game and hopefully we’ll get another trophy.”
Celtic are the current Scottish League Cup holders. It was on March 15 of last year that Deila lifted his first trophy in Scotland after comfortably disposing of Dundee United in the final. In the semi-final prior to that, they did a similar job on Rangers when they met at the national stadium – the only match between the sides since 2012.
Not all Deila’s cup memories in Scotland are positive ones, however. The semi-final of the Scottish Cup saw them exit to eventual winners Inverness Caledonian Thistle in controversial circumstances when Josh Meekings escaped punishment for a handball on the goalline.
“Two good and one bad,” he says of his Hampden experiences so far. “We had the League Cup last year where we beat Rangers and we won the final against Dundee United and they were, of course, very good experiences. And we were unlucky when we lost against Inverness in the semi-final of the Scottish Cup. So we will hopefully revenge that this year.”
Four trophies with two different clubs in little over five years is a decent return, a total the Norwegian will likely add to by the time he moves on from Celtic. Nevertheless, he is coy on electing just one of his honours as his proudest achievement thus far.
“It’s very hard to say. As I said, when you win something with small clubs it’s very special. When I won the league as well with the other team, [Strømsgodset], that was maybe the biggest I’ve been into. But it’s fun winning so it’s a good experience to do it in another country as well. It’s fantastic.”
To reach this stage, Celtic defeated Raith Rovers at home before eventually breaking down a stubborn Hearts through a terrific solo goal from Leigh Griffiths and a clever flick from Tom Rogić. Deila knows today’s opponents Ross County will also be a difficult obstacle to negotiate.
The opening fixture of the season at Celtic Park saw County create a number of opportunities – one of which could have ended in the dismissal of Craig Gordon after he was rounded by former Celtic youngster Jackson Irvine – before eventually succumbing to a 2-0 defeat. Celtic may have comfortably taken the three points in their subsequent meeting in Dingwall, but that has certainly not dispelled any notion of how difficult this semi-final tie will be.
“I think they are a good team,” says Deila. “Every time we have met them I’ve felt that they have something going on. You can see in the league as well they have taken a lot of points and done well, so it’s going to be a tough game.”
On specific threats, Deila is aware of the amount of goals this County side have in their ranks. Despite missing the last few weeks with a broken hand, top-scorer Liam Boyce is targeting the semi-final for his return. The Northern Ireland international scored 25 goals in 2015, including four in this competition, making him its joint top scorer with Dunfermline’s Faissal El-Bakhtaoui.
“I think they have strikers that can cause us problems and that’s their strength. And they are also a hard-working team. With big games there is always a lot of tension and are different from the league games. So it’s about being ready and being prepared for a tough game.”
Ross County stand in the way of Celtic and the next step in their quest for the Holy Grail that is the domestic treble. The Norwegian would join highly-esteemed company in Jock Stein and Martin O’Neill were he to produce such a feat, becoming just the third Celtic manager to do so.
Naturally, Deila plays down any talk of achieving the treble this season, especially when asked if it would then become the highlight of his career: “It’s hard to say. It depends how you judge yourself. If it’s only results, it’s hard to get better than that, that’s for sure,” he said.
“There’s a lot of things as a coach that you have to judge yourself on, but if you do [win the treble] something as is seen is the past has been very, very hard, then that would be fantastic. We just have to take one game at a time and if everything goes right it would be special.”
This article appeared in the League Cup semi-final match programme on 31/01/2015.