By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Jan 10, 2020) US Soccer Players - The last Major League Soccer team with an open head coaching position finally filled the job on Monday. New York City Football Club announced the hiring of Ronny Deila. To say Deila arrives in the country’s biggest market to lead one of the league’s marquee teams with questions swirling around him would be an understatement. Deila might not be a known quantity in the United States, but his history as a topflight manager provides plenty to ponder as he steps into the coach’s box in the Bronx.
Whatever the ultimate success or failure of Deila’s work in New York, the timeline is the issue. It took 59 days for NYCFC to find a replacement, even as the club gets set for its first foray into the Concacaf Champions League on February 20. That suggests lots of thinking before finally making a decision.
Former Dutch international Giovanni van Bronckhorst was the presumed successor to Torrent as recently as a month ago. Van Bronckhorst coached Feyenoord for three seasons before joining City Football Group as a floating assistant in 2019. That put him in the club’s system and making him an obvious candidate to move to New York. Van Bronckhorst reportedly passed on the job in MLS in favor of Guangzhou R&F of the Chinese Super League.
Deila’s highest-profile job to date was a two-year stint at Scottish power Celtic. He won two Scottish Premier League titles with the Glaswegian club. It was a period when Celtic’s traditional rival, Rangers, played in a lower division following a financial disaster. Deila’s time in Scotland ended when European failures ratcheted up the pressure to the point that the coach himself felt it necessary to step down.
Since his return to Norway where he spent his career as a player, Deila hasn’t finished higher than sixth in the Eliteserien. He leaves Valerenga with a winning percentage of just 36%. Perhaps the most notable thing about his time with the club was when he stripped naked to cut his team’s anxiety before a crucial match back in 2017.
Stripping is something of a calling card for Deila. He famously bared everything down to his underwear to celebrate a win while coaching Stomgodeset back in 2013 and then did pushups on the sideline in his exuberance. The most obvious thing about the man is his contagious passion for soccer and a desire to keep fun in the game.
In a league that sometimes lacks for personalities, especially among its head coaches, Deila will be a welcome addition to the news cycle. His tenure coaching in New York promises to be entertaining, win or lose.
Deila’s fun-loving attitude will be a departure from the more reserved nature of Dome Torrent. The veteran assistant coach came to New York directly from City Football Group’s premier property, Manchester City. What Torrent lacked in first-team managerial experience he more than made up for with pedigree. While Deila doesn’t have Torrent’s experience coaching under Pep Guardiola, he does have ties to City Football Group that explain the somewhat surprising hire.
The club itself pointed out those connections in the statement announcing the appointment, identifying Deila as a known quantity for the parent organization. This “relationship” could allay fears that NYCFC is taking a step back in the quality of its head coach after Patrick Vieira and Torrent. Fans will at least have some assurances that Deila isn’t a random choice, unknown to the club’s senior management. No one is going to buy that he’s part of the Manchester-to-NYC pipeline established with the previous two coaches, but he’s not a stranger either.
Pulling away from the direct City Football Group appointment could give NYCFC more of a sheen of independence, as well. The club will always live in the shadow of Manchester City as long as their broader enterprise includes the MLS club. Hiring someone from outside of the umbrella organization sends the message that NYCFC isn’t only a development tool of City Football Group.
Both Vieira and Torrent did solid jobs in the Bronx. Deila will have a chance to bring the team its first piece of silverware. He’ll also jumpstart a coaching career that has stalled in Norway. Deila is only 44 and has plenty of time to grow into bigger jobs. Moving to MLS at this point in his career, to a higher profile position within the CFG family could open more doors. Vieira’s move to Nice proved the efficacy of MLS as a stepping stone. Jesse Marsch’s success in Austria is only raising the league’s profile.
Of course, Deila can’t fail in New York and expect to improve his future job prospects. He’ll possess all the necessary advantages to at least maintain the level established at Yankee Stadium. The club finished in 1st-place in the East during the 2019 regular season. There’s unlikely to be a significant turnover in the roster. The most pressing issue coming into the offseason was whether NYCFC could secure the services of midfielder Keaton Parks permanently after a successful season on loan from Benfica in 2019.
It’s not often that MLS teams deal with replacing successful coaches. NYCFC has had to do it twice since the middle part of the 2018 season. Vieira’s departure slowed the upward trajectory of the club and damaged its chances at a championship in 2018. Torrent’s improvement on a rough beginning held promise for 2019, but the New Yorkers crashed out in the playoffs to Toronto.
For the coach, all of the MLS quirks that famously bothered Torrent will turn into challenges. Foreign coaches have shaken off the reputation that winning in MLS requires too much. Heavy travel, restrictive roster rules, artificial surfaces, and general unfamiliarity. That may no longer hold, but MLS remains a difficult environment to adapt to for even the most open-minded head coach.
Executing another change following Torrent’s decision to leave will turn on Deila’s adaptability and the roster’s established strengths. New York City itself is a draw. The City Football Group connections are a draw. Still, MLS is not by itself a destination league for the best and brightest young coaches. It is a draw for a somewhat successful, slightly quirky young manager with a penchant for the silly and a desire for adventure.
Deila checks those boxes. He’s game for MLS. His philosophy lines up well enough with what NYCFC already does. It won’t be a shock to the system. Short of a flashy, big-name signing that might not be committed to the New York program for more than a year, Deila feels like the right risk for NYCFC.
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- The US Open Cup problem
Logo courtesy of NYCFC