New York City FC head coach Ronny Deila broke records with the team in 2021, leading the side to their first ever MLS Cup championship during their debut in the final.
The team went from underdogs to unbeatable with Deila at the helm.
Now, the head coach must tackle new challenges in 2022 to defend their crown and live up to expectations. NYCFC will balance Major League Soccer with the Concacaf Champions League in the pursuit of silverware.
Deila spoke exclusively to 90min about the pressures and goals of the upcoming season and keeping one goal in mind: "Getting better individually and as a team, on and off the pitch.”
Congratulations again for winning the MLS Cup last season, how does lifting the trophy impact expectations going into 2022?
"That’s a good question. You know, it’s something we have never tried before. It’s again, a new experience for us, but I am very happy to have access to this situation.
"I think it’s important to talk a lot about chasing. Instead of protecting something, we have to chase it up.
"In the league, it’s being more consistent, and if you’re going to do that, we need to improve ourselves. I think that's the only way to achieve more trophies and more success. We wonder why the last couple of times we didn’t win the league and we went onto fourth, so we have to try to get closer to New England this year.
"It’s about getting better individually as a team, on and off the pitch."
Going into Concacaf champions league, we know Mexican sides have dominated - do you think NYCFC can break the pattern?
"That’s the dream and goal of course. Also to win the Champions League, we would be the first Major League side. No-one from the United States has done it, so that would be huge.
"We are hoping to bring back a good result with us when playing on Tuesday, but of course there is a reason why nobody has won from MLS. It's a tough tournament.
"But we will do everything we can to get us as long as possible, and hopefully win everything."
Is the strategy for Concacaf Champions League different from Major League Soccer?
"There are different teams. It’s home and away. A little bit different tactically in that way.
"Away goals also play a role in the tournament, so you have to perform really well if we are going to get the result we want. When we were here two years ago, we had a tough game. But hopefully we can come home with the same results we had last time we featured, or even better that what we accomplished."
The team has seen a busy transfer window, most notably the departure of James Sands to Rangers FC. How has this impacted your plans for the team?
"When you do well, of course every single player becomes attractive for other clubs and it becomes a big challenge. We lost some of the players that did really well last year, but at the same time they are a product of the team.
"Everybody should feel a part of James’ opportunity to go to Glasgow. Now it’s 'who wants to be the next?'. It’s a possibility, if we just keep doing the same things, have a good culture inside the club and train and prepare [the players] well.
"But we also got so many good players in this quarter. We have a top player in Thiago Martins. We are ready to compete again. I still think maybe we need to get a player or two in, but we had this same challenge last year as well.
"It’s not easy to do these things. The window is still open, so we’ll see what happens in the next weeks going into it. But I am confident that the squad we have now is good enough to win football games in the MLS and also in the Concacaf Champions League. We’re looking forward to getting things going."
How are the new additions adjusting to the team?
"Thiago has only been here four to five days, but he already played 60 minutes in our last friendly game. You can see he’s a quality player. He’s a leader as well, he speaks four languages. He’s a player that we really wanted to get into the team to help us build a bond with all the South American players and entire culture. We need players who can facilitate communication as well as bring in experience.
"He is a really good football player."
More and more we’re seeing this bridge between European leagues and MLS with transfers. How is managing a Major League Soccer side different from leading a team in Europe?
"I think it’s similar. When you do well, it is very easy to lose players. That’s the challenge we have in Europe. If you don't train the five, six or seven biggest clubs in the world, you will lose your best players.
"Then, you have to add quality that is younger and less experienced, but that’s the fun part as well to develop teams and individuals to take their next steps. Also, aid in their next steps with our well, we can reach our goals.
"When we brought in a lot of young players, nobody believed in us. But we developed ourselves through the season and in the end, we wanted to be the best and win. So, it was a fantastic achievement and a good feeling. We also get to believe in the future."
Is there one specific thing you hope to achieve in 2022?
"Many things, but mostly I would like to play offensive football and with that, have people coming to the stadium. We want fans to want to come back because it’s fun to be there, and I think we had a lot of those games last year.
"I want to keep on developing that, we are a team that is attractive to watch.
"We also want to be unbeatable in the way that we’ve been. I think home at Yankee Stadium we were almost unbeatable, but away we were very even. We didn’t create enough to win. So hopefully, we can improve in this area. I think if we do that, we have a big chance to win something as well."
After NYCFC won the trophy, you celebrated by stripping down and doing pushups, where did the tradition come from?
"It’s something that started in Norway. In my first job, we had a very young team but we were struggling a lot - almost to the point of relegation at that time. So, supporters asked me, if you don’t descend, will you strip to celebrate? And of course, I said i’d do that and then we kept up and I had to keep that promise. It was in 2009.
"And when you do things nowadays, they don’t go away because they’re on the internet forever.
"When I came to NYCFC, of course everyone had seen me do that celebration before. Then, they began asking if I would do it if we won.
"When we won the championship, the guys wanted me to strip and, though it was not the most fun thing for me to do, it was a good connection with everyone. I think it was something that brought us together.
"It was worth it."