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Hail, hail Ange Postecoglou – the anti-Howe who transformed Celtic in a season

Celtic fans display a banner for manager Ange Postecoglou

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Johnny Nic gushes over the manager whom many had never heard of a year ago before he took over at Celtc and transformed the Bhoys on the way to winning the Premiership…

 

Who’s this then?
Angelos Postecoglou is the 56-year-old Australian coach of Celtic and has just won the Premiership at his first attempt. Born in Greece, he emigrated to Australia aged five.

While to most people in the UK he may have been an unknown when he arrived at Parkhead, he was a man with a successful playing career at South Melbourne from 1984-93 before being forced to retire with a severe knee knack. In his time at South, he won nine trophies including two NSL Championships and the 1992-93 NSL Premiership.

A tough, hard-knock defender (he looks it, doesn’t he?) he played 193 times for the club and scored 27 goals. He’s still considered to be one of their all-time greats.

Immediately on retiring he became assistant manager at the club, eventually becoming the boss in 1996 and leading them to two consecutive title wins and the 1999 Oceania Club Championship. He remains the only player to have been involved in all four of the club’s title wins.

Quitting South in 2000, there followed seven years working with the Young Socceroos developing youth players. With a 67% win rate and seven different tournament wins at Under-17 and Under-19 and Under-20 level he was quite successful but was sacked for failing to get the Under-20s to their 2007 World Cup.

The next 18 months saw him manage in Greece at Panachaiki and briefly at the impressively named Whittlesea Zebras. But in October 2009 he took over Brisbane Roar and in two and a half seasons, won them two consecutive A-League Premiership titles setting the record for most consecutive undefeated games: 36.

The Roar became known for their possession and passing game, nicknamed Roarcelona, they played some of the best football ever seen in the A-League. With their second title win, he became the Aussie game’s most successful manager with four such wins under his belt.

He left to join Melbourne Victory but failed to win anything and 18 months later he was invited to become national manager and jumped at the chance to sign a five-year contract, taking them to the 2014 World Cup where despite losing all their games in a tough group of Spain, Netherlands and Chile, they nonetheless played well, especially in a 3-2 loss to the Dutch.

Next year he won the 2015 AFC Asian Cup and in 2017 got them qualified for the 2018 World Cup. At which point he quit and a month later was installed as the boss of Yokohama F. Marinos. It was a difficult first season but he got them to the J-League Cup final and 12th in the league. He was offered the Greek managerial gig but turned it down, feeling Yokohama had a lot of potential. He was right. They won the J-League in 2019 for the first time in 15 years. It was the 16th trophy of his managerial career.

At which point Celtic, who had been pissed around by the indecisive Eddie Howe for months, kicked the dilettante into touch and offered the gig to Ange. He signed a one-year rolling contract. On Wednesday he won the Premiership to go with the League Cup he’d already won and in doing so, qualified for the Champions League group stage next year.

Nae bad, son, nae bad at all.

 


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Why the love?
The Celtic board were rightly criticised for their pursuit of the flakey Howe and for how long they persisted with it. It was an example of how some in Scottish football are blinded by the light they see coming from anything associated with the Premier League. Howe was never a good fit for the club, he wasn’t good enough or strong enough; it would’ve crushed him. Bournemouth and Burnley are no preparation for managing a club the size of Celtic and it’s laughable to think it might have been. So off he went to dip his hands in the blood of the murdered Yemeni dead. That was the measure of the morals of the man Celtic had been trying to recruit.

However, the Celtic board made a great choice in Ange and in actual fact, it was an absolutely no-brainer. Here was a coach with a long string of titles to his name, who had a track record of having an almost instant impact at clubs. And that’s what he did at Celtic even though there was the usual outrage from thick pundits who wondered why they’d appointed someone they’d never heard of, instead of someone they had heard of, even though they’d not heard of anyone outside of the UK.

The previous campaign had been an utter disaster and Celtic had finished 25 points adrift of Rangers and when he failed to win the first three games didn’t produce a win there was a moment of doubt about his appointment. But Ange did nothing less than revolutionise the squad in a short space of time. In his first presser he promised an “extensive” overhaul of the squad and was as good as his word.

Across the season he got shot of 14 players. Fourteen!

But he brought in 18. Eighteen!

At the end of it all, the club was £10million better off and had a much better squad. £23million spent, £33million from sales. Sweet. Better yet, Postecoglou’s signings have accounted for 73 per cent of Celtic’s league goals. Liel Abada, Kyogo Furuhashi, Jota and Georgios Giakoumakis have scored 60 between them in all competitions. Now that’s a successful transfer policy.

In February he said: “The players I’ve brought in have hit the ground running and people ask why so quickly? It’s because I already know they’ve got the attributes I’m looking for and the rest is just understanding the game plan. I wanted to make sure the players fitted the ideology of the team I wanted us to be. They also had to hit the right demographic in terms of ages. That was all-important. It’s always been a big part of what I do. You can’t have square pegs in round holes. It’s not just about getting talented footballers, it’s about getting people who fit into my football.”

Such good sense. Someone tell Manchester United.

Maybe the best business he did was to bring in Kyogo Furuhashi for £4.6million who has been fantastic. Georgios Giakoumakis was a very good buy, as was Joe Hart who, despite the occasional bit of Joe Hart-ing has performed really well and the 21-year-old Matt O’Reilly from MK Dons, has begun to fulfil his promise.

He moved Callum McGregor back to break up attacks and start counter offensives. He’s a kind of Celtic Kalvin Phillips. And he made him captain to replace Scott Brown. It worked.

So fans love him for making the club function better, making the first-team squad much stronger and for getting the best out of them. It’s odd really but after just one season, he’s really imposed his personality onto the club and that’s hard to do at a place like Celtic which has such a strong identity.

His knowledge of the Japanese market has been really important as it has allowed him to beat all the other UK clubs who are not paying attention, or think the J-League is beneath them, to get the signature of four good players. Ange knew there was huge potential in that market for not much money. Obviously, once they’ve shown their worth, the moneybags sides south of the border will drop by and puke up a shedload of cash for the likes of Daizen Maeda (eight goals in 21 games) and especially for Kyogo Furuhashi. That is, if they’re even paying attention to football in Scotland which is by no means guaranteed, with the widespread ignorance of it in England, not that it stops many looking down on it, even though one of its clubs has made a European final.

But if that happens, I’m sure Ange will have replacements lined-up.

It isn’t just the results that have impressed, it is how he’s gone about them by playing an attacking, dynamic, front-foot game, scoring 86 goals but conceding just 22 in the league. He puts a lot of emphasis on speed of passing and moving the ball on quickly and with purpose. Only Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich have completed more passes per game than Celtic this season.

While he won PFA Scotland and the SFWA Manager of the Year awards for his success on the pitch, he’s gained many plaudits for his attitude off it. All season he has been blunt and honest. He’s talked plainly and truthfully, has answered questions in a straightforward way, has conducted himself with an alarming lack of ego and hasn’t messed people around or alienated anyone. The opposite of Eddie Howe, then. The fact he’s not got involved in winding up other managers, hammering referees or playing what are somewhat disingenuously called mind games has been very refreshing. Basically, he’s a decent man and a grown up

And while he’s a tough cookie, he was very emotional on winning the title this week, but even so, was happy to stay in the background while the players celebrated. This isn’t a man who seeks glory for himself, the way some do. A principled man who sets standards and expects them to be met, he has inspired his team to a title win that looked very unlikely before a ball was kicked. It would be nice if his decency could be a civilising influence on those who still perform sectarian chants.

 

Three great moments
His interview after winning the title is typically low key and a little bit emotional. (and he looks like an older, hairier version of Mark Viduka, doesn’t he?)

You’ve gotta love the guy…

His Australian team was beaten by the Netherlands after taking the lead. Stay for the Tim Cahill volley. Wow…

 

Future days
He claims this is just the first phase of his project to transform Celtic. History suggests he works quickly on arrival at a club and his work in reshaping the squad is far from done. Another successful season, with some European progress will put his name into the phones of many far richer clubs.

He says he knows precisely the type of player he wants to fit his system. Mohanad Jeahze, a Sweden-born Iraq international left-back from Hammarby, appears to be on his way to Glasgow. A high-energy and attacking player is exactly the kind of player he loves and the £30million+ they’ll get from the Champions League will help him increase the quality of the squad, further but he’s also ruthless enough to cut away the deadwood that is soaking up money and contributing very little.

He needs to sign loanees Jota and Cameron Carter-Vickers on permanent contracts, both have been impressive, with many thinking the latter has been the SPL Player of the Year.

His Japanese players have been in and out due to injury and tiredness after a relentless 12 months of football, but he will be looking for Kyogo, Hatate, Maeda and Ideguchi to play a lot more first team football next campaign. All have impressed when called upon.

Next season will be a big test for Ange and for this team, one that not only is he very much up for, but one which may push his name high up the list of potential managers for clubs in need of a revolution.

The whole of the Premiership has been uplifted by his presence this season and given he was an unknown to many 12 months ago, that is a remarkable thing achieved by, on the quiet, a remarkable and very impressive man.





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