This is an article I have been meaning to write for weeks. It’s an article I thought I would publish in the aftermath of a win.
But I realised listening to Ange at full time today that it doesn’t really matter because the central thesis of it is correct.
In spite of my early misgivings – and they were very real indeed; I was wholeheartedly opposed to this choice in every way – Celtic has made an outstanding managerial appointment and the end result of it will be that we will win this season’s SPL title race.
I’ll give the reasons why I believe this in due course; let’s take a look at my earlier opposition, and I’ll tell you why I was so absolutely dead-set against this.
Looking at this decision at the time, I was concerned with three things.
The first was that the timing of it reeked, and it looked like panic.
The second was that Ange had never managed at the top level in Europe, which is what you’d expect from someone so highly rated and well-spoken of in management circles.
Third was that his lack of profile in Europe might have made him an obvious yes man.
I am going to cover these one at a time, but to them I’ll add a fourth concern.
I looked at his record in some detail – and wrote about it in some detail – and there was nothing in it which answered the key question; why, out of all the managers in the world, did we opt for this guy, this guy whose successes seemed modest and achieved at an uninspiring level?
To understand what changed my mind, you need to look at why my concerns were so strong in the first place.
I’m certainly not pleading mitigation here … I gave this guy as good a look as anyone, and I was absolutely sure it was a bad choice – but it was clear, even at the time, that the circumstances of his appointment were a heavy factor against him.
Most Celtic fans wanted Steady Eddie Howe.
The farcical manner in which that deal collapsed tainted the whole process of appointing somebody. Ange’s name came out of left field, and I don’t know anybody who didn’t think it was a decision born of panic.
Celtic’s assurance that they’d been thinking of Ange the whole time seemed like obvious garbage, a deflection from how swiftly they’d plucked his name out of nowhere.
Looking back, with the benefits of hindsight, it seems perfectly plain that Ange and Celtic are a textbook fit, in more ways than in just his football philosophy, so I think it’s entirely feasible that we did, in fact, have one eye on him all the way through the process.
Once you conclude, then, that it wasn’t a panic appointment at all the whole question over Howe takes on an entirely different complexion and it opens up a new avenue for examination; why did we wait so long for Howe when Ange was a better bet right from the start?
I don’t think any Celtic fan is in the least doubt now that we have a superior figure in the dugout, and there were clearly people at Parkhead who suspected that all along … so what happened?
Who dug their heels in over Howe? Who allowed him all that time to mess about? Because “Steady” Eddie Howe wasn’t so steady at all. He was indecisive. He was too easily put off. He was spooked by the size of the job and the expectations that went with it.
Ange, on the other hand, saw it as a great adventure and one of the first things that won me over was his unshakable sense of purpose and self-confidence. That Howe wouldn’t move up from England without his pals is in stark contrast to the guy who moved himself and his entire family from a continent away, without a second’s thought.
Was it Howe’s name and experience that swung it?
Did the board fear a fan backlash if we went for a guy few of us had heard of, as the first choice target?
I’m not saying I’d have liked it, as I thought we needed to go for an established figure … but the whole idea of Ange would have been viewed entirely differently by people like me had it not come on the heels of the Howe disgrace.
With a summer to properly prepare all his good qualities would have been on display much sooner. As it is, it didn’t take him long to win over people like me once his feet were actually under the table and he was doing the job.
Looking back on it now, it was not the approach for Ange which was the move born of panic and desperation; it was the move for Howe.
The decision to go for Ange was not some second rate punt, the mistake was clearly in making him the backup option in the first place.
The second issue was Ange’s lack of experience in Europe.
That doesn’t look like such a deal-breaker either when you examine it properly now.
He had profile in Europe. The top coaches all knew who he was and rated him at their level, but we forget sometimes that these aren’t the guys who run clubs. It’s directors who do, and most of them know nothing about the game.
If you conclude, as seems obvious, that even we were reluctant to make him our publicly courted first choice then you can understand why clubs in higher profile leagues might have blanched at it.
You look at English football and you see the same names recycled through their ranks time and time again and this is only a surprise until you look at the wider picture in Europe; the same people circulate between the top jobs; the middle ranked clubs prefer proven experience; the lower ranked ones are too afraid to take the plunge.
It is the innate caution of European chairmen, an inherent bias favouring coaches from that continent and simple philosophical differences – Ange needed a club with his own principles at its core – that mitigated against him, not any weakness in his skill-set.
This hit me most strongly during the week, when reading articles expressing disbelief that an obvious talent like Kyogo hadn’t already been signed by a European club.
This is that same inherent bias, that same underestimation of the league he played in, which stood in the way of Ange getting the move his own talents deserved before we came along.
The third factor that had me concerned was that Ange might be so desperate to get a move to a top club that he might be willing to do anything for it. It is not hard to understand why that was a worry, and why certain figures at Parkhead may have exploited it.
But from day one Ange made it abundantly clear that he would accept no such thing, and if we needed any proof of that we should look no further than how this guy has already put his boot on the board’s arse to move them along a bit quicker in terms of transfers.
This is why I found Michael Stewart’s comments on Starfelt not being an “Ange Postecoglou signing” absurd and even offensive. He clearly hasn’t paid a blind bit of notice to our manager’s public pronouncements on transfer business; Ange is the decider. He knows what he wants and he will not settle for less. This guy is nobody’s “yes man.”
My final concern was that his CV really didn’t support the hype that surrounding it; in fact, that was a ridiculous assertion on my part, but in mitigation I’m only going to say that I didn’t really have a clear understanding of stuff like the Asian transfer market or how squad building works in Australia and Japan. It’s not an excuse, it’s an explanation.
First, it’s obvious that Ange’s CV does have several outstanding indicators of his talents. He improves every team he’s at. He works brilliantly with, and has tremendous faith in, young players. He can spot a player and knows how to fit them into his system.
Secondly, I greatly underestimated the importance of Ange’s experience as the national coach of Australia. Crucially, it was the answer Ange gave to a question I got to ask him personally which gave me the first really positive feeling I had about him, and it was in relation to how he intended to use sports science and analytics in developing Celtic.
His answer was that his successes with Australia came about because he often found himself up against superior players and he would search for every “edge” he could get, and those things were where he was best able to close the gap and even give him an advantage. That’s when I started to understand his international experience in a better context.
Ange has frequently deployed that argument against the media when they have asked him if the pressure of Champions League and Europa League games (not to mention in the run up to today) was unlike anything he’d experienced before; his assertion that managing at top international competitions is a high pressure environment is dead on.
Every single key factor in why the club went for this guy is already crystal clear, from the way he improves the players he has to the sharp eye he has for those who will improve the squad. The loss today is disappointing, but it’s already in the rear-view because the manager himself has explained some of the decisions he made, and knows the answers to the questions the result and the performance have asked of him.
Take the decision to play Kyogo out wide; Ange didn’t do that to have Eddie and the Japanese boy on the pitch at the same time. As I suspected, and said in the after-match article, that was an enforced change because Forrest wasn’t fit. Ange said after the match that had Forrest been available he’d have played him and Kyogo would have been the central striker.
This means that Ange has correctly identified the left side of midfield as a continuing area of concern; he fully intends to bring in a player for that position in this window, which is why reports about the Portuguese winger Jota, on loan, are to be taken seriously.
The Greek striker is on his way. I think Ange wanted him anyway, whether Edouard stayed or not, which probably means another striker is being considered if the Frenchman goes, which he now absolutely must.
I wonder if today has convinced him of the need to sign another central midfielder.
He will not have missed that we might need one.
We play a style of football that is effective and pleasing to the eye.
When the players are fully familiar with the system and with the demands of it – the high press was sorely absent today, and that might be down to stage fright or fitness, and both are easily fixed – we will be extremely hard to beat.
When he has the squad as he wants it we’ll have a better balance than we did today and in midweek; a certain combativeness remains elusive, but he’ll get it.
One of my biggest concerns about Ange was that it might take too long before we saw his ideas represented out on the pitch. That fear has been completely allayed. The handful of idiots in our press who will try to use this defeat to cast doubts on his ability to win this title, and sew dissension amongst the ranks of the fans, have already failed.
We are miles ahead of where any of us thought we’d be and so not only will Ange get the breathing space to get this thing rolling but he doesn’t need it because in every way that counts – except, at the moment, the league table – the improvement is obvious already.
Finally, Ange Postecoglou gets it.
He understands Celtic.
Anyone who hasn’t watched his interview on Sky already, where he talks about his background and being an immigrant, and what that means, should do so, and I’ve put it at the bottom of the piece.
This guy was one of us before he even got here.
He didn’t have to learn about Celtic, he came here with the ethos of this club already enshrined in his own belief system.
He is a genuinely warm, decent man with principles and ideals which are a credit to his parents and his upbringing.
He deserves to have success. He has earned it.
And mark my words, today doesn’t scare me at all.
This is the guy, no matter the mess we made and the time it took to bring him here.
This is the Celtic boss who will deliver our next title, and he’ll do it in this campaign.