Ange Postecoglou is not a man who ever passes up an opportunity. It was there in the words at his first fan presser; this is a man who will seek out every advantage that he can to defeat an opponent, and that, I would presume, includes psychological warfare.
Today at the press conference for the Leverkusen game, we saw him again deftly slap down a journalist for asking an irrelevant question. He wanted the focus to be on our club. But when he was asked about Connor Goldson’s comments at the weekend he didn’t wave that aside as none of his business. He seemed almost keen to take that particular issue on.
When asked if Celtic players have the hunger for honours, he gave it both barrels.
“Unfortunately and fortunately – whatever way you want to put it – when you join this football club, that’s what you are signing up for,” he said. “You are not just signing up to play for a club that has great standing and has great support, you are signing up to be just that: to be hungry for success. Because if you are not, you won’t last here.”
And that is a timely and deadly intervention from him, because he knows that there are players in the dressing room across the city who are smarting at being called out like that by Goldson and by asserting that this is a requirement at Celtic he is widening the cracks in the squad over there. He knew exactly what he was doing in taking that question on.
It is stirring the soup a little, engaging in a little bit of mischief making but with a very serious aim. Ange does not do these things just so he can snigger at the misfortunes of our opponents, he does them to make a point. He does them to sew doubt and fear. It’s as he said at that famous open mike training session; the other side might quit but we never do.
There’s an obvious movie analogy here, of course, and it makes me laugh to think of it. In Rocky III, Mickey understands that with his fighter having won a title he has now “become civilised” and soft; Clubber Lang, on the other hand, a raw battler from the streets, is sweating blood for his shot at the crown and his wanting it is there to be seen in the ring.
Rocky gets pulverised in the first fight, of course.
Does he regain “the hunger” for the comeback?
Of course he does, but if you exclude absolutely every single second of the fourth movie his voyage of rediscovery and the road he takes back to his title in that film might be the least believable thing in the entire series. Everyone knows that when the hunger is gone it ain’t ever coming back. That’s true in any walk of life.
Half of the players on that team are just about finished as far as the club is concerned.
They are already eyeing up their next career moves.
We saw what that looks like in the way Edouard meandered around in the last few months of his time here. The manager saw it in Ajer, in training, so much so that he never started a minute under Ange.
And that, of course, is the proof that Ange isn’t just talking a good game here, he means exactly what he says and he will act accordingly. Those players who can’t muster the effort for the cause will not be here, and it’s that simple.
The hunger is something you either have or you haven’t got. I have never thought that the Ibrox team was particularly driven; if they were their cup record would be much better than it is.
There is no player in that team with the drive of a Callum McGregor or a James Forrest or a Kyogo; nobody who pushes themselves hard to get to the next level.
Look at Anthony Ralston; do you think that guy needs motivating when he gets up to start a new day? That guy is ready for battle even on the training pitch. Ange knows all this … and he knows that he would be able to suss the non-triers out at Ibrox in two seconds flat, as any good manager should. Which means that they are senior members of the squad.
Which means that the club over there is in a whole heap of trouble.
Ange loved that question today, and he took great pleasure in answering it. The phony war is over. The real hostilities are about to begin.