Both before, and after, the Real Madrid game our manager made it clear that he intends to go toe-to-toe with the biggest clubs in Europe entirely without fear. His frustration at our missed chances was obvious on Tuesday talking to the media.
Ange is a supremely confident manager, and he is assembling a supremely confident team, a team he wants to be nerveless. You can see from the way we played for 60 minutes against the Spanish that he is already instilling that belief in them.
I watch this man and what he wants to do and it overcomes my own natural inclination to be cautious about what this team might achieve. I wrote at length towards the end of last season that we should not hinge our hopes on a European final or anything like that because it was a moon-shot. Under this guy, you could believe that anything was possible.
Last night, in the aftermath of their spectacular unravelling in Holland, Giovanni Van Bronckhorst sat in front of the media and gave the most astonishing, and self-destructive, press conferences I can ever remember witnessing from a manager, except for one; Lennon’s self-pitying, self-exculpatory rant in the aftermath of the Ferencvaros disgrace where he turned the flamethrower on his own dressing room and burned our season to the ground.
Van Bronckhorst did not turn on his players. But he gave them an alibi for failure. He gave himself one at the same time, when he said that no-one should expect them to be able to compete with the teams in his group. It was as public a waving of the white flag after just one game as you are ever going to witness.
It was a shocking statement to make.
He talked about the finance gap and how his team would find it impossible to bridge the quality one without spending “a hundred million pounds”, a statement immediately scorned by his club’s fans who pointed to the result that did for Thomas Tuchel at Chelsea, a stunning defeat at the hands of a team from Zagreb.
Some asked if the finance gap is an excuse for a team not showing up why the Ibrox club has dropped so many points over his tenure to teams in Scotland with a fraction of their resources. It’s hard to imagine how he could defeat such an argument.
Yet even as he was making the case that nobody should expect his club to take points far less qualify from the group, because he didn’t have the cash these other sides do he was professing his happiness with the squad at his disposal and defending their failure to spend money once he had secured qualification to that stage of the competition.
It was a bizarre and flatly contradictory thing to say, and I don’t think a living soul who heard it genuinely believed it. This was a man toeing the party line, and yet at the same time hinting at his general unhappiness about being awesomely outgunned.
He followed up with another strange admission; James Tavernier, their captain, has been carrying an injury for weeks, something has been rumoured on their forums for a while.
The decision to take him off was motivated by the need to give him some down-time and the sight of him sitting on the bench with an ice pack strapped to his leg must have been jarring.
But having admitted this, nobody asked him to explain why the club allowed the Polish right back Mateusz ?ukowski, who they had signed only last January, to leave on loan at the end of the transfer window. They were thus forced to throw an untested kid into the cauldron of the Amsterdam Arena, and if Tavernier is out for a while he’ll face tougher challenges than that.
This is the second injury issue Van Bronckhorst and his coaches knew existed in the run-up to the transfer window closing, the first being the one to Tom Lawrence, and which he did not try and solve with even a short-term signing.
These are, to be frank, the kind of decisions that bring managers to the brink.
If these decisions were forced on him, as one imagines they must have been to some extent, that’s even worse. It means that when their fans call him weak they are essentially correct because who but a weak manager holding a bad negotiating hand would allow others to hold his future in their hands as he appears to have done in this case?
That press conference leaves him in real, real trouble.
Their fans are fuming at what they listened to come out of his mouth, and that he has apparently written off this Champions League campaign is genuinely distressing for fans who have paid through the nose for tickets in the (apparently) genuine belief that a side which had gotten to a lesser European final last season could make a real impact on the top competition.
What’s worse is that they recognise too the deadly contrast between him and Ange; our boss refuses to accept limits and is always looking for a way to beat whoever is in front of us.
He doesn’t see this in terms of how much money clubs have but in terms of figuring out how to overcome that handicap; it was all there in his answer to the first question I ever got to ask him, about his use of analytics and data and how he said he would always look for that edge, that way of closing the gap between ourselves and those teams which could spend more.
The idea that Ange would ever utter the kind of words that I heard the Ibrox manager say last night is preposterous. He would not allow anyone at Celtic to think that way either.
What in God’s name was Van Bronckhorst thinking?
There are a lot of theories about that on their sites, everything from his wanting to send his bosses a warning to the idea that this is a guy who knows its slipping away from him and is getting his excuses in before the axe falls.
It does seem clear that all is not well between him and employers, and perhaps even between him and his players. That club is sailing in choppy waters right now, but instead of battening down the hatches he is leaving it all out on deck and sailing into the hurricane.
This doesn’t have a happy ending. Except for us.
We get to watch another episode of Scottish football’s longest running soap opera. The Banter Years took a brief hiatus, but the script writers are back on form and the laughs just keep on coming.