The sudden rise to power is one of the greatest of all stories. Whether in real life or in fiction, we can’t seem to get enough of it. From Michael Corleone to Alexander The Great, there is something about this concept that whispers softly to all of us and enthrals us with its grandeur and its sweep and, in the best versions, the stunning reversal of fortune.
Because the thing about the sudden rise, it usually comes when the empire is on the wane. When it seems to be in its twilight. When the old order is failing, and the enemies are at the gates.
Then, out of nowhere, it seems, comes The Man.
My favourite story about the sudden rise to power won’t surprise regular readers one bit; it’s the one about Gaius Octavius, also known as Octavian, also known as Gaius Julius Caesar, also known as Augustus, the first Emperor of Rome.
He was the nephew of Julius Caesar and the principle beneficiary of the dictators will. He inherited not only Caesar’s vast fortune but also, as a consequence of the will “adopting” him, the name, which in Rome brought with it specific obligations; to seek to better his adopted father’s accomplishments and to avenge his death.
All of this he did, which would be impressive enough except that he was just a teenager at the time of Caesar’s death, was virtually unknown to the mass of the people and had never held a military command. Yet he proved himself to be a superb political operative, and was far bolder and more aggressive in pursuit of his goals than even his uncle had been.
Aside from being a formidable figure in his own right, he was an accomplished talent spotter, and knew exactly how to use the skills of others in the right place at the right time. Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, his right hand man, was not much older than Octavian when he was placed in command of the military. He became one of the greatest generals of all time.
Ange Postecoglou was not some quiet shy teenager when he arrived in Scotland 18 months ago; indeed, this was a man of rare accomplishment already. Still, he was underestimated (not least by me haha).
A lot of the critics didn’t think he’d last half a season, much as many of Rome’s chattering classes could not see how a mere boy could hope to survive the maelstrom of its politics, where there had already been nearly endless turmoil, much of it – the Catilinarian conspiracy, the rise and then murder of Publius Clodius Pulcher, and the ascent to power, civil war victory and assassination of Caesar himself – within a very short timeframe.
Indeed, Dave King had predicted that it would only take his club to win one title and then Celtic would “collapse like a house of cards.” Certainly, after nearly a decade of success it seemed, in that summer of 2021, that we very well might be on the brink of a deep and lasting crisis. But then that’s always the way of these things … that’s why the story is of the rise to power, not the assumption of power, not power handed from one to another.
We were in trouble. Let’s not even pretend otherwise.
A major squad rebuild had to be done, in a very short timeframe, under a manager with no experience in a European top flight league and one of the first things that the media reported was that he’d be coming to this country alone.
When his record in Japan was held up as proof that he could handle the pressure one member of the Celtic fan media sarcastically asked online “So you’d be alright, then, if we started buying players from the J League? Because that’s the logic of what you’re saying.”
(I was that man, of course. It makes me laugh uproariously to read back on those astonishingly ignorant comments now. I love football, and watch it from every corner of the world and I had no idea what I was talking about at all. Hugh Keevins himself could not have demonstrated a clearer lack of understanding or dearth of knowledge.)
What none of us knew of course is that Ange had shown his steel before even stepping into the role. He secured for himself more power and authority over the footballing department, and with it the promise of greater backing, than any manager in our recent history had before him. That’s incredible when you think of O’Neill and Rodgers.
Whatever plan the club had – and we know it had a plan to hire a Director of Football and everything – went by the boards the minute Ange got through the door. Those plans had been in motion for many, many months … and he didn’t keep a single aspect of them.
Think of the nerve it takes to do that, to tell your new bosses to dump all that work overboard, to insist that you wanted full command and to then take that on.
The start was rocky, at least in the league. We all know that.
Yet not for a minute did this man compromise on his principles.
He could have too. He could have played cautiously, defensively, until he had his feet under him, until we had put together a run of wins. But right from the start he was adamant that we would play the right way.
I remember him being interviewed after a game where he had dropped points – one of those days when he was asked if the league race was already over – and being really impressed by his confidence that the results would come once the team had found its rhythm and gotten used to his ideas.
That belief started to infect us as fans. It started to seep into the team.
Part of it was just how remarkable the transformation of the team itself actually was.
Recall, if you will, the abject state we were in early doors.
The team which took the field for the first game at Tynecastle might be of interest to you.
Bain, Ralston, Starfelt, Bitton, Taylor, Soro, McGregor, Abada, Forrest and Edouard.
The bench that day was Barkas, Kyogo, Ajeti, Christie, Rogic, Montgomery and Welsh.
Look at the team which won 4-3 at the same ground, in a match marred by VAR scandal, back in October; it’s barely believable how different, how radically different, it looks.
Hart, Ralston, Carter Vickers, Jenz, Bernabei, Mooy, O’Riley, Hatate, Forrest, Giakoumakis and Maeda.
The bench that day was Siegrist, Taylor, Kyogo, Haksabanovic, Abada, McCarthy, Abildgaard, Ideguchi and Juranovic.
That’s what you call a transformation, and that it’s all been done without us spending significantly over the odds is a minor miracle in and of itself. On top of that, there are saleable assets in every part of the team now – something that wasn’t the case that long ago.
This man has come in and transformed Celtic.
We now play the best football the fans have watched in generations.
We have raided the J League not once, not twice, not three times or even four times but five times now … and all of us are perfectly comfortable with the club looking to the Korean league next.
The signings have, almost all, been exceptional.
Even now, with a league and a League Cup already in the bag, some are determined to overlook the evidence that this is an exceptional leader and an exceptional man that we have at the helm here. They talk up the “challenge” from Ibrox and extol the virtues of the men in charge over there without once acknowledging that they are outgunned.
The football Celtic plays is mesmerising, a complete change from anything we’ve seen, even when the likes of Rodgers and O’Neill were running things.
The focus on passing quickly, moving off the ball, the way the attackers switch positions and confound the defence, the midfield pushing further up the pitch than ever and even the use of “inverted full-backs”, a concept few of us had ever heard of and fewer still properly understood … Ange has changed the way we think about the game.
More than that, he’s changed the way Scottish journalists write about it.
It’s not just the success that has become the bench-mark but the philosophy behind it. So much so that now managers vow to have a go when playing, rather than sit back and be picked apart.
Ange has changed not only our club but he’s winning the battle of ideas too.
It is hard to believe that he has accomplished all this in just 18 months.
For our fans, the best is still yet to come.
What a revolution since he took the controls.
This was the man who was supposed to be “gone by Christmas.”
That was last Christmas. Today, as we prepare to roll into 2023, he is the master of all he surveys, the undisputed king of Scottish football, the leader of the champions and heading for two in a row.