Ange is always a man who is worth listening to, and I thought his presser yesterday contained more than a few gems. The later headlines were about his declaration that we might only be days away from another signing, but of course he said much more than that.
His comments on the managers who cannot separate us from the club across town were particularly fascinating. They are, I believe, a rare example of Ange saying more than appears obvious.
When this guy talks he is normally very straightforward. I think if you listen carefully he’s being so again. But a lot of people won’t do that, and react reflexively.
Before we analyse it, let’s take a look at the words themselves, exactly as the big guy spoke them. The media is all over those comments, with multiple interpretations.
That’s because most are only giving them a surface reading. But dig a little deeper.
“I assume Jim set up his team on the weekend to try and get a result against us,” he said in relation to Goodwin’s bizarre defence of his tactical choice on Saturday. “I think every manager tries to do that. I don’t have any really issue with it or from our perspective, how it affects us.
“The curious thing I find is that I hear opposition coaches and players before we play them. They can’t seem to differentiate between us and (the Ibrox club) at all. It’s almost like when you play the top two, this is what happens. Some of them even talk about it like it’s an excursion, you go through Glasgow and this is what you expect.
“I don’t get that. If I referred to all the other teams apart from (them) as ‘the other 10’ and that when we play the other 10 this is what happens, I’m not paying respect to the fact Livingston are going to be a different challenge to St Johnstone on the weekend.
“They may play defensively but there are different ways of doing that. Playing at home is different to playing away. You respect every hurdle. Just because you are a few lengths in front doesn’t mean you don’t worry about the next one.
“That is the bit I find curious. We are totally different teams. From my perspective, it kind of works in our favour if opposition coaches talk that way. I don’t think they think that way but when they talk that way, it makes the task seem insurmountable.”
Now let’s look at it section by section.
Clearly, he opens with a critique of Jim Goodwin, and not his tactics – which Ange appears unsurprised by and unconcerned about – but about the way he tried to equate playing against the Ibrox club with playing against ours. Ange clearly believes that it’s absolutely ridiculous to set up against Celtic based on the experience of playing them.
And he’s 100% correct.
Goodwin’s comments were insane, and they should have been a major concern for his board of directors. A surface reading suggests that’s all he’s talking about, but move to paragraph two and you’ll see there’s more.
That’s a much more pointed dig, and it’s a general terms dig.
But it’s also a repudiation of any idea that Celtic and the Ibrox club are alike in their approach.
Much as The Mooch might want to flatter us by copying everything we do, this is Ange’s way of saying that it’s just as stupid as what Goodwin said. As hard as he tries, The Mooch will not be able to turn his team into a carbon copy of ours no matter how similarly he lines them up.
Under Van Bronckhorst, I thought they played to their strengths, however limited. They played classic counter-attacking football when they came up against dangerous teams and they had a simple, direct style that was wholly recognisable.
The Mooch too is already establishing his own style, but it looks nothing like ours and still relies heavily on high balls into the box. We saw that elevated to an art form under Gerrard, but in trying to be more like us The Mooch is making a classic mistake; when you have the right ingredients you can make a trifle. Without them, you’re making something else. If we tried to play like Argentina we couldn’t … we don’t have the players to do it.
Ange is offering an off-hand critique of Ibrox as well as those other clubs, and that becomes even clearer in the next thing that he says, which is an undisguised slap at The Mooch for his “other club” comments of earlier in the week, comments which otherwise he didn’t even bother to address at all. And even this dig is more sophisticated than it seems.
Because in that paragraph he also talks about respect for the other clubs in the league, and so what he’s saying in that statement is that not only are we a different type of football team but that our values as clubs are very different as well.
It’s not an accident that he’s repudiating those who think these clubs are the same and using that line about “the other clubs” and the word “respect” all in the same segment. It’s not even particularly veiled.
The second to last paragraph is a response to David Martindale, without ever mentioning his name. I wrote yesterday about his bizarre and self-serving suggestion that Ange adapts our tactics when we play against his team, and how the ex-jailbird seems to think that’s a reflection on his own brilliance and not that of our manager.
But Ange’s Celtic does that, in slight and subtle ways, every time we take the pitch. That’s how good managers build good winning runs. We treat every challenge differently and pick the team and the tempo to suit the occasion.
We learn from defeats so that we don’t repeat them.
Martindale seems to think that doing so is some sort of retreat from the philosophies Ange espouses. If he was capable of listening and comprehending he’d perhaps see that it’s no such thing.
In the final paragraph he repeats – in case it wasn’t clear – that their team and ours are entirely different in style and in personnel. Teams who can shut out the Ibrox club by doing one thing won’t necessarily succeed by setting up against us in the same manner … and that has been borne out again and again and again this season.
But look deeper again, and you see that Ange’s statement here is probably the most sophisticated part of the whole thing.
He’s talking about those managers who project defeat before they even start games against our club, and the one across the city as well. He’s saying that a manager’s public statements are reflected into the dressing room and alter the mood of the club … and when manager’s talk as if getting a result “in Glasgow” or at home when the Glasgow teams visit is impossible then in a lot of ways that makes it impossible.
Ange is not an arrogant man.
When he says that this kind of stuff baffles him he means it, because there has probably never been a game which he has taken on as manager that he has not at least attempted to win.
There has never been an opponent of sufficient strength, even in relative terms, who he has come up against in his managerial career that he didn’t believe the right combination of players and tactics could not get a result against.
He is challenging these guys and their clubs to be better, to get up off the matt.
And he’s slapping back at those who have spent this week disrespecting him, or this team, as well as those who are hiding behind excuses. At the same time it was a statement about the philosophies of Ibrox and Celtic, and a rejection of the “two heads of the same coin” bollocks which is at the heart of so much of the media narrative in this country.
It was a masterful display, one of his finest moments in front of the media.