Yesterday, Ange gave another of those press conferences which makes you marvel at the man, and at the mind that works away in that head of his. He is an inspiring and impressive individual, and his way of thinking should be a model for every coach in the game.
We really did find an elite-level manager who had somehow been overlooked here, because that’s what this guy is. If he had been working in the Premiership instead of Japan, he would have been out of our reach and one of those guys we admire from the telly. An innovator, with a vision and a way of talking about it which would have everyone tuned in.
Amidst his obvious joy at reaching 100 games tonight, and his relish at reminding the hacks that most of them wouldn’t have bet on his getting there, he offered the kind of insight into his thinking that few other managers in this country are capable of.
He spoke of his focus, and that of the team and how they are only ever looking at the game in front of them, one of the most important elements of Ange’s revolution.
“The players take their lead off me and if I show any inclination that I am looking too far ahead or looking behind us that gives them the opportunity to do the same. We don’t really talk about anything beyond what’s in front of us and they follow that lead,” he said. It takes an incredible level of commitment and determination to do that.
He spoke, next, about how his motivation is not even necessarily in winning trophies. This is a remarkable admission, but one that makes perfect sense; after all, if your team is playing the right sort of football, everything else takes care of itself.
“It’s fair to say with what we have achieved in just over 18 months (the way we play) has probably been the most pleasing part. We are really well down the track in terms of playing the kind of football and being the kind of football team I want us to be … (I’m) not disregarding the success or the trophies, because they are the key cornerstone for any manager of any football club, particularly this one. But the kind of football we have played has probably been the thing that has pleased me the most.”
But it’s about more than that, and this is the part that should have alarm bells ringing at every club in the land. Ange does not set “goals” or “targets” except one; be better. He does this, he says – and it sounds so simple, but then the best and most effective concepts often are – if you set goals and people reach them what else is there to shoot for?
“It’s an ever-vanishing target. If I think I am close, it just gets further away,” he said. “That’s how I have approached my managerial career at every club I have managed. There is no target. I have never set any goals because I have always felt that setting goals means that at some point there is an end point and I just don’t want there to be an end point. I just want to keep improving, keep pushing the boundaries of how good we can be as a football club and how good I can make these players and how better the football can be.”
This might seem completely counter to how a top performing organisation should be, but it’s actually not. None of them – not Apple, not Microsoft, not Facebook, not Ford or any of the others – is ever “satisfied” with where they are. They all want to progress, they all want to make the product better, with more features and it’s an ever-evolving process.
This is why I never really had any fears that people at Celtic, or even us as fans, might lose our hunger for success simply by getting to ten in a row. “What’s next?” someone asked me when we were on eight. “What’s left to do?” A question I thought then and now had a fairly straightforward answer; “Eleven in a row, of course,” I said.
Even over-taking The Survival Lie and casting it into utter irrelevance by becoming the undisputed most successful club in the country by trophies won is not an end in itself but simply a means to another end. Marketing teams will be working on the t-shirts and merchandising even now, I bet, and our strength only allows us to grow even stronger which lets us put a better team on the park and sets our sights ever more openly on Europe.
This is the essence, and the deep down meaning, of “we never stop” and as he says, the minute you set a destination you’re saying that the journey has to end. So this thinking is actually critical to where we are and where we’re going as a club now.
And that should terrify all those around us. Forever getting better? Forever going further? An almost constant cycle of improvement? Incredible … and a warning to the rest.