“I am Jack’s smirking revenge …” – The Narrator, Fight Club.
When Ange was asked last week whether or not there would be an element of revenge in Celtic getting a result against St Mirren, he laughed it off. Revenge?
That forms no part of this man’s motivations at all. He doesn’t care about it.
Today at his press conference he sat basking in the glory of 99 games in charge and with 100 coming up. He joked about how the odds on his even reaching this milestone were pretty long.
He’s not kidding. Most of the media had written him off before a ball was kicked. They were taking bets on whether his reign would be the shortest in our history when he was just ten games in.
The idea of appointing Ange Postecoglou boss horrified me. It horrified me not because of the man, I’ve thought long and hard about that and about why my reaction to him was so visceral and negative.
It had nothing whatsoever to do with him or his career.
It was a response to our board, at seeing something terrifying, something I had predicted with what seemed like uncanny accuracy not that long before, during a night with the Endless Celt’s podcasters.
At that time we were still supposed to be on the brink of appointing Eddie Howe. But doubts were being expressed, publicly, from all over the place because of the length of time it was taking.
We were deep into the close-season. We had a massive job rebuilding the team in front of us. We had issues with players to resolve, and the clock was ticking.
That night, on the show, I expressed my fear as I saw it.
That Howe would say no and that because we had basically rejected others and insulted even more with the preposterous way Lawwell went about deciding on who should replace Rodgers that there would not exactly be a queue at the door and around the block to take the job.
We had spent months on Howe.
We didn’t have more months to spend courting some other candidate.
Plan A had been Lennon when Rodgers left; I didn’t even want to think about what our Plan B might look like with the season almost on top of us.
I thought we wouldn’t even bother with that. I thought we would do a quick hire, regardless of suitability, plucking some name out of left-field on the back of some low-level hype about someone few if any of us had ever heard of.
I had never in my life heard the name Ange Postecoglou.
A Greek who had coached in Australia, who had briefly run their national team, and who was currently working in Japan? In his fifties no less? Just as there are no world class players slogging it out in amateur football anywhere anymore because, as Nick Hornby said, the scouting system is fool-proof, how could there be an elite level manager at that age with no experience in Europe?
It turned out, he had experience in Europe.
At a lower league team in his native Greece. Not really the kind of discovery that set the pulses racing, and set your mind at ease. I was appalled that, in a panic, we were taking such a momentous risk.
Yet by the time he took his first game, I was in.
First, the club did a good job of selling this guy and his ideas to us.
Secondly, listening to him talk you got a sense that this was a guy who had a vision.
Not just some superficial plan about how he wanted to set up, but an actual vision.
He was an idealist, and I had a nagging suspicion that if he got the right players that his ideas might be a quantum leap above what any other side in this country might be able to produce.
The media never even did the most basic due diligence. They talked about the pressure of the job, the size of the rebuild, the lack of his own backroom team, they talked about dysfunctionality at Celtic Park and when our side struggled in pre-season they began sharpening their pencils. When we had the start we did they had his football obituary written.
Not one of them had done what some of the Celtic sites had done, what I had forced myself to do, and checked him out properly and actually listened to him. They formed their first impression and then waited for it to be confirmed. Some of them were rubbing their hands together in anticipation of it. And why not? They’d never wished us well anyway.
“At the very least we now know what the Ange in Ange Postecoglou stands for. Absolutely. Not. Good. Enough,” was the line by a well known anti-Celtic scribe who could not contain his joy.
The manager had been in charge of exactly three competitive games.
It was par for the course.
The same writer, in the same piece, shared these pearls of wisdom.
“On the face of it, Celtic offer no challenge whatsoever to Rangers and their visit to Ibrox on August 29 looms on the horizon like a bad accident waiting to happen … Ange cuts a detached figure, distant from those around him on the touchline and remote from his players. His post-match comments in Denmark also allowed room for speculation that he doesn’t fully understand what he has got himself into at Celtic Park in particular and Scottish football’s fevered world in general.”
That was a customary sentiment. “He doesn’t understand the Scottish game. He doesn’t get how it works here.”
Talk about a gross underestimation.
I watched Ange during his first fan media meeting, and saw him smile knowingly through that first question, asked by Dave Faulds of The Celtic Star, making the point about what everyone at our club faces … and I knew listening to Ange’s answer that he’d taken it seriously and taken it on board.
I read later – in the mainstream press, aghast that fans had been given such access – that he visibly scorned the question.
Journalists speculated that he must have thought already that fan-media meetings were a bad idea and that he’d entered the mad house. I’ve actually seen that look on his face plenty of times since.
It is always reserved for the hacks themselves. I didn’t see it that day.
Instead I saw a thoughtful man taking it all in, respecting the people in that room.
And that’s why even early on we were never going to turn on him the way the media was hoping that we would. The writer of that quoted piece was practically frothing at the mouth as he imagined how angry the fans must be or would be.
We never turned on the manager, not even after the fourth defeat in seven games when we were mid-table. That writer thought we’d have been ready to burn Parkhead down if we’d lost last week’s cup final.
They’ve been waiting on this guy falling since the minute he walked in the door. Now they’re waiting on his leaving for the first available job that comes up. They underestimated him then and they are still misunderstanding him now.
They genuinely do not understand this man at all, and so they fear him because everyone fears what they don’t understand.
What they can comprehend, easily, is that he’s very, very good and he’s made us very, very good … and that also scares them of course.
But this man is right.
A lot of us didn’t give him odds on getting to 100 games at the start, when talk of hiring him had just made the papers, and I know for sure that almost none of the media did on the day that he was unveiled.
Some of them still cannot understand where their perception was so faulty, and so of course they cling to the idea that he’s lucky, or that he bought success or that it was the club from Ibrox who threw that title away.
None of it is true, and the longer they continue deluding themselves like this the longer, and sweeter, will be his revenge.
Not his word, ours.
He might not enjoy it that way, but I’m not even going to pretend that I’m not loving every second of it.