Given The Chance, Ange Could Transform Our Game As Quickly As He Transformed Celtic.

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The boss was on top form yesterday as he addressed the media at his weekly presser, and some of what he said should resonate far beyond Celtic Park. That man has standards, and not just those which we see on the pitch.

Ange is a deeply cultured, sophisticated man.

I read once that Brendan Rodgers had studied neurolinguistics, a subject I had come across several years before.

I was hugely impressed by that. It’s regarded as a pseudoscience, but it has a lot of devotees. Stripped down to its core, it’s a study of how our brains actually work, and about how to order, and even change, the way we think.

Neuro, brain. Linguistic, language.

The concept was made infamous by a guy called Ross Jeffries, who took certain lessons from those who had come before him and used them for the most banal and infantile purpose imaginable; he used it to become a “pick up artist”.

Basically, Ross Jeffries invented a method of “speed seduction” which he claimed enabled him to date any woman he chose. His ideas were immortalised by the Rolling Stone writer Neil Strauss in his New York Times bestselling book The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists. It’s a deeply unpleasant, misogynistic read which I don’t recommend.

Still, in that book there’s one illuminating scene.

Strauss describes how, early on, he went to a Ross Jeffries pick-up seminar where, in the front, desperate horny men sat in rows … but at the back of the room stood soberer, serious, well-dressed and purposeful individuals from fields such as law enforcement, academia, high finance and even government departments and agencies.

They believed that Jeffries might just be onto something and that the ability to influence the behaviour of other people simply by the way you interact with them was an important skill to at least understand.

And so sprung up an entire industry teaching neurolinguistics programming which took root right across a broad spectrum from the self-help gurus to police (and other) interrogators. And of course, it made inroads into sport.

Basically, I liked that Rodgers had that particular skill-set, but what becomes more and more obvious is that all these folk selling this idea are basically peddling snake oil of one description or another, and you most easily realise that when you come across someone who has the ability to inspire people in a way that is naturalistic and sincere.

Neurolinguistics programming, in the way these guys present it, is basically for people looking for short-cuts, for a “one size fits all” system for getting people to do what you want them to do in the here and now.

Building long-term connections is impossible that way.

We have the real thing managing Celtic right now.

Rodgers didn’t have half of what Ange Postecoglou does, and our manager makes it all sound so simple and nothing but good common sense. He is a fantastic leader, capable of bringing people together, uniting them in a common cause and when he talks about his ideas and his philosophy he can break down complex issues into something easily digestible for the layperson and student alike.

That’s a rare and brilliant skill, one that you really can’t teach.

And the way he brings that intellect of his to bear on everything from scouting players to constructing the team is impressive enough, but this obviously offers only the smallest glimpse of his skill-set and the sophisticated way he operates.

Ange is easily good enough to go and manage at an elite European club.

That much has sunk in over the past two years and I was thrilled to listen to him yesterday, this man who so obviously has a lot that he still wants to do at Celtic.

But where I think people miss Ange is when he talks about issues peripheral to his role as our club manager, and he gets asked to comment on every controversy and incident and issue in the game, and even when he’d clearly rather not discuss those things, wanting to focus on Celtic, he nearly always has something illuminating to offer.

Take an early example, the racist abuse directed at Kyogo.

One of the questions Ange was asked about that related to education.

Is it something people just need to be better taught about? This is almost the default position for everyone at a senior level in football, that this is an issue that can be fixed by sending folk to seminars until they know better.

This was part of the “punishment” handed out to Kyle Lafferty recently; that he attend “awareness training”.

This idea is widespread throughout the game.

Yet the answer Ange gave went against every part of the insider discourse on this.

He was scathing about that idea, absolutely scathing about it.

“It’s not about education,” he replied. “People are more than well aware of what’s right and wrong – just be a decent human being and treat people with respect,” he said.

And within weeks he was being asked to front a campaign for Show Racism The Red Card, where he repeated those words and made it clear that all the education in the world won’t change your mind if you simply start out from being a horrible bastard.

That reasoning would fundamentally change the way this issue was dealt with in Scotland if it was adopted, in football, across the boards.

Lafferty, for one, should never have gotten away with a mere ten match ban for what he did.

Kilmarnock should have torn his contract up and his registration should have been suspended for a much longer period.

That they eventually realised he was nothing but a drain on their wage bill didn’t exonerate them as a club, and it was no surprise when he ended up at Linfield with his buddy David Healy, a move that – as I wrote earlier in the week – had an almost poetic aftermath in that it cost them their league title.

When VAR was introduced, Ian Maxwell famously waived aside early concerns by saying that there would be “teething problems” – which seemed to have affected us more than any other club.

Every other manager in the country nodded and said that was understandable.

Not Ange. He had a different take on it.

“(I was) … uncomfortable with the fanfare when we introduced it. It was the talk of the town as if it was brand new. Australia, which everyone seems to think is a backwater, had VAR four years ago. It’s not new. Referees in our league who referee in Europe have used it … I don’t know why there would be teething problems for something that’s been around for four or five years.”

Again, he’d gotten to the root of the issue in a way that no-one else had.

See, I don’t think it’s that our media and other managers simply ignored the contradiction in what Maxwell had said. I just don’t think they saw it at all. He spotted it instantly, and his comments were soon being echoed by journalists and other managers and ex-officials, the very people who you would have expected to have had that thought before him but didn’t.

His recent comments, which some believe were directed specifically at The Mooch, but which I think were a much broader attack on those questioning his success at Celtic, actually went much further than defending his own record.

Yes, he refuted the idea that having money automatically guarantees trophies and titles, and he pointed out that he had an entire career before Celtic Park which people can look to if they want to judge him … but he didn’t stop there.

“I would never use that language about somebody in my position,” he said. “I’m not sure which bit is ‘lucky’. I think Michael at the time was referring to the fact I had money to spend but I didn’t get to this position out of luck. I’ve worked 25 years of coaching to be entrusted at a club like this. This isn’t my first job. If it was my first job maybe I’d be lucky but it’s not, it’s 25 years of hard work … I think everything you do in life, and particularly in our game, is hard-earned. That doesn’t mean that luck doesn’t come into it at different times but to describe any aspect of my role as fortunate or lucky I just don’t think it’s a fair reflection.”

He hammered home the point.

“I don’t think any part of my job is easy, I don’t think any part of my job is lucky,” he said. “I don’t think any part of any manager’s job in whatever sort of environment they are working in is one where you can use those terms. Any manager in any position knows, irrespective of the circumstances, that it’s hard work. You’ve got to be totally dedicated. You’ve got to always try to make the best decisions that you are asked to make every day. To dismiss this as something that should just happen naturally, because of who we are as a club, disregards so many factors that come into what it takes to be successful.”

Again, this is nothing but good common sense, there’s nothing revolutionary about it, but it’s clear, concise, forceful and the logic of it is impossible to refute.

In addition to this, Ange doesn’t just talk a good game.

The number of his fellow managers who describe him in glowing terms as a man who genuinely does care about them and the situations they are in is long and growing … he lives this stuff, it’s not just, as it sometimes was with Rodgers, a bunch of phony platitudes at best or at worst outright manipulations just to feed his own giant ego.

Yesterday, Ange was asked about the Scottish Cup Final, and I think it was amongst his most impressive statements yet and I would have loved it had he been asked to elaborate on it.

“I guess it doesn’t make a difference because we are still going to play the game, just at a different time,” he said when he was asked about the decision to change the kick-off.

“The Scottish Cup is one of those prestigious competitions, it ends the season at a certain date, at a certain time. I’m a traditionalist in a lot of those things, I love them because they provide historical context for why it is played on the last day and at that time.”

Historical context.

Almost all of us have focussed on either the blow to Scottish football’s prestige or the way the wishes of the fans, and even the clubs, have been ignored here. But who the Hell else is thinking about this stuff through the “historical context”?

And he’s absolutely right to be doing that, he’s absolutely right to bring that up because through all this week I don’t think anyone had actually done that, had actually talked about the traditions, the deep roots of what is, after all, the oldest association football tournament in the world and what a scandalous way to treat that legacy this is.

How come it took a guy who has only been in Scotland two years to make that the centrepiece of his opposition to this dire change, made just for the sake of TV?

It’s not the first time he’s spoken up for our game and its history whilst those who’ve worked in Scottish football for decades have run it down and offered the most poisonous critiques of it.

I sometimes think this whole game could benefit from Ange’s leadership and the way he goes about things. To praise his views for their simplicity is a vast compliment because, of course, this is a recognition that they are anything but simplistic.

They are the proof of a thinker who ranges both far and deep … he’s actually possessed of a very cultured mind, underpinned by a complex intellectual framework.

I’ve wondered on this blog if he’s read the works of some of the theorists I sense beneath the surface of his methodology; Von Clausewitz, Sun Tzu, Machiavelli and, of course, Marcus Aurelius and his wonderful Meditations, the book on how to live a perfect Stoic life. He may have and he may not, but all the ideas in those books would be familiar to him.

His own book, Changing the Game: Football in Australia Through My Eyes, is stunning and suggests that he takes some lesson away from every encounter he has and every person he meets, and it offers a picture of a man who never stops educating himself, seeking out concepts and integrating them into his thinking. It’s masterful stuff.

I don’t have the least doubt that if the SFA and the SPFL wanted to solve some of the biggest issues in the game and put together a select group and gave them responsibility for tackling them that Ange Postecoglou would not only be at that table but would be the one of the key drivers of every discussion and debate that was had around it.

It’s not a matter of whether or not he came up with workable solutions and ways forward for us, but of how long it would take him to do it. I suspect he could change our game for the better as quickly as he’s done that for our club.

He is the quintessential smartest kid in the class.

I’ve never been more impressed by a Celtic manager in my life.

He’s my generation’s Jock Stein.

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  • Joseph Mcaleer says:

    Certain cliques in the higher echelons of Scotland’s football institutions would not want change, the status quo suits them,regardless how parochial they are.

    • Binkabhoy says:

      This is true unfortunately. Still being run like a 19th century bowling club

  • Jimmy R says:

    “He’s my generation’s Jock Stein.”
    As I read this article, my mind turned to Stein. The number of Celtic players and later Scotland players, who noted that Stein simplified everything. He never asked them to do anything they weren’t capable of. He predicted how the opponents would set up / play. Ultimately he got the best out of his teams.
    Big Jock, long before video analysts appeared on the scene, could watch a game, record it in his mind and replay it at will, to help him reach decisions on his own players and opponents.
    A couple of years before he won the big cup, he and Liverpool’s Shankly were the only Scottish managers in attendance at a coaching symposium led by Helenio Herrera. Needless to say the SFA didn’t contribute to his expenses or send a delegate of their own. Stein learned from the great man, but realised that Catenaccio wasn’t for him. He did however, work out how to unlock that particular bolt as he was to prove in Lisbon.
    Stein’s revolutionary approach to training meant ball work and skill development. Today we talk about 10,000 hours to produce a player. Nobody had done that research in Jock’s time, he just knew that players needed to practise to improve. He would talk (and listen) football 24 hours a day and was not too proud to learn from anybody. His man management style might have been a product of his time and place but his refreshing, revolutionary approach to playing the game was based on theories, many of which we now know are based on science. He was ahead of his time. I see so much of big Jock in Big Ange. I would be hard put to come up wuth a better compliment. Two giants of the game. One made history. One making history.

    • Johnny Green says:

      Very well said Jimmy, I agree with every word.

    • Biffo67 says:

      If I remember correctly it was the Daily Express that at least part funded Stein’s trip from Dunfermline to Herrera and Jock wrote for the paper about it.
      Imagine having to thank the Express rather than the SFA. Of course it was only a few years earlier that the SFA refused to send a team to the 1950 World Cup iwhere Scotland might even have won.
      Times might change but never the SFA.

  • Binkabhoy says:

    The FA Cup is the oldest Association football tournament still going I thr world… the Scottish Cup TROPHY itself is the oldest trophy though, so apart from that detail I totally agree with your point.

    Keep up the good work James, you’re one of the best Celtic blogs out there!

  • Jimmy says:

    Hope the Academicians on our board quickly see the need to get Ange signed on a long term contract. Speed seduction, is that a new term for a quickie. My auld brain was sore trying to read that James.

  • Eire goCeltic says:

    James, Thanks.
    The players are most capable at analyzing the team game when interviewed, even Aaron
    when he wants too. Matt O’Riley explained how he felt during his slump in form.
    He kept in touch with his friends (Great). He avoided Social Media where comments could have been adverse to him (Sensible). He remained confident that through practice his form would improve (Tremendous. Very Smart). The players working under Ange and his staff, have their heads screwed on the right way. The players have given themselves professional responsibilities to themselves and their teammates. It’s successful so far.

  • Johnno says:

    I would still class pep as transforming the game into what we have today, and Ange is currently doing so within Scotland.
    Was bought up playing and watching in an era when the special players with the use of the football were allowed as such to be able to do far less work than without it.
    Still class pep as transforming that approach with been able to win the football much higher up the pitch and able to recycle the football much quicker.
    It also meant that defenders in general had to become far better with the use of the football as the long hoof was regarded as potentially just given the ball away as possession and the use of it became far more important and able to control a game much better overall.
    Of course you can point out that he has had a far better quality of player to work with in doing, I would say that is the standard required nowadays to aim for to aim to becoming a top player these days.
    Also requires been a top professional on and off the pitch and to maintain them standards set a player has to act in the right manner in all aspects of his career.
    I see Ange currently doing so with his celtic team and believe it’s an even tougher job for him to do than pep ever had to.
    Pep has never had to endure such nonsense on and off the pitch as Ange has had to endure within Scotland.
    Pep has never had to prepare teams on such shite surfaces and still try to imply his footballing physiology still with hammer throwers and cheating refs on full scale either.
    Could Ange be potentially put on par with pep within the modern era?
    I believe so, especially with trying to transform the Scottish game and trying to bring it up to a far better standard and modern and better approach towards the game.
    The real sour note still exists that pep worked hard and gained a worldwide respect within the game, we currently give that towards Ange, yet there still remains a total lack of respect within Scotland for the fantastic job he continues to do, and even moreso under the circumstances and nonsense he has had to endure in doing so and yet has managed to deliver such success and joy in watching it all.
    Personally would class Ange upon the same terms of respect as pep within the modern era myself

  • Colin says:

    I totally agree with your assessment on this article, I don’t just think Ange would be at the top table, but would bring in the right people to sit with him at at, he is undoubtedly one of a kind, and his ability to make people look up and take notice right from the start is something special, a love the way he speaks and makes people feel comfortable, he’s a man full of respect and compassion for the game, his common sense is second to none, he would be a great leader in any aspect of life in my opinion. I just pray he’s here for a long time to come.

    No matter where he goes I will always be a fan of his HH Ange Postecoglou

  • JIM GILLAN says:

    Fantastic read, you have to admire the man

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