On the 10th of June, Celtic announced that former Australian national team coach Ange Postecoglou would become the clubs new manager. After being linked with Eddie Howe for what seemed like months on end, only for the deal to collapse at the last minute, the Hoops fans were left surprised and no doubt concerned at the appointment of the relatively unknown Aussie.
And yet, six months on, he is the darling of the Celtic support. He has transformed the teams fortunes on the park, rebuilding the squad, keeping chase with the league leaders and doing so with a swagger and flair befitting a Celtic team. While the Europa Conference isn’t the most glamorous of competitions, the team are looking forward to the prospect European football after Christmas (pandemic permitting). However, the most important signifier of success so far was winning the League Cup at the first time of asking.
The manager has spoke about overcoming adversity and facing into challenges, and he has certainly not had his troubles to seek, with injuries and a tight fixture schedule putting pressure on his threadbare squad. The season so far has been better than many people expected, and while there have been ups and downs, it has never been anything less than exciting. And the man himself has never been anything less than engaging.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing and many pundits, and fans, would have you believe they knew ‘all along’ that Postecoglou would be a success. This was simply not the case. Many so called ‘experts’ questioned the credentials of the man from Oz. Despite winning domestic titles in Japan and his native Australia, where he broke sporting records and is the most successful Aussie Soccer coach, he also had success internationally with the Socceroos. This winning record also made more impressive by the way it was achieved; high tempo attacking football that earned plaudits from the likes of Brendan Rodgers and Pep Guardiola.
However, it was repeatedly pointed out, he has never managed in Europe, and certainly never at a club the size of Celtic. ‘He won’t get the time needed’, ‘His style is naive’, ‘He won’t understand the pressure to win’. These were some of the criticisms he faced, even before he entered the building.
Taking over Celtic is a daunting task for any manager, but taking over Celtic at this stage looked like a huge undertaking. Postecoglou inherited a shambolic situation. Fifteen players left the building in the first transfer window, including star players like Ajer, Edouard and Christie, and the players remaining had lost the league title by a 25 point deficit.
The fixtures where coming thick and fast as the big Aussie tried to steady the ship, and its fair to say they came too quickly. Celtic were dumped out of the Champions League and lost their first domestic game to Hearts. While there were signs of a style emerging that would be aggressive and entertaining, the fact remains the team made their worst start to a campaign in 23 years, collecting only nine points from the first six games.
Despite this, Postecoglou refused to compromise his vision of a high tempo, free scoring Celtic side. As things began to improve on the park and the likes of Jota and Kyogo, as well as a reborn Rogic and Ralston, began to find their feet, the fans really started buying into what Ange was selling. Results started to match performances and the League Cup final against Hibernian was Celtic’s seventh victory on the bounce. In actuality, from the start of October, the men in green and white have played 17 games across all competitions, winning 15, with the sole defeat coming against German side Bayer Leverkusen in the Europa League.
In the all important domestic league campaign, Celtic are six points behind the title holders ahead of an important Glasgow Derby on the 2nd of Jan. Given where the team, and the club, where at the end of last year this isn’t the worst position to be in.
A club and fanbase united, a team on the rise, a trophy in the cabinet and a chance to add some much needed reinforcements to the squad coming up and it’s obvious that, despite the less than spectacular start, Ange has done a fine job thus far. The most exciting thing for fans is that it appears this is only the beginning, with the man himself saying he thinks the team may even be a year away from where he wants them.
On the 10th of June Celtic appointed a relatively unknown figurehead to resurrect the club. Six months on and Ange Postecoglou is becoming a manager that no one will forget.