If you had said to me two months ago that Ange Postecoglu would be at Spurs and Brendan Rodgers would be manager again at Celtic, I (and every other Celtic fan that I know) would have said, “Aye, Very Good!!”
Firstly, I assumed that even with the appointment of fellow Australian, Scott Nunn, Spurs would be looking at a far better known manager than Ange. Secondly, given what had gone on when he left Celtic, I thought it was next to impossible to believe that a return for Rodgers was a possibility. In this piece however I will concentrate on the now former manager.
Ange arrived in June 2021 after the Eddie Howe debacle. As I have admitted to in the past, I hadn’t heard of him and I assumed the worst. To be honest, I feared he was our Pedro Caixinha. My only defence (and its not much of one) is that I certainly wasn’t the only Celtic fan to think that. His first press conference was however impressive. When asked the obvious question about how it felt NOT to be the first choice for the job. He said it didn’t matter to him if he was “fifth choice”. He wanted the gig. That determination was there from the get go despite arriving under extremely difficult circumstances.
Postecoglu didn’t so much need a new team but a whole new squad. Since January of that year, 12 players had either had left, returned to their parent clubs, would leave at the end of the window when going into the final year of their contracts, retire or in the case of Leigh Griffiths, would be deemed not “fit” to play. Add to that, the urgent requirement for a new goalkeeper, and the scale of what was needed was daunting for any manager used to Glasgow, never mind somebody coming over from the others side of the world. The fixture list didn’t do Ange any favours either, with our hardest away games all due in the first round of fixtures. It began of course with euro qualifiers. You could not blame Ange for Midtylland – where he had to give a youth team player his debut at Centre Half. A tough Europa draw saw us pitched against Alkmaar and to get past them, given the squad deficiencies, was excellent.
The league campaign started poorly. But the performances were credible. The 2-1 defeat at Tynescastle flattered Hearts (and the manager got the first taste of the way Scottish referees perform with a dreadful performance by Bobby Madden). And a draw in Govan would not have been an unfair result but instead it was a 1-0 defeat. However, a similar result at Livingston – where there we no redeeming features – and 1-1 draw at home to Dundee United saw Celtic mid table and a short period of grumbling began in earnest about Ange. One poster on KDS said that comparisons to Tony Mowbray were actually unfair on Mowbray.
An away trip to Pittodrie was a big game at the start of October in 2021. We hadn’t won away for 8 months and we needed some kind of result to calm nerves and get us moving in the right direction. It wasn’t a great performance by any means but Jota’s goal with 5 minutes left proved to be the winner, and the away monkey was now off our backs. The win at Aberdeen was followed by victories at Fir Park and Easter Road. It was around about then that we began to see the quality of some of the players that we had signed. Cameron Carter-Vickers, Kyogo, Jota, Juranovic, Hart and Abada had all proved to be excellent acquisitions. They would get into every other team in the SPFL. And as the team gelled, we moved up the table.
Our Europa Cup campaign was creditable. A hard group with Ferencvaros, Leverkusen and Real Betis, saw us get nine points, including a thrilling win away in Budapest. There was a slight tinge of regret as we had thrown away a 2-0 lead in Spain but given the scale of the rebuild, 9 points was a good return. It would see us drop into the Europa Championship and this is where we had Ange’s only comprehensive letdown as manager. Bod Glimt have been hyped by some as this well oiled Scandanavian machine. But a thumping of an under strength Roma masks some seriously poor results. Player for player , we were superior to them but at CP Ange got it completely wrong and a 3-1 defeat was not good enough. Ange basically didn’t bother for the return match in Norway and a 5-1 aggregate defeat was embarrassing.
However domestically an astonishing turnaround was in the making. We won the league cup, which always sets a marker. Helped by a transfer window which saw the recruitment team working well with the manager, getting his targets early in the window or moving on quickly if mucked about, saw the squad significantly strengthened and the league form saw us get back to the top of the league. Pivotal to that was a 3-0 defeat of Rangers, which saw the visitors completely blown away in the first half. Ange had generated an electric atmosphere around the club and the fans had bought fully into it. We won at Tynescatle, Livingston and Ibrox and a brilliant run of form would see us win a title that nobody could have foreseen in August the previous year. The football had been excellent and way that Postecoglu conducted himself just added to the adulation that he was getting from the fans.
The Scottish Cup saw us lose to Rangers in extra time, where our opponents would find a surprising reserve of stamina and strength to defeat us after beating Braga over 120 minutes the previous week. It was a feat that they would repeat against Hearts in the SC Final after being the stronger team three days before in extra time in eighty degree heat versus Frankfurt in the Europa Cup Final.
Despite that, 2021/22 was an amazing turnaround from blowing 10-in-a-row and finishing 25 points behind the winners the season before. In retrospect having to rebuild a squad possibly worked in Ange’s favour as he could mould the team to his specification and he didn’t have to deal with a large group of players that weren’t his and might not get his vision. But to have beaten what cannot be described as a weak Rangers team whilst doing that was sensational. And it gave Postecoglu deserved hero status amongst the support.
No euro qualifications meant we were straight into the group stages of the Champions League and tortuous trips to Nordic countries or former Soviet republics in Asia were avoided. Again the board backed Postecoglu and business was done quickly in the transfer window with new players arriving in plenty of time. A good start to the league campaign saw us build up an early lead and yet again we thumped Rangers at Parkhead. A disappointing defeat at New Love St was our only blip and by the end of 2022 we had a commanding lead at the top of the league. Rangers changed managers to motormouth Michael Beale but the gap was such that they had to win at Ibrox in the New years fixture. They didn’t and from that moment two-in-a-row was inevitable. We would beat Beale again in the League Cup Final and the Scottish Cup semi final. Another victory at Parkhead confirmed our domination of the fixture and a record eighth treble was now firmly in our sights.
Europe was not a humiliation but I feel we under performed. Getting Donetsk, who had lost a few players and were playing in Poland for their home games, gave us a real opportunity which we should have made more of. The habit for blowing out our bahookies after 65 minutes in European competition is something we MUST address if our record in Europe is ever going to change. It was the one thing that Ange had yet to achieve.
In the middle of May I still was in the camp, that he would still be here to address that. But a week before our last League fixture, I read Chris Sutton say that he was worried that Ange would end up Spurs. The Evil Genius may be mischievous when it comes to goings on in Edmiston Dve, but I suspected that he must have heard something for him to put that in print. I still however didn’t believe that Postecoglu would end up at White Heart Lane, as I was convinced that they would be attempting to get somebody more illustrious. It was in the run up to the last league game, that I became really concerned. When asked questions about the Spurs vacancy, Ange could have put the speculation to bed. He didn’t. By the start of Cup final week, I’d been told that he was away. Like everybody else, I was gutted.
I loved how the team played, how he dealt withe everything media wise and how him and those running club seemed to be on the same page. No mucking about on transfers – either incoming or outgoing. Proper professionalism. I hoped that he would address the only the question mark on his time – Europe. But it wasn’t to be. I still enjoyed the Cup Final. Winning a treble is always special and for it to be the eighth and for us to have won more trebles than any other team was a special moment. But in the back of our minds, we all knew what was coming the following week.
I get why he has left. With regards to Celtic and Europe, we could be drawn in a group with Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Milan and in all honesty even getting 5 points would probably see us exit the Champions League with no fall back of further competition. At 58, he gets the chance to manage in the biggest and currently best league in the world. No plastic pitches, better referees in one of world’s most cosmopolitan cities. At a team with brilliant facilities who are expected to compete for Champions League places. To be honest, when he left Celtic, I thought Ange would get a job with an English team who considered avoiding relegation from EPL or finishing mid table to be a success as opposed to a club with “pretensions” of actual silverware.
So will Ange succeed in North London ? I’m not going to be so silly as to write him off as I did two years ago. But to succeed in the EPL you don’t just need a manger who knows how to win but a club set up and board that knows too. And Levy and ENIC have shown over the past two decades that they don’t. Spurs are probably the most unsuccessful “big club” in the world. In the last paragraph – where I used the word “pretensions” – it was in relation to the sense of entitlement that frequently emanates from Tottenham but without the results to back it up. Six trophies in fifty years and nothing since 2008 (back then it was a league cup). And no league triumphs. So is that about to change ? Take Kane and Son out of that team and they are nearer bottom 6 than to top 6. Kane will likely either be sold this summer or go under freedom of contract in a year’s time. Son is 31. Spurs need a huge rebuild if they are to challenge the likes of City, United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea. And the type of players that they require to do it – eg Alexis MacAllister and Gvardiol – ain’t signing for them. And that’s before you get to Levy’s transfer shenanigans.
Historically, Levy is a believer in “War of Attrition” style negotiations. Always believing that the person on the other side of the table has to be battered severely before a deal is done. Ange worked well with those running Celtic when it came to getting players in. For it to happen at Spurs, he will have to achieve something with the Spurs CEO, that by all accounts, Conte, Mourinho and Nuno failed to do. In fairness – at the time of writing – he has got 3 players so far although the goalkeeper was second choice as they wouldn’t pay Brentford’s fee for Raya which I did think was typical of the Spurs CEO. Tottenham fans seem to have made their mind up about Levy and it all feels slightly Celtic 1992. They want the board sacked. I like Ange and hope for his sake he succeeds at Spurs but I do think the challenge that he faces is an even bigger one than the mountain he had to climb at Celtic in 2021.
The Celtic board did all they could to try and keep Ange Postecoglu. A big contract was on offer, money to spend in transfers and increase in professionalism when it comes to training facilities, analytics and data. It isn’t their fault that he’s gone. It’s a fact that our environment means that any successful manager will only likely stay for a couple of seasons. But after the misery of 2020/21, Ange had made such a difference. He was a brilliant ambassador for the club. His manner was top class and to lose him is a real sore one. Something that few of us would have predicted two years ago.