A FORTNIGHT before he departed Celtic for Spurs, Ange Postecoglou walked to the centre circle at Parkhead and waved to the team’s supporters.
It was a lonely manoeuvre in the immediate aftermath of the drab 2-2 draw with St Mirren where the champions had played in slow motion without a spark of ingenuity.
It was a fairly bewilderingly low-key performance from a team that had crammed 14 goals behind Trevor Carson in their previous three games against the Paisley outfit, warranted retribution for their upset victory over the Hoops the previous September.
I was an invited guest of Celtic on the afternoon of May 20 and sat in the posh seats behind Dermot Desmond, Peter Lawwell, Michael Nicholson et al.
THE LAST HURRAH…Ange Postecoglou proudly holds aloft the newly-won Scottish Cup on June 3 – 48 hours before he left Celtic for London.
The hospitality in the boardroom before and afterwards was first class which was a lot more than could be said for the so-called entertainment in a tedious 90 minutes where the home players performed with the handbrake on.
Postecoglou’s movement caught my attention that day. In normal circumstances, it was the usual practice for the Greek-Australian to walk around the playing surface alongside his players to acknowledge the supporters.
On this occasion, though, the manager was content to take a short cut to the centre of the pitch, go through the motions in fairly lacklustre mode and head back to the tunnel.
To be fair to Postecoglou, he might have been sucked into the stupor that enveloped Celtic Park that colourless afternoon.
No-one mentioned the manager in the boardroom afterwards although everyone and the dog next door was au fait with the links with Spurs.
It was around that time the London club stepped up their interest in the boss who had performed wonders in two years as he breathed life into a team that was hurtling unerringly for a place in the knacker’s yard.
Even the most optimistic of my Celtic-supporting friends had to concede with a fair amount of trepidation the club were heading for a year or so of attempting to regain poise and direction in an effort to get back on track.
JUST CHAMPION…Ange Postecoglou and his players take a bow after the 6-0 win over Motherwell at Parkhead on May 14 2022 as they celebrate a sensational title triumph.
Postecoglou delivered the title in his debut campaign at the same time as introducing a platoon of new players. Quite simply, it was a phenomenal turnaround. Everyone connected with the club will be forever grateful to the manager for his extraordinary input in what could have been another catastrophic crusade for a team on its knees.
A fortnight after the vapid and tedious stalemate with St Mirren, Postecoglou embarked upon a chest-thumping amble around the Hampden pitch as the supporters displayed their delight at the Scottish Cup Final victory over Inverness Caley Thistle to complete a world record of eight trebles.
As grand finale farewells go, it could hardly have been bettered.
Postecoglou gestured to the fans, stopped short at blowing kisses to the joyous thousands, held the silverware aloft, posed with the triumphant players and went through the routine rigmarole with his inquisitors during the usual media interviews while refusing to answer any speculation about a shift to North London.
Forty-eight hours later, he was unveiled as Antonio Conte’s successor and the following day flew out with his family for a two-week holiday.
And with that, he was gone.
EURO WOE…Ange Postecoglou can hardly bear to look as Celtic lose against Real Madrid.
Remember, please, the Celtic hierarchy recognised what their manager was producing and there were several attempts to sign him on a long-term contract at least twelve months before he decided to defect for pastures new. Back then, Ange, though, continued to insist he was “happy” with the rolling contract he had agreed when he arrived in June 2021.
Postecoglou resurfaced earlier this week when he met the English Press for the first time. As ever, the former Australia World Cup chief made all the right noises as he expertly fielded the anticipated barrage of questions.
In the midst of all the hoo-ha, the club’s new team boss was quizzed on his two years in Scotland. It seemed almost rehearsed as he answered: “Celtic is a special club. If you have a bucket list of clubs you want to manage, that’s probably one of them.
“The supporters aren’t really supporters, the club is an extension of them, it’s a family.
“We had a brilliant two years, a great group of players, great staff. We had some fantastic success and great moments. I’ll cherish them.”
Somewhere in the Q&A with the English Fourth Estate, Postecoglou added: “I’m at my best when the challenge is the biggest. I thought this was a challenge that would fit all the things I’m looking to achieve.”
Challenge? Surely Ange might have been enticed to once again lock horns with the European elite after last season’s Champions League campaign in which some harsh lessons were delivered?
That’s the testing ground. Manchester City, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich cannot be compared with Luton Town, Sheffield United, Burnley and Bournemouth.
In two years operating in the European minefield at Parkhead, Ange plotted victories against FK Jablonec, AZ Alkmaar, Ferencvaros and Real Betis.
There were home and away defeats against Bayer Leverkusen, Real Madrid, RB Leipzig and – inexplicably – Bodo/Glimt. There were other losses against FC Midtjylland, AZ Alkmaar, Real Betis and two deadlocks against Shakhtar Donetsk.
If Ange was searching for a test of his character and competence, he would have got it in the Champions League in the forthcoming campaign.
As it stands, Celtic’s 5-1 thrashing in the Bernabeu in the Spanish capital on the evening of November 2 2023 could very well be the final occasion when Postecoglou will hear the haunting strains of Zadok the Priest while he is participating among soccer’s nobility.
Seems like a missed opportunity for a man who likes a challenge.