ANGE POSTECOGLOU prepared for a whirlwind of activity – on and off the field – as he said farewell to an eventful 2022.
On the transfer front, the Celtic boss was bracing himself for bids for Giorgos Giakoumakis and Josip Juranovic while, at the same time, paving the way for the arrivals of J-League duo Tomoki Iwata and Yuki Kobayashi, Canada World Cup right-back Alistair Johnston and South Korea international striker Oh Hyeon-gyu.
The Premiership was due to restart after the Qatar Finals – won by Argentina on penalty-kicks against France – with the SPFL champions heading for Pittodrie on December 17.
First up, though, Postecoglou took the opportunity to welcome back Peter Lawwell as club supremo as he said: “It is fantastic news for the club that Peter will be taking up the role of chairman.
HAPPY DAYS…Ange Postecoglou with Celtic chairman Peter Lawwell.
“He was instrumental in bringing me to Celtic, I know the love he has for the club and I know that his wealth of experience and knowledge will be invaluable to us all as we move forward together.”
Wantaway Greek frontman Giakoumakis, who cost £2.5million when he arrived from Dutch minnows VVV-Venlo in August 2021 and scored 19 goals in his debut campaign, was warned about his attitude.
Postecoglou said: “How a player trains and presents himself here, that is what I deal with. If I see there is any shift there or people are unhappy, or have some issues, I’ll deal with it.
“Right now, all I see is the players here training and committed to us as a football club. That is all that concerns me.
“Beyond that, with their contracts, they have representatives who look after them. If there are any issues, they’ll come across my desk. But that is in the background.
“What’s more important to me is what I see every day. If I am happy with it, all good, if not I’ll deal with it then.”
Incoming defender Johnston signed a five-year deal after his MLS club CF Montreal accepts a £3.5million bid from the Hoops for their star performer.
He joined Japanese centre-half Kobayashi as the club’s second signing almost a full month before the transfer window reopens on January 1 2023.
NEW BHOY…Alistair Johnston with his new No.2 Celtic jersey.
A delighted Johnston said: “Ange really was the one who sold me on it.
“I think for every single footballer, you want it to be the perfect fit, and you want to go somewhere that, not only do you feel that you’re a part of something and you feel that you’re wanted, but at the same time, it’s a good sporting fit as well.
“Based on what he said he’s looking to do with this squad and this club in the next couple of years, it felt like a perfect fit.
“He’s looking for young, driven players who want to take that next step and compete at the highest level, compete in the top stages of Europe and, for me, that was something which just called out to me and it felt right.”
Callum McGregor, making his comeback after an 11-game lay-off, proved to be the matchwinner when the league got underway with a 1-0 victory over Aberdeen.
The inspirational captain whipped in the only goal of a tense encounter three minutes from time to restore the champions’ nine-point advantage.
Postecoglou said: “We had some good chances that usually we’d put away, but through that whole sort of process, we never lost or wavered from our approach and it was great for the skipper to step up.
“What a great way for him to come back into the team.
“We did awfully well without him, but he’s a fantastic footballer. He makes our team better, absolutely.
CAPTAIN MARVEL…Callum McGregor celebrates his comeback winner.
“I was super happy to get him back in the side and he got what he deserved.
“I thought he was really important for us, he dictated play in the middle of the park and made sure we didn’t get too anxious about scoring, biding our time and then a great finish.
“He’s a bit rusty, to be fair. But that’s who Callum is, you know.”
Next up, Livingston provided the challenge in the east end of Glasgow the following midweek and the home side made it a whole lot more difficult for themelves than it should have been in the 2-1 win.
The Hoops boss watched his side dominate the first-half to lead 2-0 with an own goal from Ayo Obileye and a typical near-post strike from Kyogo Furuhashi.
However, the West Lothian club, with their solitary effort at Joe Hart, pulled one back through Nicky Devlin in stoppage-time just before the turnaround.
FRUSTRATED…Ange Postecoglou talks to Sky Sports.
A furious Postecoglou said: “We still created chances, but those numbers should be greater if we got on the end of things.
“It’s unacceptable. We work on it constantly, so players know they should be in that area. It’s not clinical, it’s just being disciplined and being in those areas.
“We created good chances, but people in the box weren’t doing their jobs. Balls flashed across the goal, but people weren’t there. It’s disappointing because we work on that constantly.
“We’ve had a lot of success playing that way, so when it doesn’t happen, I get frustrated because there’s no reason we shouldn’t do it. It’s not anticipation because we know what’s going to happen.
“We work on it constantly. People said last week we’ve scored 200 goals and a lot have been like that.
“Maybe it’s human nature and people maybe think there are other ways to score. I was disappointed we didn’t take advantage of the chances we created.”
Postecoglou added: “It was important to win. The performance wasn’t our best. I thought in the first-half we controlled the game and did the things we wanted to, but I was disappointed.
“At 2-0, the game should have been over. We conceded a soft goal which we’ve not done a lot of either. We lost concentration for a moment.
“The second-half was okay. We controlled the game, but there wasn’t a great deal of rhythm.”
The Greek-Australian gaffer will now prepare for the visit of St Johnstone on Christmas Eve as the curtain comes down on action at Parkhead for 2022.
It was a different Postecoglou who faced the media following a 4-1 victory over the Perth side.
JUST CAPITAL…Ange Postecoglou arrives with the Celtic squad for the match at Easter Road on December 28.
Doubles from Japanese duo Kyogo Furuhashi and Reo Hatate, playing in an unaccustomed right-back role, fired the side to their eleventh successive league victory and Scotland’s title kings are aiming at bringing down the curtain on 2022 with a final success when they face Hibs at Easter Road on Wednesday evening.
The beaming Hoops gaffer said: “Firstly, I’m glad we’re sending our supporters home happy and they can enjoy Christmas Day with their families. So, hopefully, everyone has a happy and safe one.
“I was really pleased with the lads. I thought we were really good. From the start we controlled the game, we looked dangerous all the time.
“We scored four, but we probably could have had a few more with a bit of luck. So, credit to the boys, I thought it was a good performance.
“I think it was important to freshen it up a little bit because it is such a quick turnaround.
“Coming off a long break, having three games in a short space of time was always going to test us, so I guess the luxury for me is that I have quality players I can bring in.
“I thought it was important we used them on this occasion and I thought they all contributed well.”
The only downside from the match was the late red card for David Turnbull after VAR intervened following a challenge on the Saints keeper.
BHOY OH BHOY…Matt O’Riley congratulates two-goal Aaron Mooy in the 4-0 win over Hibs in Edinburgh.
Postecoglou was grinning again as Celtic brought the curtain down on 2022 with an inspired performance in the runaway 4-0 triumph over Hibs at Easter Road just three days away from New Year,
The Hoops boss was delighted with the overall performance of his hard-working, relentless players, but had a special word of of praise for two of his performers – Aaron Mooy and Daizen Maeda.
The World Cup stars contributed three goals against the Edinburgh outfit – with Kyogo Furuhashi netting the fourth – as the Hoops maintained their nine-point advantage ahead of Monday’s visit to Ibrox for the derby confrontation to kick-start the new year.
Aussie Mooy thumped in his first goal for the club to open the scoring and he added a second with a penalty-kick after the interval.
Japanese frontman Maeda made up for an astonishing miss by scoring what his manager claimed was a possible award winner.
On Mooy, Postecoglou said: “Aaron’s been knocking on the door in terms of getting a goal because he’s been getting into some good areas and I know he’s been desperate to get one.
“I think the World Cup was a really positive one for us. The boys who’ve come back from that have come back with a real positive experience and with Aaron, it’s just been a matter of getting him fit.
HAIL, HAIL…Kyogo Furuhashi celebrates a superb goal against Hibs.
“He knew that because he hadn’t played a lot of football for six months, but you can see now that he’s strong, his running capacity – I’ve always known he’s got a great engine in him – and the quality’s there, as well.”
On Maeda’s solo strike to double the advantage, the Greek-Australian gaffer said: “It has to be a goal of the season contender.
“Obviously, I coached Daizen in Japan as well and he’s such a strong character and such a selfless player for the team.
“The amount of work he puts in, in terms of pressuring oppositions – sometimes he gets no reward, or no recognition for, but he never stops.
“He was a bit unlucky with the header, but then he set up the first goal really well and his goal was magnificent and that’s credit to him.”
Reflecting on a good night’s work in the capital, Postecoglou continued: “It was credit to the lads because they were brilliant. We had a feeling that Hibs would come at us early on, which they did in the first 10 minutes, and it was pretty frenetic.
“Their crowd was up for it, our crowd was obviously up for it, but I thought we held out very well and then once we got a grip in the game, we were outstanding.
UNDER WRAPS…Ange Postecoglou acclaims the travelling fans at Easter Road.
“Our goals were outstanding, our movement and general work-rate was exactly what it should have been.
“It was underpinned by a really strong work-rate. Whenever we didn’t have the ball, we made it really difficult for them, we hunted in packs and got the ball back quickly, which we needed to do and I thought our play in the front third was excellent again.
“It was really aggressive running, aggressive passing into the right areas. We scored four, but we had more chances to score a few more.”
Postecoglou added: “So, 2022 has been a great year for us and, again, that’s credit to the lads. We’ve lost one league game out of 37, which shouldn’t be taken for granted.
“For the boys, home and away, to be consistently performing at such a high level is credit to them.
“And I think what you’re seeing is that we’re getting stronger.
“We finished 2022 stronger than we started and our goal and aim and ambition is to start 2023 stronger and finish even stronger than that.”
December 17: Aberdeen 0 CELTIC 1
December 21: CELTIC 2 Livingston 1
Obileye (og), Kyogo
December 24: CELTIC 4 St Johnstone 1
Hatate (2), Kyogo (2)
December 28: Hibs 0 CELTIC 4
Mooy (2, 1pen), Maeda, Kyogo
* TOMORROW: Don’t miss the twentieth thrilling instalment of CQN’s EXCLUSIVE tribute to Ange Postecoglou.