THREE games, two defeats, one draw. Expulsion from the Champions League at the first qualifier and a false start to the Premiership.
Ange Postecoglou would have hoped for a less traumatic baptism to life as Celtic’s new manager.
The Greek-Australian winced as Nir Bitton was red-carded before half-time in his first competitive game in charge against FC Midtjylland in front of a restricted crowd of 9,000 on a sunny Tuesday evening in the east end of Glasgow on July 20 2021.
OH, DEAR…Ange Postecoglou can hardly bear to look as Celtic get off to a false start in Europe.
Earlier in the confrontation, Postecoglou had cheered when Liel Abada, his £3.5million signing from Israel, thumped in the opening goal as the team shaped up well against the experienced Danes.
The landscape changed when Bitton, booked earlier, needlessly got involved with an opponent a minute from half-time and earned a second yellow card and instant banishment.
The new gaffer’s mood couldn’t have improved when £4.5million misfit Vasilis Barkas blundered to allow a swirling free-kick from Brazilian Evander to swirl over his flapping hands for the equaliser. It just wasn’t Celtic’s night as new skipper Callum McGregor and Ryan Christie hit the woodwork and the tie remained deadlocked at 1-1.
BLUNDER BHOY…Vasilis Barkas completely misjudges a free-kick from Evander (No.10) to gift FC Midtjylland the equaliser at Parkhead on July 20.
Postecoglou displayed his ability for a swift retort shortly afterwards when a reporter asked for a comment on the danger of losing financial rewards of around £40million for qualification to the group stages of Europe’s elite competition.
‘”I’m not an accountant, mate,” he answered. “I’m a football manager. When people start talking to me about finances they miss the essence of what I’m about.
“I’m not interested. I want to win games, I want to win trophies, I want to bring special nights here. The finances are for other people.
“The reception was brilliant. It was a special night for me. To walk out the tunnel as Celtic manager in a Champions League game, the response was very special. That will remain with me. I guess that’s why I love the game.
“You talk about finances, the last thing on my mind when you get a response like that from people who love this football club, that’s what motivates me.”
I’M NOT AN ACCOUNTANT, MATE…Ange Postecoglou delivers a snappy response.
He also bristled at the suggestion his line-up against the Danes had been “patchwork”.
He said: “That is a bit disrespectful, to be fair. There were internationals out there and some young kids who are doing everything for this club. The guys who are given the responsibility of wearing a pretty heavy shirt in a Champions League tie, they gave everything they possibly could.”
Celtic were back on the European tightrope eight days later and once again they took the lead when McGregor fired in a spectacular first-time volley, but, unfortunately, James Forrest missed a sitter that would have doubled the advantage.
The Danes, with former Hoops Invincible Erik Sviatchenko in their line-up, equalised to take the game to extra-time where they claimed a late winner.
Postecoglou was once more unhappy with a comment from a BBC reporter that the Parkhead club had suffered a “catastrophe” in their exit at the qualifying stage for a miserable fourth successive campaign.
The Danes joined AEK Athens, Cluj and Ferencvaros in knocking the team out before Europe’s lucrative tournament even gets to the group stages. It was put to the manager, who joined Brendan Rodgers and Neil Lennon in the sequence of failure, that it was a catastrophe for the club.
ANGE ON THE ATTACK…Postecoglou hits back at reporter’s “catastrophe” comment.
However, he snapped back: “It’s pretty strong language, mate, I don’t know what your version of catastrophic is, but it certainly doesn’t fit my definition of what happened tonight.
“This is obviously a disappointing night, disappointing we didn’t get through, I can’t fault the effort of the players, I think they worked their socks off, we controlled the game. We scored and then had a good chance to go 2-0 up and then straight away they scored and we lost a bit of momentum.”
The reporter explained himself and made the point that missing out of more Euro riches could be viewed as a major setback.
Postecoglou added: “No, catastrophic to me means the end. This is far from the end.
“You are suggesting this is a club falling apart and our season is finished, I don’t see it that way.
“Yes, it’s absolutely disappointing, Champions League football is a priority, but I can’t ask any more of the players.
“Blame? We don’t blame people, I take responsibility, the responsibility is mine.
“You are using really strong language for something I don’t think merits that sort of view.”
In between the European ties, Postecoglou had seen Kristoffer Ajer sold to Brentford for £13.5million and there were ongoing reports Odsonne Edouard and Ryan Christie would also be leaving.
FRENCH LEAVE…Ange Postecoglou has words of encouragement for Odsonne Edouard before the striker’s move to Crystal Palace in August.
The straight-talking Greek-Australian said: “I’m not going to waste too much time trying to convince people to stay or worrying about what’s going to happen.
“There’s too much to do on what I need to influence right now.”
Postecoglou had overseen the £12.2million transfers of winger Abada, striker Kyogo Furuhashi and central defender Carl Starfelt, but the Japanese and Swedish international had yet to arrive due to quarantine protocols.
Starfelt was rushed into the starting line-up for the opening Premiership match of the campaign on the Saturday evening of July 31 against Hearts at Tynecastle. Before the match, the manager had been asked how much knowledge he possessed on his team’s opponents.
“I haven’t come from outer space,” he smiled. “You’d be surprised how much I know about Hearts.”
Unfortunately, Starfelt had a debut to forget as he struggled to pick up the pace which was understandable considering he had just arrived in Scotland 48 hours earlier. An early goal was presented to ex-Celt Gary Mackay-Steven, but a brilliant run and finish from Anthony Ralston nullified that strike after the interval.
CAPITAL PUNISHMENT…Ange Postecoglou stares ahead as Celtic lose their opening Premiership game at Tynecastle on July 31.
The visitors thought they had claimed a second goal after Greg Taylor teed up Abada who walloped a close-range drive past Craig Gordon, but the left-back had been flagged offside and referee Bobby Madden ruled it out. TV pictures proved it was extremely tight and certainly the benefit of the doubt had not been extended to the attacking team.
With the clock ticking down, Ismaila Soro was punished for a mild challenge on the left wing that was deemed a free-kick by the match official. It fell into the soft category.
Defender Michael Smith swung the award into the packed penalty area and centre-back John Souttar rose above the hesitant Bitton to guide a header high past the badly-positioned Scott Bain. And that was that. Welcome to the Premiership, Mr Postecoglou.
The Hoops gaffer said: “I’ve grown up in the big, bad world of football and I understand it. People have every right to show emotion.
“I’m passionate about the game and I love people being passionate about it because I know that passion goes both ways.
“People talk about the special atmosphere at Celtic Park and I’ve already felt it. If you want that, you can only get it if people care. I expect there to be blowback and criticism and people disappointed.
“You know what, as soon as we turn it around, we will be shown equally the same amount of support and love that the club needs and this group of players deserves.”
July 20: CELTIC 1 FC Midtjylland 1
July 28: FC Midtjylland 2 CELTIC 1 (after extra-time)
July 31: Hearts 2 CELTIC 1
* TOMORROW: Don’t miss the third thrilling instalment of CQN’s EXCLUSIVE tribute to Ange Postecoglou.