ANGE POSTECOGLOU admitted he realised he would experience some rocky spells in his early days at Celtic.
The new Celtic manager was certainly proved right in September 2021.
The month kicked off with Postecoglou declaring himself “pleased” with his dealings during a hectic transfer period as he determinedly put together a squad to deal with the rigours that lay ahead before he could act again when the second window opened in January.
Spurs’ 23-year-old England-born US international Cameron Carter-Vickers was the last piece of the Hoops jigsaw in this window as he just managed to agree a season-long loan deal at the eleventh hour before the midnight deadline.
IN WITH A SHOUT…Ange Postecoglou yells from the touchline.
The rugged central defender became the TWELFTH player to arrive in the monumental revamp as he joined Kyogo Furuhashi, Liel Abada, Carl Starfelt, Josip Juranovic, Filipe Jota, Giorgos Giakoumakis, Joe Hart, Liam Scales, James McCarthy and Sheffield Wednesday youngsters Osaze Urhoghide and Liam Shaw.
Odsonne Edouard (Crystal Palace) and Ryan Christie (Bournemouth) joined Kristoffer Ajer (Brentford) in England while bit-part player Olivier Ntcham, after his unsuccessful loan spell at Marseille, joined Championship outfit Swansea.
Veteran skipper Scott Brown, after 22 honours and 14 years at Parkhead, had already moved to Aberdeen in the summer.
Postecoglou said: “Everyone at the club has worked hard on making really good progress in this window and I am really pleased with the depth of quality we have managed to deliver.
“I think the squad is in good shape for the challenges ahead and I look forward to get working as a unit with the whole squad together, as one, after the international break.”
However, it turned out to be a rollercoaster four weeks for the Greek-Australian gaffer with three defeats, one draw and two wins in six games. Alarmingly, the team also conceded 10 goals in four outings although Hart had a shut-out in the 3-0 win over Ross County at Parkhead when Albian Ajeti claimed a double after new Bhoy Carter-Vickers had opened the scoring.
LATE ARRIVAL…Cameron Carter-Vickers agreed loan switch just before the deadline.
There was an identical scoreline in the Premier Sports League Cup win over Championship side Raith Rovers at the same venue with Jota, Abada and David Turnbull on target. But there was precious little to cheer in the four other encounters in Black September.
Included in a drab month for the club, there was the dramatic departure of Dom McKay as Peter Lawwell’s successor as chief executive early in September. He was eventually replaced by Michael Nicholson.
Postecoglou prepared for the Europa League Group G opener against Real Betis in Seville on September 16 without the services of skipper Callum McGregor, instant fans’ favourite Kyogo, the prolific Abada and Scotland international duo Greg Taylor and James Forrest.
Undaunted, the manager said: “You definitely do want to enjoy it, but I think to enjoy it, you’ve just got to go in there with the view of trying to have an impact.
“And by that I mean playing our football against some quality opposition away and test our resolve.
“So, that’s the exciting thing and you get involved in some special nights, hopefully, so you want to enjoy that. But I want the enjoyment to come from us believing in something – and that something for us is about the kind of football team we want to be.
“I’m not prepared to concede anything to anyone in any way shape or form with the football teams I’m in charge of.
“We’ll go there and what I do know is that the game starts 0-0 and then you’ve got 95 minutes to try to win a game of football.”
HANDS UP…Ange Postecoglou goes through the emotions in Seville.
Amazingly, the visitors were leading with goals from Ajeti and Juranovic (pen) at one stage before the roof caved in. Anthony Ralston pulled one back with a header following a free-kick, but the Spaniards claimed the points with a 4-3 success.
Postecoglou reflected: “I’m disappointed we didn’t win and I’m disappointed the players didn’t get their rewards, but it doesn’t deter my bullishness about where we’re heading.
“We’re just going to get stronger, there’s no doubt about that. We’ll get some players back who are going to help us absolutely, particularly to settle the team down a bit. We’ll be stronger.
“I’ve got mixed emotions. I’m really proud of the team and the football we played
“The opposition are a very good team, we’re away from home and the football was good, but they obviously have some quality and there were periods of the game where they got momentum and some big goals.
“On the other side of that, we had other opportunities to go further ahead, so it’s disappointing that the players didn’t get the rewards for the efforts they showed.”
There was no hiding place, however, three days later on September 19 when the team collapsed to a 1-0 loss against Livingston in West Lothian and, in doing so, became the first Hoops outfit to crash in a trio of away matches since 2000 when Kenny Dalglish was in interim charge following the sacking of rookie boss John Barnes.
Andrew Shinnie got the only goal with a first-half strike when he capitalised on some dozy defending from Stephen Welsh before rifling a shot into the roof of the net beyond the helpless Hart who later produced two excellent saves to prevent further embarrassment.
Postecoglou admitted bluntly: “We’ve had some issues defensively, but I thought in the front half we were terrible.
“That was everybody, not just the strikers or the attacking players. We lacked a real conviction in going forward to be positive. That falls on me to get it right.
“We started the game very sterile and didn’t really take the game to them.
“My responsibility – and it is my responsibility – lies in making sure the team is prepared well, irrespective of the opponent.”
A MAN ALONE WITH HIS THOUGHTS…Ange Postecoglou on his way to the dug-out.
Former Celtic striker John Hartson was quick to defend the manager and said: “The fans realise it’s going to take time – and the manager WILL get time. We want to win the league, but even if we don’t, I don’t think there will be any panic.
“The club trust Ange. He needs backing, he needs a good window in January to keep close to Rangers and to keep the pressure on.
“We can’t put him under pressure after six league games. This club lost the league by 25 points last season and there’s been huge turnover. It’s an entirely new team and it takes time to gel.
“Not winning on the road will concern him slightly, but I think the fans will give him time. The issue is it’s big game after big game after big game. There is no respite. Ange needs a stronger squad.
“When he gets his best players back we wlll see better performances again.”
Celtic received a welcome respite in the battle for league points when they played Raith Rovers in the Premier Sports League Cup and duly delivered a 3-0 win, but the pressure was back on Postecoglou the following weekend during a frustrating 1-1 home draw against Dundee United and he launched an attack on his critics who, he claimed, were “trying to push me off some sort of ledge”.
It was the team’s eleventh dropped point after only three wins from their seven Premiership games. It was a day where very little had gone right after Abada, with his sixth goal since his arrival, opening the scoring.
However, the Tannadice side pegged it back two minutes later before Turnbull smacked the underside of the crossbar just before the interval and Rogic and Jota suffered a similar fate in the fading moments of a disappointing encounter.
WE’RE BEHIND YOU…Ange Postecoglou had the backing of the Celtic support.
Postecoglou observed: “I know people want to push me off some kind of ledge. It’s not going to happen.
“I don’t worry about those kinds of things. I’m focused on how my team’s playing and what we’re trying to create.
“I don’t really know what people want me to say. I know what the club’s about and what we’re aiming for, I believe the road we’ve started on will get us there, so we’ll just keep going.”
The Hoops trailed Steven Gerrard’s team by six points while occupying sixth place and the manager added: “It’s a weird league. You call things early here, don’t you?
“It’s quite remarkable. We’re only seven games in and people are calling the title already over.
“It’s just not how it works. I’m not pulling up stumps after seven games just because people think there’s some kind of insurmountable challenge out there for us.”
As he prepared for the second Europa League match against Bayer Leverkusen at Parkhead on September 30, Postecoglou had another pop at some of his media critics as he said: “To be honest, the only thing I don’t like is the condescending nature of the questions.
“That somehow I don’t understand that if we don’t win games of football, I don’t understand the magnitude of the football club, that somehow I am in charge of this rebuild and I have no idea of what the ramifications are if I don’t get it right.
“Maybe that is the intent, maybe people just want to be condescending, that’s up to them.
“In terms of pressure, criticism or scrutiny, that is fair enough, that is what people who are passionate about the game will do when they analyse the team and I have no issues with that.
“In terms of calling the title early, I see no reason why you would declare someone a champion in September when you have more than 30 games to go.
“It is not a frustration. If the intent is to be condescending towards me and who I am in my career then I guess they are achieving their point.”
CONCENTRATION…Ange Postecoglou at an aftermatch conference.
Postecoglou added: “I guess my point about all that is I am not going to change my approach because people keep talking about the fact that there is pressure and it is Celtic.
“I’m not living in some bubble that I don’t realise that if it doesn’t go well, the responsibility won’t lie with me. I understand that.
“It’s not all. Some people have been fair with their criticism and scrutiny, but some people just want to be condescending towards me, they have been from day one, they probably don’t think I deserve to be in this spot and that’s fine. That’s neither here nor there for me.”
The month, though, finished on a low with a 4-0 win for the Bundesliga giants although, to be fair, to anyone who witnessed the 90 minutes it was clear it was not a four-goal game.
Postecoglou did not dwell on the loss – he was already concentrating his efforts in winning the club’s first away match since February 14 as he prepared his squad for the trip to Pittodrie to face Scott Brown and his Aberdeen team.
September 11: CELTIC 3 Ross County 0
Carter-Vickers, Ajeti (2)
September 16: Real Betis 4 CELTIC 3
Ajeti, Juranovic (pen), Ralston
September 19: Livingston 1 CELTIC 0
September 23: CELTIC 3 Raith Rovers 0
Jota, Abada, Turnbull
September 26: CELTIC 1 Dundee United 1
September 30: CELTIC 0 Bayer Leverkusen 4
* TOMORROW: Don’t miss the fifth thrilling istalment of CQN’s EXCLUSIVE tribute to Ange Postecoglou.