PRICELESS POSTECOGLOU

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ANGE POSTECOGLOU touched down in Glasgow for the first time on June 23 last year and, only 24 hours later, was at Lennoxtown for his first training session with the Celtic players.

On that morning, CQN told our readers: “We are convinced life will not be dull with Big Ange around. Watch this space!”

Now almost eleven months later, we can only say Neil Lennon’s long-term successor has not let us down. Mundane is certainly not invited into the orbit of the 56-year-old Greek-Australian gaffer who quit Japanese giants Yokohama F Marinos to accept the position as Hoops manager.

Following the previous season’s spectacular and inexplicable fall from grace, Postecoglou has already gone quite some distance to banishing the wretched memory after guiding the team to their tenth title in eleven years while adding the Premier Sports League Cup for good measure.

It’s certainly been an interesting transitional period for the club on the field, but, away from the action, Ange has had a few things to say since his arrival that have been somewhat thought-provoking.

“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind,” he informed us on his first day at training. “It’s been a tough three weeks to get here, but I’m super happy to be here now.

“I knew it wouldn’t sink in that I’m the new Celtic manager until I got here. Now I can get cracking and start working.

“I got to meet everyone and put everything in place that we need to. It’s been fantastic. I already had some familiarity with it, but it’s a great set-up. The people here are fantastic and I’m looking forward to working with everyone. Everyone keeps warning me about the weather, but it all looks pretty beautiful at the moment.

“Ultimately, people want to get to know me. It’s one thing to have ideas and talk about what you want to do, but people need to meet me and understand me as a person as much as a manager. You can’t do that unless you meet people in person and we’ll start that process now.”

Just over a week later, the former Australia international head coach proved to be the master of the understatement when he delivered these lines: “I think there will be significant change, only because there has been a pretty big turnover in players from last year.

“We will probably play a little bit differently to what they have played in the past, so whether it is a rebuild or just a shift in direction it will be significant change, for sure.”

Asked about reports insisting Odsonne Edouard, Kristoffer Ajer and Ryan Christie were heading for the exit, Athens-born Postecoglou answered: “I am not in control of that.

“All I can do is concentrate on the ones who are here right now and training with us, I treat them as part of the family, and then if some leave then they do. We have got multiple targets and there’s a lot of names being thrown around.

“From my perspective, it’s more about making sure that we do bring in some players who can play the football that I want over the next period and the club are working awfully hard to make that happen.”

The wantaway trio are now, of course, history as far as Celtic are concerned while Postecoglou oversaw the hectic summer recruitment drive that brought in the likes of Kyogo Furuhashi, Carl Starfelt, Liel Abada, Joe Hart, Josip Juranovic, Giorgos Giakoumakis, James McCarthy and Liam Scales on permanent deals with Filipe Jota and Cameron Carter-Vickers agreeing loan contracts.

The national press didn’t know quite what to expect from a street-smart individual and some of the questions, banal rather than mischievous, were aimed at the latest incumbent of the Parkhead dug-out.

Right from the off, though, Postecoglou informed the members of the media and their readers, viewers and listeners: “It’s something I dreamt about years ago, being over here and managing in Europe. To be given the opportunity to manage a huge club is one I’m really looking forward to.

”If I didn’t want pressure, I’d probably be doing a different type of occupation.

“Celtic is a club with great traditions and history, but it’s also a club of great standing and high values and I won’t let anyone use this club as a vehicle for individual purposes.”

On July 28, at the Copenhagen airport as the club prepared to fly home following the 2-1 extra-time loss to FC Midtjylland and the early exit from the Champions League at the first qualifying stage, it was put to the manager that it had been a “catastrophic” defeat.

“It’s pretty strong language, mate,” answered the Hoops boss. “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.

“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.”

Queried on the financial position of Celtic, he replied: “I’m not an accountant, mate. 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 to here. The finances are for other people.”

As he settled down to chat to the reporters before the Premiership kick-off at Tynecastle on July 31, he masked a smile when queried about his knowledge of Hearts.

His retort remains one of CQN’s favourites. “I’m still on the same planet, mate, I haven’t come from outer space. You’d be surprised how much I know about Hearts.”

Around that time, Postecoglou was asked about how he would cope working at a higher level.

“I’m assuming you’re saying I worked at a lower level, or something,” he answered. “I guess that’s a matter of opinion. I’ve coached at a World Cup.”

Following the scoreless stalemate with Livingston at Parkhead on October 30, it was put to Postecoglou that his team faced a huge task to try to catch up at the top of the table.

“I thought the Premiership was over, mate, so I’m not looking at the table anymore,” he observed somewhat dryly.

Asked about his daredevil attacking philosophy, he gave us: “My view on that is, if you are a strict vegetarian, you don’t drop into Macca’s just because you are hungry, mate, you know? This is what I believe in.

”I don’t pop champagne corks for clean sheets.”

Another reply that made us chortle came on the eve of the crucial Europa League Group G encounter with Bayer Leverkusen in Germany. A story doing the rounds at the same time concerned Hibs wanting a fairer percentage of tickets for their fans to attend the Premier Sports League Cup Final.

It clearly was not the time or place to pose the question, but the dogged reporter had the query in his head and he felt the urgent need to put it to the Celtic manager.

Postecoglou looked at the misguided inquisitor for a moment and buried his face in his hands. He surfaced a moment later with an ironic smile.

“No, you’re not going to ask me about ticket allocations as we are playing Leverkusen in a big game tomorrow night. Why waste the opportunity? I have no desire or inkling to get involved in any ticket allocations that is not my brief. I will let you pass on that one, I’ll give you a freebie, give me another question.”

On Steven Gerrard quitting Ibrox for Aston Villa in November, he observed: “We can’t get distracted by anyone or anything as we are trying to build something here and when you try to build something and be successful you can’t afford to be looking to what other people are doing.

“We have got to build our house and make it nice and beautiful and see how it stacks up against the rest of the neighbourhood.”

On being asked if Kyogo was a diver, he fired back: “Who are these brave people, these warriors, who are out there, who are accusing people?”

“Kyogo is the size of a jockey, he is playing against guys who are almost a foot taller than him and all these brave warriors on the outside are casting aspersions, are they?

“I haven’t read it, I won’t read it.

“If you end up in arguments with ignorant people, you eventually become one of them.”

And Postecoglou did not hold back after the Hampden trophy success before the turn of the year, as he offered: “It’s been a hell of a ride so far and we haven’t come into this opportunity the easy way.

“It is not a pressure situation for me. It’s what I want. It’s why you accept this position. You don’t accept this position to shy away from creating special things. We’re still at the beginning. We want to enjoy this as the players have been through an awful lot and risen to every challenge, including today.

“It has to be just the start. It’s the only measure at Celtic. You win it – and then you go onto the next one.”

And, of course, Postecoglou would never overlook the contribution of the club’s loyal followers.

“It’s what this football club’s about, it’s what football’s about. We just pass through these clubs, but the people in here, it’s generational support. They’ve invested their lives in this club and these are the rewards.”

“The Celtic fans are the most important part of this football club.”

Following the Hogmanay arrival of the trio of J-League recruits, Reo Hatate, Daizen Maeda and Yosuke Ideguchi, Postecoglou was asked if he could understand people in Scotland.

“Not really,” he grinned. “I’m okay. I feel sorry for the Japanese boys. They worked really hard to learn English before they got here and found out it doesn’t help them at all.”

Postecoglou v The Press has been an interesting sideshow along the way and one BBC reporter has irked him a smidgen with some of his queries.

After the 2-0 over St Mirren at Parkhead in March, the manager wasn’t overly impressed with the suggestion it had been a “hard watch”.

“It depends on what you are looking for,” he shot back. “Maybe you are disappointed with the way it went, mate. I’m not really sure about that.”

The same reporter attended the 4-1 triumph over Hearts on May on May 7 that all but sealed the championship. Only a disastrous form slip of seismic proportions could prevent the trophy coming back to Parkhead.

Their nearest challengers were playing Dundee United at Ibrox the following day where anything less than a win would make it mathematically impossible for them to catch their Glasgow neighbours.

Asked if he had a preference when Celtic would clinch the league, Postecoglou joked: “Only you could make winning a championship feel like a downer.

“No, mate, any way it comes, thank you.”

Of course, the Greek-Australian’s extraordinary contribution to Celtic, in particular, and Scottish football, as a whole, was recognised with his double triumph in the PFA and SWFA Manager of the Year awards.

“Going into it, there wasn’t a huge deal of expectation in terms of success,” he noted.

“Whether that was because of me and my own background or because of the ground we needed to make up.

“People just recognise the challenge we had and how we have embraced that challenge.

“I take great pride in it, but like I said on the night, I didn’t get the one I was favourite for – sacked by Christmas.”

One of his most astute observations came after the 3-0 landslide win over Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s club in the east end of Glasgow on February 2.

Speaking about the club’s supporters, he said: “I want them to be proud of us, I hope they are proud on the journey home tonight. I am sure they will enjoy tonight, I don’t know how work will go tomorrow for most of them.

“As I said to the players, we had 60,000 in tonight and I’m sure a lot of them walked in with some problems in their life. For this 95 minutes we made them forget that and feel good and that’s something special.”

The quips and quotes have come along the conveyor belt with welcome regularity from a manager who has turned his entertaining words into enthralling deeds.

We’ll leave you with a short, sharp phrase he offered during Flag Day celebrations following the 6-0 romp over Motherwell with the silverware bedecked in green and white ribbons.

In front of 60,000 cavorting fans inside the stadium and millions watching worldwide on TV screens, the manager was handed the microphone and unhesitatingly Postecoglou proclaimed:

“Champions – that’s who we are!”

As CQN said back in June last year, it was never going to be dull with Big Ange around.

To be continued…

 

 

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