He has won titles in two countries, taken his national team to the World Cup and even had a song written about him. Now, the question is being asked: is Ange Postecoglou ready for the game’s biggest stage, the English Premier League?
If the former Socceroo coach needed proof that he has won over the notoriously hard-to-please Celtic FC supporters, it came during this week’s match against Scottish premiership rivals Dundee.
As their team stormed to a 4-2 win which cemented second place on the ladder behind arch-rivals Rangers, the Celtic fans broke out into the latest club song.
Sung to the tune of the old Wham! hit, Last Christmas, it goes:
Last Christmas, I gave you my heart
But the very next day, you gave it away
This year, to save me from tears
I’ll give it to Postecoglou
Second verse, same as the first.
After the match the Greek-born Australian seemed just as happy with the unveiling of the song as he was about his team’s win.
‘I thought the biggest challenge would be getting “Postecoglou” into a song, but they managed it – and credit to them,’ he said.
In the world of round-ball football, fans like to make their feelings patently clear about managers, players and club administrators through verse. Sometimes, the words are cruel, mocking or bordering on incendiary. Other times – as in Postecoglou’s case – they are delivered with affection.
Six months ago, you would have got the longest of long odds on that happening.
When it was announced in June that Postecoglou had been appointed manager of the 134-year-old Scottish giant after the club’s first choice – former Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe – had walked away, the reaction from fans and many local media was anything but warm. In fact, in some cases it was downright hostile.
So much so, in fact, that Scottish football legend Gordon Strachan, who managed Celtic from 2005 to 2009, stepped in to tell the knockers to calm down.
‘Everyone is over-reacting as usual. I’m delighted to have someone who thinks outside the box and not just a name that we see regularly.’
Not everyone agreed, with the some of the comments on social media scathing to say the least.
Postecoglou with his wife, Georgia Loupus, on the red carpet at the Hyundai A-League & Westfield W-League launch in 2014
‘He’s going to get chewed up and spat out like he cannot believe. He’s never coached a session of football at cut-throat European club standard.’
‘He’s a cheap panic option.’
‘His win percentage is dreadful. He’ll be gone by February.’
‘Never heard of him. Seems to me he wouldn’t know the first thing about Scotland.’
‘We wanted a big name, not a long name. Someone with plenty of Euro experience.’
‘A reckless gamble. Really the best we could get? Doubt it. Board embarrassing themselves again.’
But that was six months ago, and things have changed. Postecoglou is now seen as the answer to Celtic fans’ prayers, and it is not just because the team is winning. It is because of the way they are winning.
The Postecoglou way – or, as Celtic fans are calling it, ‘Ange-ball’.
That is, a style which rejects dour, defence-oriented football, preferring instead an open, yet highly disciplined, game in which players are encouraged to express themselves and, most importantly, score goals.
It has been on show week after week with Celtic, who after the first 13 games of the season, had scored more goals and had less scored against them than any other club in the premiership.
That might have come as a shock to followers of Scottish football, but not to those ‘in the know’ elsewhere.
Ange Postecoglou while he was still head coach of the Australian Socceroos at a training in Melbourne, 2017. The successful Australian is being discussed as a candidate for a head manager’s role in the English Premier League
Football aficionados in Australia had little doubt that Postecoglou would be a success in Scotland, just as he has been a success nearly everywhere else that he has been in charge.
Taking up coaching after captaining South Melbourne to the 1991 National Soccer League title, Postecoglou coached the club to two NSL titles and the 1999 Oceania Club Championship.
He took over a shambolic Brisbane Roar in 2009 and led them to back-to-back A League titles and an Australian all-football codes record of 36 games undefeated.
In his five-year stint as Socceroos’ coach, the national team won its first-ever major title, the 2015 Asian Cup, and qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup – immediately after which Postecoglou mysteriously resigned, requiring Football Australia to hastily appoint Dutchman Bert van Marwijk to take the team to Russia.
He next turned up in Japan, where in 2019 he coached Yokohama F. Marinos to the club’s first J League title in 15 years.
Postecoglou celebrates a victory against Hibernian FC as head coach of Celtic in the Scottish Premier League on October 27. After the first 13 games of the season, the Scottish giants had scored more goals and had less scored against them than any other club in the premiership
All of which combines to confirm Postecoglou as Australia’s most successful football coach – and raises the question: what will he do next?
As one veteran Australian football writer noted this week, ‘Ange doesn’t stay in one place long’.
Couple that with the fact that Celtic signed Postecoglou to a 12-month contract only, and reportedly have yet to offer an extension, and it is little wonder that the 56-year-old is starting to be linked to a possible move to the EPL.
This week former Sunderland and Leeds striker Michael Bridges nominated Postecoglou as a replacement for Dean Smith at Aston Villa.
With Smith sacked after six straight losses and the club in disarray, Bridges told Optus Sport that Postecoglou could be their man.
‘I once tried to get him to Sunderland,’ he said. ‘I gave him massive wraps for what he did over in Australia, what he did for the national team. Now he’s won the fans over at Celtic and is everybody going, ‘Who is this guy? What’s he all about?’
‘He is a guy that can sort out this type of stuff at Villa. He’s the type of guy that can be a massive, massive wildcard and I’m just gonna put it out there just so everybody knows about this guy and how good he is on and off the field.
Postecoglou interacts with Celtic player Greg Taylor after a UEFA Champions League match in July
‘What he’s had to go through to handle all the managerial scrutiny from all the press up in Scotland – he’s handled it absolutely brilliantly.’
Andy Harper, who played over 320 top-level games in Australia between 1986 and 2001 and is now one of the country’s most respected and perceptive football commentators, is convinced that Postecoglou could make it in the EPL.
‘I have no doubt that he is capable of coaching at that level – and he would put most of the ones who are there now to shame,’ he said.
‘He’s not some cookie-cutter coach doing a job to survive until the next TV paycheque arrives. He’s different, he plays to his own rules. There aren’t many like that in the EPL – Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds is one.
‘There is an electricity about them that us mere mortals can’t explain.’
Postecoglou chats with Socceroos star Tim Cahill (left) after Australia’s win against the Korea Republic in the final of the Asian Cup at Stadium Australia, Sydney, in 2015
Harper is a huge supporter of Postecoglou’s adventurous style of coaching but says while it is his greatest asset, it can also work against him.
‘I believe that Ange holds a mirror up to Australian culture. some like the reflection, some don’t.
‘He is the embodiment of what Australians think our culture is; that bungy-jumping ‘I’ll try anything once’ mentality.
‘He coaches to that, but the truth is the closer some people get to the bungy tower they get nervous. They say, ‘you know what? I think I’d rather sit on the bus and take photos.’
Postecoglou directs a Socceroos training run in Sydney in 2013. The enigmatic coach mysteriously resigned after the team had just qualified for the 2018 World Cup
‘That’s how it has been with Ange. He coaches his teams to play in a way that is good to watch, but it is also the way he believes is the best way to win. He believes in unlocking the human capital of his players.
‘He gets them to believe in it, and they love it. When kids grow up dreaming of playing football, they don’t dream about sitting in the penalty area for 80 minutes and then trying to pinch a goal up the other end. They dream about playing the type of football that Ange coaches.’
The trouble, according to Harper, is that Postecoglou’s style of play often makes the people in the back office nervous.
‘If Ange decides to go into the EPL, the conditions will need to be right. The board and ownership group have to believe in him, not just pay him lip service, and finding that kind of ownership and board is difficult.’
Yokohama F.Marinos players celebrate with head coach Postecoglou as he lifts the trophy after the team won the J-League title in December, 2019
Harper believes it was a crisis of faith on the part of Football Australia that saw Postecoglou walk away from the Socceroos when he was almost on the plane to Russia.
‘I don’t know for sure, we might never know, but it seems to me that Ange can sense when an organisation is wavering. You can’t jump off the tower if the bungy isn’t secure.’
Perhaps the final word should go to former Huddersfield Town and Brighton & Hove Albion star Aaron Hooy, currently earning a reported 60,000 pounds ($110,000) per week at Shanghai SIPG.
Said to be Postecoglou’s number one target for Celtic during the upcoming transfer window – no doubt at a reduced wage – Hooy summed him up perfectly for reporters covering a Socceroos game in 2016.
‘He’s intimidating, but he’s a very good coach. The way he wants to play football, I want to play like that as well,’ Socceroos star Aaron Mooy (pictured) said of Postecoglou’s coaching