Australian football woke up in raptures this morning to the news that former Socceroos boss Ange Postecoglou is set to take over as manager at Scottish giants Celtic, in an unprecedented move for the Australian game.
While the deal is yet to be completed, all of the major media outlets in Scotland are reporting that it is imminent, and that the 55-year-old from Melbourne will take charge of the 51-time Scottish champions.
He will be tasked with masterminding Celtic’s quest to wrestle back the title from fierce rivals Rangers, who this year ended a run of nine straight Scottish Championships for the team they call ‘The Hoops’.
So why have Celtic gone for a man who is completely unknown to Scottish football fans?.
Why does this matter so much?
Purely and simply because this is Australian football’s final frontier. Our players have proven they can match it with the best in the world and our national team has shown it can be a consistent World Cup qualifier, even moving past the group stage in 2006.
However, no Australian coach has made it in Europe, or even been given a chance at a ‘big’ club.
While this is a huge opportunity for Postecoglou personally, it can also lay the platform to demonstrate that an Australian passport need not be an obstacle to managing on the game’s biggest stages.
Postecoglou doesn’t need this to prove he can manage at a high level. The J-League, where he is currently based, is a top competition. But in order to get to the top of the game, which is competition in Europe, this is a necessary step.
Celtic were the first British club to win the European Cup (in 1967) and are still the only Scottish club to have reached the final of the competition, which is now known as the Champions League.
Why have Celtic gone for Postecoglou?
Well, the Glasgow club have demonstrated a penchant for giving unproven managers a chance before.
Some have worked out, like Neil Lennon (in his first stint). Others, like Norwegian Ronny Delia, not so much. But really, while Ange is largely unknown in Europe, he’s the furthest thing from unproven in the world game.
If you can remove the myopia of a purely European football lens, his string of Australian domestic titles, Asian Cup triumph with the Socceroos, and most notably the miraculous J-League crown with Yokohama that ended their 15-year title drought and came in just his second season in a nation where he doesn’t even speak the native tongue, are outstanding achievements.
Furthermore, his style of football which is so attractive on the eye, so dominating in attack and suffocating of the opposition in defence, is an easy sell to a club with expectations of being ruthless winners both by the week and the season.
His current club Yokohama are owned by the City Football Group, which has key figures connected to every single portal in the world game, while his agent Frank Trimboli is a major mover and shaker in UK football and will have been rightfully extolling Postecoglou’s virtues to key decision-makers for a few years now.
What are Postecoglou’s biggest challenges?
Time. First and foremost. Celtic exist to win titles and any indication that a manager unknown to the supporters will not be able to deliver this will be seized upon.
Postecoglou will need to win over the players quickly and start the season well to ease fan fears and get them on side. Fail to do that, and the unrest could prove insurmountable.
But while he will be fully aware of this, there is no reason to suggest he won’t be able to match expectations quickly. Even though Celtic finished 25 points off the pace last season, he’ll still be inheriting the second-best squad in the league.
It will only take one or two press conferences for the fans to realise he knows exactly what is required and that he will not be one bit overwhelmed by the task or the pressure attached to it.
The players will need convincing that an Aussie knows what he is doing, but a few training sessions will alter their mindset quickly, and those minds should be well and truly open to something different after the poor season they are coming off.
A compatriot always helps too, and in Socceroos maestro Tom Rogic, Ange will have a key player in the squad who will know first-hand of his capabilities and can therefore assure his teammates that they have got the right man for the job.
Why can Postecoglou succeed?
Because he has done so in literally every single managerial job he’s been in. Not only has he succeeded, but he has achieved the ultimate goal with every team he’s managed (bar the Melbourne Victory, which he left early for the national team job) and won the domestic title, or in the case of the Socceroos, the Asian Cup.
He has shown time and time again that egos in a dressing room or destabilising unrest will not be tolerated. Dissenters will swiftly be moved on, and his way will be the only way of it. As it should be.
The big names at Celtic won’t intimidate him at all, just like they didn’t when he was in his 30s at South Melbourne, or when he took over at Brisbane at a time where his managerial stocks where at their lowest point. They were cast aside to make it very clear that it was Ange’s way or the highway. And his way has never failed.
His style of football will win favour with fans and players alike. Attractive, dominating, possession-based football that his team will warm to and supporters celebrate.
There will be an adjustment required to a new league, no doubt. Postecoglou does not have a magic potion. But he does have a full pre-season to work with his players and study his opponents.
Whereas in Japan Ange did not speak the language, that won’t apply in Scotland. There is no communication barrier, and he’ll be in charge of a team that’s really in a two-horse race.
He’ll be up against Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard, who manages Rangers in that duel, and that will prove engrossing for the Australian football fan. And game-changing if our man can triumph.