No time to waste since Postecoglou takes the helm at Celtic
Ange Postecoglou is the new manager of Celtic and wonders about Howe are no longer relevant when it comes to who succeeds Neil Lennon.
More than 100 days after Lennon left with the club’s supposedly historic season in tatters, the post has been filled, but not by one of the early favorites.
In the days after the Northern Irishman left, the odds changed, plummeted and plunged on a number of different managers with Rafa Benitez, Roy Keane, Lucien Favre, Paul Lambert, Enzo Maresca and Chris Wilder all near the top of the bets at once or another.
Once the dust settled, it became clear that Celtic had found their man. Eddie Howe was up for the challenge of facing resurgent Rangers, but didn’t want to move until the summer. John Kennedy was tasked with guiding a deflated squad through the end of the season and answering questions about Howe every week.
In the background, as fans grew more and more agitated with each day that went by without an announcement, Celtic and Howe worked on a deal, and when everyone assumed the new boss was signed, sealed and ready to go. delivered… the deal fell apart.
Cue support fury, and definitely at least some panic at Celtic Park. Howe had failed to get the backroom staff he wanted, Celtic had failed to get their man.
It didn’t take long for the news of a move to Postecoglou to be announced. The Greek-Australian has no notable experience in European football, so skepticism was plentiful from the start, coupled with the clear knowledge that this was Plan B at best.
‘It’s pretty surreal, mate’
It was a surprising turning point in a story that seemed predictable from March. Postecoglou’s opening words in his first interview on the Celtic club’s TV channel probably summed it up: “It’s pretty surreal, mate.”
Outgoing Managing Director Peter Lawwell said after the appointment that “Angel is a manager that we have known for a number of years and someone who has been high on our minds for quite some time.”
Intended to minimize the idea that this was an instinctive appointment, she pointed out that Postecoglou had not been considered the ideal candidate, but that he was now the best available.
Who is Postecoglou?
So the former Australia boss comes to Glasgow with a point to prove, and most Scottish footballers will forge or change their minds with every move he makes.
Warnings that Postecoglou will be Celtic’s Pedro Caixinha seem far off target, while those pointing his record halfway around the world and claiming he is a revolutionary who just needs an opportunity hope that the The intensity of football in Glasgow is not too much culture shock after the relative comfort of Yokohama, Melbourne and Brisbane.
What is not debated is that Postecoglou arrives fully trained as a manager; 55 years old and with a quarter of a century of training behind him. It’s not a punt on someone early in their career. Instead, Celtic is betting on methods that have brought success to another environment.
There is no doubt that he has had success in his career, and not just in a purple spot. Championship glory in South Melbourne was followed by a stint at Brisbane Roar which brought an A-League title and a long streak of unbeaten track. His stint in international football saw him take Australia to the World Cup and win the Asian Cup. A shift to a new environment brought more silverware with a J-League title in 2019.
It is not only the titles that have made the reputation of Postecoglou. He is a manager who would be committed to an expansive attacking football philosophy, and someone who demands the highest standards from all who work under him.
Former Scotland boss Andy Roxburgh, now technical director of the Asian Football Association, described him as “strong, smart and progressive”. Tom Rogic compared his international boss to Brendan Rodgers, saying they share a positive and intense attitude towards the job.
His team’s football has been praised by Pep Guardiola, although cynics may note that Postecoglou’s Yokohama side were part of the same City Football Group as Manchester City.
Father figure for coaches
What’s particularly interesting, given his status as a newcomer taking his first big job in Europe, is that the Australian is seen as a father figure to coaches and managers at home.
A story from the Sydney Morning Herald explained how a generation of ambitious coaches had received advice or been offered opportunities to advance their careers by Postecoglou and rave about the knowledge they had gleaned.
One of them described a spell under his command as “My doctorate in football”.
This instantly raises the question of who the new boss will surround himself with at Celtic. As it is common knowledge that Howe was given the green light to form his own behind-the-scenes team, it is unthinkable that Postecoglou could not have negotiated the same freedom.
This could mean that coaches he knows are brought in to help him impose his ideas, or he can retain the institutional knowledge held by John Kennedy and Gavin Strachan.
Huge reconstruction to come
Regardless of the training setup, there is no doubt as to whether the team will be transformed. The departure of some players, either returning from loans or leaving for other clubs, means the team faces a substantial rebuild.
Even the quickest glance at his squad will reveal that the goalkeeper situation needs to be resolved, both full-back positions need to be considered, at least a center-half is required. Scott Brown’s departure leaves a gap in the midfield, while Mo Elyounoussi is already gone and Odsonne Edouard is likely to leave, meaning the front line is another priority.
Postecoglou has a reputation for promoting young players and lowering the average age of his teams, but he has no way of building a Celtic squad this summer from academy products.
It is essential that, having made a courageous choice, Celtic are equally bold in supporting the new man when it comes to the transfer market. And there isn’t much time.
Big challenges ahead
Pre-season training is starting soon, while the first Champions League qualifier is six weeks away. Postecoglou’s job is starting now, but the complications of midlife are a wrinkle he doesn’t need when looking to start his job smoothly in Glasgow.
The task that awaits Postecoglou is not trivial. He needs to rebuild a squad, tackle European qualification and start a national season well where Rangers will look to build on a dominant performance last year.
At every step of the process and with every change, the question will be “What would Eddie Howe have done?” – at least for a moment.
This is not a meeting of continuity. Whether it is a season of success or failure, next season’s Celtic will hardly look like whoever struggled last time and they will carry the Postecoglou stamp.
In an Australian documentary, The Age of Ange, Postecoglou says from the start that he believes in the possibility of making big changes.
“This is what I love about sport, this is what I love about life, is that no story is written yet,” he says. “There are lines in the pages, but the ability to change where it goes is in your hands.”
Celtic’s summer of change has effectively given their new manager a blank page. For the manager and the club, it’s no longer about how the story began, but how the season ends.