Ange Postecoglou to Tottenham: Australia revels in rise of its first Premier League manager

<span>Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA</span>
Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA

Ange Postecoglou will finally get an opportunity to exact revenge on Manchester United. Just over 23 years after Quinton Fortune’s brace condemned his South Melbourne team to a 2-0 defeat in the 2000 Fifa Club World Championship at the Maracanã, the Australian is set to become a Premier League manager, with Tottenham expected to offer a two-year contract with an option for a further season.

Reaction to Postecoglou’s impending appointment in north London has been mixed among Tottenham fans, even if it has become somewhat more favourable as the doubters learn more beyond the information on his Wikipedia page. In contrast, back in Australia, where he arrived from Greece as a five-year-old in 1970, there is almost universal acclaim for the man who will become the country’s first coach to take charge of a Premier League team.

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Largely, Postecoglou is held in high esteem in Australian football circles and a moment of exaltation is perhaps understandable. This is a personal achievement of some note for Postecoglou, but also a seismic moment for the game in Australia. The Melburnian’s career started as a nine-year-old with South Melbourne Hellas and he remained embedded in the local game until his resignation as Socceroos head coach in 2017. Though trophy-laden tenures at Yokohama F Marinos and Celtic are what have earned a move to Tottenham, his journey is still one that has Australian football at its core.

Postecoglou felt he needed to head overseas to accomplish his ambitions but he didn’t flee at the first opportunity and never look back. He was moulded by Australian football and, to this day, wants the best for it. He won national titles as a player with South – and also represented the Socceroos four times during his playing career – before coaching them to back-to-back national titles. He mentored possibly the finest side in Australian domestic football history, leading Brisbane Roar to a record-setting 36-game unbeaten run and an A-League title. He coached the Socceroos at the 2014 World Cup, guided them to qualification for 2018 and delivered an Asian Cup in between.

Australian football helped shape Postecoglou into the coach he is today and he will now, entirely on merit, take charge of a team that just four years ago appeared in a Champions League final. His appointment delivers a powerful message to any Australian with a sense of ambition – that, despite scepticism over their origin or lack of top-level experience, being good enough might just be enough.

Celtic supporters were sceptics when he first arrived at Parkhead and their disquiet is now being mirrored by Spurs fans. But a large contingent of the Australian football community has always supported Postecoglou, and the number of his backers has only swelled, both in Scotland and back at home, following his success there.

But of course Postecoglou is not some kind of deliverer riding down to London on a cloud. He has made mistakes and suffered downtimes. As much as some in Australia may worship at the Church of Saint Angelos, he is not without faults.

An unwavering commitment to his principles has almost become a millstone around his neck and like any coach his ongoing career progression has at times relied upon fate. There was an infamous on-air bust-up with former Socceroo Craig Foster, who demanded he resign after failing to lead Australia to the 2007 Under-20 World Cup. Subsequently rendered an outcast by decision-makers, he spent six years in the professional wilderness, and was even relegated from the semi-professional VPLW with Whittlesea Zebras in 2009.

There was criticism of his tactics during qualification for the 2018 World Cup, and only the woodwork prevented elimination against Syria. The Socceroos got to Russia in the end, but Postecoglou’s decision to walk away just a week after securing a place at the tournament raised eyebrows. His teams, as a general rule, require some form of adjustment period, with an accompanying slow start, to find their groove.

Yet those assorted sins have not stopped him from walking a path littered with successes. Each new step Postecoglou has taken has presented greater challenges, but so far he has done a good job of winning over the sceptics. A move to a club like Tottenham seems to be a natural career progression for him, and one that shows he has earned a right to show what he can do with his unwavering commitment to attacking, free-flowing football and high-pressing in one of the world’s best leagues.

Postecoglou may fail in London, he may succeed. Circumstances may be friendly or portend disaster. Given his age, it could represent a make-or-break move for his career at the very top. But he has earned, not been handed, a chance. And that means a lot for so many in Australia.