Postecoglou has steeliness to handle challenge of rebooting Tottenham

<span>Photograph: Jane Barlow/PA</span>
Photograph: Jane Barlow/PA

“Let’s not beat about the bush … I was a joke when I was appointed,” Ange Postecoglou said on Saturday, the Scottish treble completed at Celtic, his work there done but his thoughts going back to the summer of 2021 and the beginning of his first job in European football.

Because, as plenty of people said, which self-respecting club would take a manager from Japan’s J-League and with next to no profile? Once it was “Arsène Who?”, now it was “Ange?”

Celtic, moreover, were in a mess, the fans furious, the squad in need of a reboot after a failed season when they finished 25 points behind the champions, Rangers. The previous manager, Neil Lennon, had departed in late February and the hunt for his permanent successor had passed the 100-day mark, Eddie Howe having been targeted only to decline.

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For Celtic then, read Tottenham now. There are so many parallels and perhaps the biggest one concerns whether the imminent appointment of Postecoglou to replace Antonio Conte, who left in late March, is too much of a gamble. Because which elite English club would take a manager from the Scottish Premiership with next to no experience of the top level in Europe?

There is the view among a constituency of Spurs supporter that it does not matter whether the Scottish league has passed on, say, Brendan Rodgers or Virgil van Dijk; it is still the Scottish league. They will view Postecoglou’s transformation of Celtic – league and league cup in his first season; all three domestic trophies this time out – through such a prism.

They will note Postecoglou’s record in Europe was poor – first a Europa League group-stage exit, then the same from the Champions League – and they will be ready with the “I told you sos” if it goes badly, even if it starts badly. For the Greece‑born, Australia-raised 57-year-old, the pressure will come quickly.

At which point it is necessary to mine a little deeper, as the Spurs hierarchy have done; to show respect for the behemoth that is Celtic and to assess Postecoglou’s achievements in the world game. Just because they did not come in western Europe before Celtic does not mean they did not happen.

Postecoglou started badly there. His first games brought an aggregate defeat against Midtjylland in Champions League qualification and, by the end of September 2021, his team had lost seven times in all competitions. And yet they would not lose again in the league – a run of 31 matches. This season, their record in it read: W32 D3 L3. Two of the losses came after they had sewn up the title with four games to spare.

Ange Postecoglou celebrates with the Scottish Cup trophy
Postecoglou transformed Celtic and his final act was taking them to their Scottish Cup victory on Saturday. Photograph: Russell Cheyne/Reuters

It is simply not normal with a team rebuilt on the hoof, out of crisis. It was why Postecoglou came to be feted by the Celtic support and why he spoke so glowingly about them after the Scottish Cup final win against Inverness Caledonian Thistle on Saturday.

“A lot of people made fun of my appointment,” he said, the emotion in his voice clear. “But the supporters just put their collective arms around me and said: ‘No, he’s one of ours.’ It would have been easy for them to have been sceptical and it would have made my job a lot tougher, especially through that early period.

“They deserve to feel good about the fact that while a lot of people ridiculed, they stood by the person that represented their football club.”

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There was barely a dry eye across Celtic social media but the comments bear a reread in a Spurs context and not only because here was a humble, unifying figure, capable of making the right connections.

Postecoglou is not the first manager Spurs considered but he ticks a lot of boxes, especially in terms of style. He is obsessed by speed and hard running, with passing, attacking football; playing the game proactively and on his terms – normally 4-3-3 and regardless of the opposition. His Yokohama F Marinos team hogged 58% of possession against Manchester City during a 2019 friendly, albeit in defeat. “Yokohama played some incredible football, they were an incredible test for us,” Pep Guardiola said.

With the Spurs chairman, Daniel Levy, it can often seem as if each managerial hire is a reaction to the previous departure, making it hard to discern a consistent blueprint. He has bounced from Glenn Hoddle to David Pleat to Jacques Santini; from Juande Ramos to Harry Redknapp to André Villas-Boas; from Mauricio Pochettino to José Mourinho to Nuno Espírito Santo and Conte.

Postecoglou is the counterpoint to Conte in several areas. He has a reputation to make and is willing to be patient, to rebuild with the staff and budgets he is given. It is inescapable that Levy’s appointments of Conte and Mourinho, win-at-all-cost A-listers, with the emphasis on cost, blew up before they worked out.

Postecoglou is synonymous with South Melbourne, his home‑town club, where he rose through the youth ranks to become a first-team player for nine years, winning two national championships, before injury ended his career at 27. He won four caps for Australia.

Antonio Conte reacts on the touchline
Postecoglou is the counterpoint to Tottenham’s former head coach Antonio Conte. Photograph: Dave Thomposon/AP

His first steps in management came at South Melbourne, winning two more league titles before a stint in charge of Australia’s Under-17s and Under‑20s. After a hiatus when he went to Greece’s third-tier to manage Panachaiki, he coached Brisbane Roar, Melbourne Victory, Australia and Yokohama.

There were two further A-League triumphs with Brisbane and the J-League with Yokohama in 2019 – their first in 15 years. But perhaps his finest hour was with Australia when he led them to the AFC Asian Cup in 2015, the nation’s only trophy outside Oceania. He also qualified for the 2014 and 2018 World Cups, resigning before the latter finals.

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Talk to those who know Postecoglou and the same themes recur: self-assurance, steeliness, cool under pressure, remorselessness. He understands sacrifice and the meaning of an honest day’s work, mainly through his parents – Dimitrius or “Jim”, who died in 2018, and Voula.

They took him out of the military junta regime of Greece in 1970 when he was five to make a new life in Melbourne, arriving with nothing, not even the language. Life was tough and there will certainly be perspective when Postecoglou assesses the challenges he faces at Spurs.

The Harry Kane situation has evolved to the point where it is now assumed that he would like to leave, with Manchester United and Real Madrid circling. The captain, Hugo Lloris, is on record as saying he wants out.

The past season was a disaster. The fans are disillusioned. Postecoglou has been here before.