Ange Postecoglou the 'purist': Celtic coach offers deep insight into his football philosophy ahead of its stern test

Rightly or wrongly, it can feel Europe is where Ange Postecoglou’s purist brand of football will encounter the sort of tests that increasingly have seemed to demand a degree of pragmatism.

Ange Postecoglou was his Celtic team to play attractive football and says his ideals are based on watching Johan Cruyff.

The Celtic manager appears comfortable with such a perception as he prepares his all-out-attack-designed, goal-hungry side for the challenge of AZ Alkmaar in the Europa League play-off, Glasgow first leg, on Wednesday evening. Just as the 55-year-old doesn’t blanche at the suggestion the purist label is a snug fit for him. Meanwhile, it can be considered a neat quirk the opposition that will offer the litmus test of his spectacular revitalisation of the club’s form hail from a Dutch nation he would argue patented football purism.

“[My football] is purist in my terminology, but I’m sure there are plenty of people that have different opinions of what a football pursuit is, and how football should be played,” Postecoglou said. “And I love that about the game. It is one of those where you can play so many different ways and have success. But this for me is the football I love to watch. I see other teams playing aggressive, attacking football, they are games I switch on and watch. They are the football teams I want to produce.

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“What the terminology is around that, that’s for others to judge. But I’ve yet to meet a group of supporters or a group of players who don’t enjoy scoring goals, and creating fantastic moments. That’s why I concentrate on that style of football.”

As have the Dutch, the impact of their brand of football having a huge role to play in the development of Postecoglou’s football ethos. “Even historically, in Australian football there has been a Dutch influence. Guus Hiddink took us to the World Cup in 2006 and since then we’ve seen people from Holland and the Netherlands acknowledging us,” he said.

“My origins are I was a massive fan of Johan Cruyff, massive fan of that Ajax team, and my father was. That sort-of led me to look at the aesthetics of football, rather than just the end result. I’ve always admired and been intrigued by it because ultimately we know that results are what matters in football. So having this thought process that maybe what it looks like is just as important as the result has always intrigued me. It’s finding that balance between creating something that’s beautiful to the eye but also brings you success. Because otherwise you are just one of these unemployed, destitute artists that admires their own work but don’t make a living.”

Of late, Scottish clubs have tended to eke out an existence in European competition by eschewing the stylistic considerations non-negotiable for the 55-year-old. Celtic’s 2012 defeat of Barcelona, a 2-1 victory that made for their most fabled night in continental competition over the past decade, was the product of blanket defence, and only 16.4 per cent of possession. The club’s first win in Italy, earned with the 2-1 success over Lazio in Rome two years ago, required elements of rope-a-dope. Under Steven Gerrard, and before him Walter Smith, Rangers have enjoyed prosperity in Europe through proceeding with utmost caution, and soaking up pressure. Not for Postecoglou. In cross-border competition, the hill he will live or die on will be the product of daring his men to charge over it.

“I’m not critical of that because it has still brought some special moments,” he said of what worked for Celtic against Barcelona and Lazio. “That is one way of doing it, absolutely, and there are fantastic examples all round the world throughout the history of football where you have managers and clubs that have taken that approach. It’s just not my approach.

“I’d rather play Barcelona and out-possess them and out-score them than not. If you do that and you lose five-zero, people will be coming for you saying ‘why didn’t you play more pragmatically’. It’s just not the way I’m wired, and what I look for. I’d rather go down swinging then than hope to just stay on my feet. You know, it’s just my philosophy. There is no right or wrong way of doing it. But I do think that certain clubs have certain values. If you look back at this football club – I don’t need to tell you guys, you know this history better than me – the greatest successes have been built on teams that had belief; entertainers that played without fear. And I love that aspect of the game.”

Celtc supporters can prepare to buckle up for Postecoglou’s team swashing, then. It will be a thrill ride the Australian is convinced can create a legacy, with Europa League group-stage football crucial to that aim.

“The traditions and values are that this football club has always made an impact in Europe, one way or another,” he said. “That’s the opportunity that has been given to me, and it’s definitely a motivation for sure. Long after I’m gone, I hope to have made any impact at this fantastic football club. That’s what we all want to do. If you’re a manager, you want to do things that you hope outlast your own tenure. That’s the opportunity in Europe.

“The most important thing for me is still the football. I just want everyone talking about the football we are playing. If they keep doing that, the success will be for everyone to share. I want it to be success built on something special. I want people talking about the football we are playing. That, to me, is the primary target. Wherever I have done that, the rest sort of cascades into it.”

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