Celtic boss Ange Postecoglou makes 'empty chair could do the job' quip as he embraces injury crisis
Ange Postecoglou maintained the other day he was no kind of “oligist”. The Celtic manager might appear a certain kind of “ist”, though.
In the 56-year-old deriving a perverse enjoyment from being forced to find solutions to the injury loss of almost his entire final third options the Australian betrays the tendencies to be associated with a masochist. Wailing and gnashing of teeth woul d be the reaction from most managers were all three of their se nior central frontline performers and three of their four leading wide players rendered unavailable. Instead, it can feel as if Postecoglou is wayheying internally at being presented with problem-solving into which he can really sink his pearly whites.
A midweek trip to Dingwall to face an in-form Ross County would be awkward at the best of times. The fact Celtic seem set to tackle Wednesday’s assignment without Kyogo Furuhashi, Albian Ajeti, Giorgos Giakoumakis, Jota, James Forrest and Mikey Johnston makes it look a whole lot more tricky. The implications for Sunday’s Premier Sports final against Hibs of the absentee list could be grave. Only Furuhashi, Forrest and Johnston have any chance of taking the pitch at Hampden, but Postecoglou will only say that it will be a case of seeing “how the week goes” as to whether they can be stripped for the decider. Yet, such selection dilemmas don’t prove daunting for Posteocolgou so much as sense-sharpening.
“I have often said it is what I love about the job,” the Celtic manager said. “I don’t know what it says about me or my personality, but I love this aspect of the role. People talk about pressure and dealing with things, but I love the fact football always throws up problems that you have to find a way to work out. That’s what keeps me going. If I knew how it all ended, I probably wouldn’t be as passionate about it. It’s like already knowing the ending to a movie. I love the fact I have been doing this for 25 or 26 years and there is always something that comes along that challenges you on a daily or weekly basis. These are the periods I enjoy the most. When things are running smoothly and success comes, that’s maybe even when I get most irritated because I am itching for what the next challenge is.”
Postecoglou is dismissive of the notion that the havoc that injuries are wreaking within his squad could keep him awake at night. By the sounds of it, a pack of howling dingoes scratching at his bedroom window wouldn’t even do that. “I like my sleep,” he said. “It’s maybe time to write a couple of things down, but I’m not overly-obsessive on it. I love what I do, so my mind is constantly enjoying what I am doing. When you are enjoying what you are doing, you are always exploring different things. [You can always find a way and] that’s why I am here. If there were no problems, you could probably have an empty chair doing this job and you'd be talking to nobody.”
His Celtic team must walk the walk in the Highlands, regardless of how many among the squad may be hirpling presently. The reality is that the cinch Premiership encounter could have a greater impact on the prosperity, or otherwise, of Postecoglou’s first season than the weekend opportunity to claim a first trophy of his six-month reign. Celtic, currently four points behind Rangers, can ill-afford to fall further adrift of the champions before the pair confront each other in Glasgow’s east end on January 2. Four league encounters require to be negotiated before that new year derby and Celtic must avoid any slips to ensure it is monstrous in magnitude.
It is lost on no-one that the outcome of this title campaign has the potential to shape Scottish football for years to come. A fact that comes courtesy of success in it being all but certain to claim the winners a £40m bounty via direct entry to the Champions League group stages. All of which means, however apparently unglamorous, the Dingwall date is recognised by the Celtic manager as more than the equal of the imminent showpiece at the national stadium. Central in that is the desire to secure a 10th win of an 11-game unbeaten league run. “I know people talk about the cup final as a significant event and it is,” he said. “But I don’t think Wednesday is any less for us. We’ve been in good form the last three months, our performances have been really good and we don’t want to lose that momentum. So it’s important we maintain that against Ross County.”
At least one added complication for Postecoglou has been removed following updated advice from the Scottish Government over Covid-19 protocols as the Omicron variant takes a grip. The threat that all players travelling together on a bus for any away game could be forced to self isolate were one of them to test positive has been removed, with such close contacts adjudged as those within two metres. It followed Motherwell’s players and staff travelling to Celtic Park on Sunday in their own cars across 35 vehicles in all.
“We are still taking an extra bus and making sure that we are doing the right things,” said Postecoglou. “It’s fair enough that authorities are looking at these things on a daily basis. It’s important to have clarity on what we can and can’t do, but we have from day one since I have been here erred on the side of caution. We know it’s around. It’s affecting Premier League clubs and football around the world. You just have to try and do the right things.”
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