It isn’t merely that he remembers vividly the first steps taken in the domain by the Yokahama F Marinos coach who is now frontrunner for the Celtic managerial post. Filopoulos made that “transition” happen in their Australian homeland back in the early-1990s. It started Postecoglou on a road where the 55-year-old has now left every other like him trailing in his wake. “I would say Ange is the greatest and most successful coach we have produced in any sporting code,” said Filopoulos, now head of marketing, communications and corporate affairs with the Football Federation of Australia. “His story is so unique since we first met as young men.”
They did so with Filopoulos as the youthful general manager of South Melbourne, where Postecoglou had excelled as a player before suffering a career-shortening injury. The club’s progressive board identified that leadership qualities and game knowledge Postecoglou had brought to bear in captaining the club to the second of two championships shouldn’t see two-decade association with it end because of a knee problem.
Postecoglou’s response to being made an assistant to Frank Arok in 1993 told them they were right. “He immediately immersed himself in sports science, continued to work in a bank and even coached the famous private school Melbourne Grammar as he learned,” said Filopoulos. When the decision was taken to replace Arok three games before the end of the 1995-96 season, Postecoglou earned his big break. “And the rest, as they say, is history,” said Filopoulos. “He won all three games, as the pressure was immediately on him to do, and from there won back-to-back titles with South Melbourne, and has improved and developed players and teams in every subsequent role.”
Most recently, with a 2019 title that was his current club’s first in the J-League for 15 years, which followed leading Australia to the World Cup finals of 2014 and 2018, AFC Asian Cup success of 2015, having earlier claimed championship honours with Brisbane Roar. Celtic’s failed pursuit of Eddie Howe has led to the club’s support presenting Postecoglou as a two-bit, untried alternative. That bemuses Filopoulos.
“The guy has 25 years of experience at the sharp end,” he said. “I hear it said he will need time, and he does look to reshape comprehensively. But his mindset is that every football job has to be two-track: as you remodel behind the scenes, you have to win, and win with finesse. He has worked for clubs expected to succeed in every game and that wouldn’t trouble him at Celtic. If he does get the job, he will feed off being backed into a corner, having doubts expressed. That is when he works best. He is always challenged by his environment, but he will also challenge that environment: challenge not only players but directors and the entire culture, because he constantly strives to upscale parameters. In my 30 years working in sport I have never encountered a coach as meticulous in their preparation. To explain how highly I rate him, I would make this claim. He was linked with the Sunderland job in late 2017. If he had been appointed then, they could be in the Premier League now, not the third tier.”