It is a narrative offering a symmetry at odds with the suitability-questions forming the backdrop to Greek-Australian Ange Postecoglou’s managerial appointment to Scots-Irish side Celtic The 55-year-old certainly has innumerable obstacles to overcome in taking on a team that spectacularly fell from its imperious perch last season. But Postecoglou’s life lessons as an immigrant establishing a tight-knit circle of childhood friends on resettling in Australia, coupled with his immersion in the game from childhood and a quarter of a century coaching successfully, have prepared him. And for that, he is forever grateful to his father Jim.
The Celtic manager spoke movingly the other day of how his family’s move from the Athens he spent his first five years exacted unending sacrifices from his dad Jim and mum Voula. And yet also how, with his father emotionally-stunted and bluntly demanding, the game allowed them to develop a bond that – even after his passing – remains his footballing fuel.
‘They sacrificed their whole life for me to be here’
“I look at myself now, as a 55-year-old man and I just can't believe what my parents went through,” he said. “What they would have gone through to take a young family halfway round the world, on a ship that takes us 30 days to a country where they don't speak the language; they don't know a soul, they don't have a house, they don't have jobs. People say they go to another country for a better life. My parents did not have a better life, they went to Australia to provide opportunities for me to have a better life.
“All I remember is my father working hard. He'd be gone for work before I ate my breakfast and come home at night, have dinner, sit on the couch and fall asleep and go and do the same thing the next day. The only time I ever got to see any joy in my dad was when we went to the football on a Sunday. So that did make an impression on me, because I made a quick connection that football is something that makes him happy… so if I love this like he does, it will get me close to him.
“Football has not just been a sport, it's been a vehicle in my life. I Zoom call to Australia with five of my closest friends today and I have pictures of us when we were eight playing in the same football team. That's where we met and they are still my friends. It did make a big impact and does bear the core of my values because my father passed them onto me. I understand what an honest day's work is about, I understand what sacrifice is about, I understand what being in a privileged position like I am now is about. I am not going to take this for granted because I know how hard my mum and dad worked. They sacrificed their whole life for me to be here. I don't feel like I am working every day, I feel like I am living a dream that was founded by other people's sacrifice, particularly my parents. They are the values I pass onto people.”
‘My dad didn’t give me cuddles’
From the youngest age, Postecoglou says, he developed an “encyclopedic knowledge” of the game in the UK, ensuring he “nourished” his “brain with everything about football from this side of the world”. He didn’t read children’s books. Instead, he would be “literally hanging around outside the newsagent waiting for Shoot magazine or Roy of the Rovers… three months late for me to read”. “I was gutted to find out that Hotshot Hamish wasn’t a real footballer,” he said.
The real footballers his pop gushed over, became his heroes. And one even his manager. “He loved Ferenc Puskas and I ended up being coached by him,” the Celtic manager said. “He loved Leeds because he was a product of the 60s and 70s. He loved the Real Madrid of Di Stefano, they are the ones he bred into me. My first conscious [memory] of us being able to discuss football was the 1974 World Cup and he loved Holland and Johan Cruyff.”
The impact is embedded in Postecoglou’s football lineage like the imprint in a stick of rock, his motivation always to produce teams his dad would enjoy watching. "It's a simple premise,” he said. “It's important to me because that was the driver for my whole football career. He was my harshest critic and probably all of you have similar kinds of dads. My dad never told me he loved me, he didn't give me cuddles. He was my biggest critic all the time. I am a totally different father, I kiss and cuddle my kids every day and tell them I love them, which is terrible because I am making them too soft.
“My childhood was sitting next to him at three o'clock in the morning and we were watching football from this side of the world and he would always point out the entertainers and the teams that were scoring goals. He'd say, ‘look at him, look at this team’ and that got into my subconscious and when I became a manager that's the kind of teams I wanted to produce. He's not with us now, he passed away a couple of years ago, but he's in my head. I know that and every time my team plays, I'll sometimes have an ugly 1-0 win and I know what he's saying: ‘Don't celebrate because that was crap’. I don't think that's unique, I think a lot of people resonate with that, understand that was how it was in my generation through having a similar upbringing. I just happen to be in a position where I can live that dream out.”