How Ange Postecoglou exorcised his demons and overcame self doubts to lead Celtic to brink of title success

What Ange Postecoglou exudes above all is a sense of utter conviction in his approach to football management.

Yet, the Australian, named today as the Scottish Football Writers Association manager of the year, doesn’t mind confessing such self-confidence was profoundly tested by the invidious circumstances of his arrival at Celtic last June. The 56-year-old wasn’t just a fall-back following the failed, protracted courtship of Eddie Howe. It seemed as if he was destined to be a fall guy; an uninspiring, unknown - despite consistent success in 20 years on the trackside - hauled halfway across the world from a post in Japan with little time to effect the wholesale changes to the disintegrating squad that had been culpable for Celtic’s bid of a 10th consecutive title coming apart at the seams.

In such a scenario, seven days confined to a small space alone with your thoughts, would appear a shortcut to becoming racked with destructive neurosis. For the singular Postecoglou, though, quarantine only fuelled his quest; allowed him to “exorcise demons” as a precursor to doing the same for a club that seemed bedevilled last season but which he is set to anoint with a 10th title in 11 seasons following a Premier Sports League Cup win in December.

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"You understand there's a massive responsibility as manager of this club, and know there's a fairly major rebuild needed. I got my head round that pretty early,” he said. “I had a week of isolation in the hotel room, where I could exercise all my demons and any doubts I had in terms of the enormity it. Once I got here, I didn't have time to think about it too much because what happens then is it becomes overwhelming if you think about everything you need to do. It was step-by-step, trying to be really disciplined. There was no doubt the beginning was going to be really rocky in one way or other because it was going to take time to embed the football style but I just had to stay disciplined through that to make sure I took every step I thought we needed to take to get to a position where we were going to be competitive this year.

“Absolutely [I had to work in that hotel room]. I had no time to waste. Everybody knows the story by now but I was brought in pretty late in the piece. There wasn't a time where I could sit back and take in the landscape of what we needed to do. As soon as I got appointed, even before I got to the the UK, when I was still in Japan I'd started mapping out the steps we needed to take. The blueprint was there but putting that into practice was going to be the challenging bit.

“You wouldn’t have human nature if you didn’t have [self doubt]. You’ll never improve if you think that you have certainty about everything. We saw that this week [with Real Madrid and Manchester City] – in the 89th minute you’re in a Champions League final and inside two minutes your whole world changes. Does that make you a good coach or a bad coach? There’s always a fine line in football. You always have doubts – am I doing the right thing? Am I making the right decision? Did I react well to circumstances? But through that there’s a core of values and beliefs that get you through that because that’s what you rely on, ultimately, in that moment of doubt. I always judge a decision on the time I made it rather than the consequences of it because that’s how you get better – you go, I wouldn’t have made a different decision although the outcome wasn’t great. I’d have made exactly the same decision because I made it on the basis of what I believe in. The belief system is what I always rely on.”

The tale that will be told to future generations of Celtic supporters is how a middle-aged antipodean created a vibrant, unstoppable new team, almost from scratch, within three months…and instantly became so beloved by the club’s support it was as if he was suddenly their favourite uncle. A man, not so much with a wanderlust, but an enthusiasm for broadening life experience - a product of his family pitching up in Australia from Greece when he was five-years-old with no language skills or means of sustaining themselves, he reasons - that now leads to questions over how long his Celtic stint will be sufficiently engaging for him, and whether he has a managerial bucketlist that will require he explore different horizons. The club’s support would appear able to rest easy, for the meantime, on those fronts.

Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou during yesterday's match against Hearts. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

“It’s not something I’ve put a lot of thought into it. A manager’s existence can change pretty quickly – you’re always working against some sort of clock somewhere. At the moment I love being part of this football club. If my competitive juices are flowing and I can see something special being built, I don’t get agitated about doing something else. I’ve always moved when I’ve felt I’ve accomplished something and hopefully in the next seven days we have some real fantastic success. But that was never the endgame for me – the endgame was always to build a team people talk about long after I’m gone. For the most part that’s happened at clubs I’ve managed.

"I don't have a bucket list as such, I love the challenge. I probably don't coach my best if I get comfortable, I love that little bit of the unknown, it tends to bring out the best of me and that'll always be in me - where's the next leap I can make? I haven't had too many stumbles along the way. If I have a major stumble at some point it may re-align my vision of what the next step is. But I'm enjoying it at the moment and at this club I've just scratched the surface. It's the first year of trying to build something that will be special."

Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou celebrates with the Premier Sports Cup trophy after the 2-1 win over Hibs at Hampden in December. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)
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