How League Cup win can propel Ange Postecoglou to success like his Celtic predecessors

The winning of the League Cup – whatever the branding – has never been an end in itself for Celtic. And it is the portents offered up by the club’s 20th success in a competition, courtesy of the 2-1 final victory over Hibs, that could have such significance for Ange Postecoglou and his reconstructed, revitalised Celtic team.

Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou (centre) with the Premier Sports Cup. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)
Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou (centre) with the Premier Sports Cup. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

The Australian now becomes the club’s sixth summer managerial appointment over the past three decades to snare the first piece of domestic silverware available to them. In doing so he follows on from Brendan Rodgers, Ronny Deila, Gordon Strachan, Martin O’Neill and Wim Jansen. Crucially, what this sextet have in common is that landing the League Cup proved a launchpad for title success in the same season.

Six months into his tenure, Postecoglou is already beloved by the Celtic faithful in almost embarrassing fashion. They have fallen for him like doe-eyed teenagers because of the personality he has brought to their club - both in terms of what he has injected into their team, and what he exhibits in consistently demonstrating emotional intelligence, and no little humour, as the club’s public face. Heck, never mind anything else, he is adored because Kyogo Furuhashi, he has given them a player in the two-goal final matchwinner who feels like a gift from God so scintillatingly and sublimely can he produce to puncture defences - his delightful 30-yard first-time lob for what proved the 72nd matchwinner the sort of showpiece moment sure to take on a life of its own through endless replay.

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Yet, Postecoglou’s absolute cementing in the Celtic support’s hearts will require the cinch Premiership to be ensconced in the club’s trophy come May. After all, this was the club’s 13th domestic trophy snared of the past 16 contested. But, it is the possible reverberations it can prompt across the coming months that accounts for what matters above all else about the Premier Sports Cup triumph.

Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou with the trophy. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

Seer-like, the 56-year-old had stated beforehand that what he understood about finals was that they invariably produced challenging moments, and never ran smoothly, whatever expectations. Against an Easter Road side struggling for form and without a manager, the Hampden occasion panned out exactly as Postecoglou had anticipated. Celtic required to deal with adversity in losing the opener - only for Furuhashi to restore parity within 14 seconds of play - before requiring to cling on as the Leith club valiantly threw everything at them in the closing minutes.

Progress at a club like Celtic will always be measured in silverware, but their successful sides must measure up in terms of stoicism. As Celtic hit the buffers in pursuit of a record 10th title last season, both stoicism and silverware spectacularly deserted them. Within five months of football, Postecoglou, while integrating a near team’s worth of new arrivals and dealing with an injury list that at times must have made Celtic’s treatment room resemble a MASH unit, he has restored the club’s ability to prevail in the crucial moments; in moments that deliver honours, no less.

As it stands, Celtic are the form team in the country. In the domestic domain, they now boast 13 victories in a 14 game run without a loss, and in all competitions are on a seven-game winning sequence. There were concerns that Postecoglou’s football purism, his desire to attack and entertain in all circumstances and prize performances, would see him lose sight of the need to find a way, whatever that might be. The past week, courtesy of an 97th minute winner grabbed away to Ross County, and a certain defensive doggedness hauling them over the line at Hampden, suggests Postecoglou’s teams can marry artistry with a certain artisanship when required.

The combination supplies them with a potency that should allow them to push champions Rangers all the way. Essentially, their three away losses in the first month of the championship accounts for the four-point lead the Ibrox men currently hold over them. The renewal since August means they are now enjoying their best spell of form in well over a year.

The experiences of Martin O'Neill (left) at Leicester inspire Neil Lennon he can shoulder the pressures resulting from Celtic current predicament. (Photo by SNS Group/Alan Harvey)

Their annus horriblis of 2020-21 will never be forgotten; never again is any Scottish club likely to have the opportunity to win a record 10 straight titles. But, just as it seemed they were bedevilled by misstep after misstep throughout that closed doors, closed world season played in empty stadiums, so Postecoglou’s sure-footedness is allowing the club’s support to believe possibilities for true rehabilitation are firmly opening up again.

The first step was achieved by – as the Celtic manager admitted afterwards - taking a risk on the fitness of Furuhashi only 10 days on from the Japanese striker damaging his hamstring in the win over Real Betis. It appeared not just a bold, but potentially foolhardly, move with three league games to come in the next fortnight… the hosting of Rangers on January 2 to complete the pre-winter shutdown programme already looming mighty large.

Postecoglou joked the other day he was still waiting for his degree in hunches to come through the post when asked what his hunch was over the prospect of Furuhashi returning to action at Hampden. Ultimately, though, the Celtic manager had a hunch his team would need their Japanese talisman, and by Jiminy, did he call that right with the 26-year-old fashioning two exquisite finishes to claim the club a trophy and take his goal tally in Scotland to 16 over only 22 starts and three substitute appearances.

Furuhashi was Postecoglou’s statement signing. From the July moment the forward pitched up in Scotland following the £4.6m deal agreed with Vissel Kobe, he staked his all on the little buzzbomb striker proving incendiary for opponents from watching him prove so across his time in charge of J-League rivals Yokahama F.Marinos. It is fitting then that Furuhashi should be front and centre of a day that lit the touchpaper on Postecoglou’s endeavours as Celtic manager producing celebratory fireworks.

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