Ange Postecoglou Celtic revamp insight as Steve Kean opens up on Melbourne Victory spell
The 54-year-old Scot has never crossed paths with the current Celtic manager. But the pair have trod similar paths, just taking different routes. Kean’s first club was Celtic, coming through the ranks in the mid-1980s before being unable to make the breakthrough as fellow home-grown midfielders Peter Grant and Paul McStay sewed up berths.
The former Blackburn Rovers manager is now back living at his Surrey family home following his latest far-flung adventures having ended early this year when he departed Melbourne Victory - Postecoglou’s last club job in his homeland, which gave way to stints with the national team and then Japanese side Yokohama F Marinos.
Kean’s year in Australia, where he was first assistant to Grant Brebner at Victory before stepping up for the closing months when the former Hibs man was deposed, ensures he became fully versed in the cult of Postecoglou down under. The country’s football followers are both incredibly protective of the 56-year-old, and desperate to see him succeeding in his highest profile posting, following his outstanding coaching successes with Brisbane Roar, South Melbourne, the Socceroos and Yokohama.
Kean is also fully versed in the ups and downs Postecoglou has endured across his early months in his home city of Glasgow. It isn’t a place to which he often returns. However, four years as one of the part-time coaches delivering the SFA’s licence courses - a coterie that includes Jack Ross and John Hughes - ensures he is abrest of the Scottish scene.
Kean admires the boldness with which Postecoglou has attacked his complete reformulation at Parkhead, both in personnel and playing style. He recognises, though, that the Celtic manager now finds himself in a delicate situation - one that so many in Australia have all digits crossed he will come through.
“I remember speaking to Paul [McStay] about Ange, Paul in Australia for the past 11 years and involved with Victory now,” he said. “He really is seen as the flag-bearer for Australian football abroad, someone who can earn respect for the game that hasn’t really been forthcoming. And he is liked so much, not just for that and because of what he has achieved, but because all those who have worked under him have taken such relish from doing so.
“I got a sense of what he had done for Victory being there. He might not have won a title in his 18 months, but he laid the groundwork for that being earned when his assistant Kevin [Muscat] stepped up and continued with the style of play and people he had put in place. Many good people, who were still there when I was. In fact, it shows how valued Ange’s approach is that Kevin has now replaced him at Yokohama.
“Celtic are a bit up and down now because it will take time to get them where Ange wants them to be. As a coach, the ideal scenario is that you introduce change gradually as you adapt your approach to what the players you have at your disposal are best suited, as you create the squad you want across a couple of windows. Ange doesn’t seem to have done that, he is demanding this complete focus on attack and bringing the whole team into that. It is great the goals are coming - Celtic fans love to see their team score and I believe in the league they have far more than anyone else - but the balance has yet to be found.
“Teams believe they will have chances, believe they can hit them on the break and, especially in continental competition, the good sides can be absolutely vicious on the counter. I think that has been seen with Celtic conceding eight goals across their Europa League group games against Bayer Leverkusen and Real Betis. Ange has gone all in immediately at Celtic, but it isn’t a club where that will be accepted if the cost is goals that deny wins. Right across his career, his teams have been capable of delivering championships within two years, but he has to get to that stage quicker in Glasgow, which maybe explains why he has had to rush the total changeover.”
Kean is patently a student of the game as he is “keeping my eye in”, he says, with his tutoring of budding coaches on a worldwide basis. One of the few pluses of the pandemic is that sessions, through zoom, can bring together global participants. As an individual, he has always had a broad outlook, becoming fluent in Portuguese when he kick-started his playing career with Académica Coimbra after leaving Celtic. He had a season as assistant head coach at Real Sociedad in 2007-08 ahead of a bruising 21 months in the frontline at Blackburn Rovers before he was off again on his travels, winning the title with Brunei club DPMM, who he managed from 2013 to 2017. He declares that a “fantastic experience”, the Glaswegian shielded from the nation’s repressive regime in fronting a club owned by the Crown Prince of Brunei, Prince Al-Muhtadee Billah, its former goalkeeper.
Merely running a first-team when he arrived, he developed DPMM so that a reserve team and academy system was introduced before a short spell as technical director at CFI Crete pre-empted his Australian sojourn. And now he would have no objections to making good on a near two-decades worth of coaching experience in his homeland.
"I don’t have a need to go far afield, I just go wherever opportunities arise, and I would happily work in Scotland with the right offer,” he said. “I just love being on a training pitch, that is where I am happiest. I’ve been a manager, an assistant, a coach and a technical director and it is football that has driven me, and always will.”
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