Ange Postecoglou on 'endless road' at Celtic: 'I’m not going to sell my team short'
It is doubtful Ange Postecoglou has had sufficient downtime for a trip to see the hulking cantilever structure of the Forth Bridge in all its majesty.
The Celtic manager, though, would surely see how the legend of the never-concluded repainting of the UNESCO World Heritage Site pertains to his determination to continually apply new glosses in his footballing endeavours.
The hosting of Real Betis in their Europa League closer on Thursday will preclude judgements being made on Celtic’s progress since the 4-3 defeat endured in Seville as they began their Group G campaign three months ago. A loss followed up with a 1-0 reverse away to Livingston. It could be no other way when the spine of his team will be formed by fringe players owing to the opportunity for resting players afforded by them already knowing they will finish third place in their section and drop into the Conference League knock-out stages. Yet, even if he wasn’t surely about to give such as Kyogo Furuhashi, Callum McGregor, David Turnbull and Tom Rogic the night off because the Betis encounter will give way to seven games in 22 days - a sequence that includes the Premier Sports Cup final - he would have no great interest in speculating how far along the road he is in reaching his desired destination with Celtic. The 56-year-old just doesn’t allow himself to plot his professional course in such fashion.
“It’s an endless road, mate, so it’s hard for me to tell you now where we are at because I don’t know where we are going to end up,” he said. “My hope is we’re going to have success at this football club. What that success looks like I’m not going to put a limit on it, a cap on it. I’ll not try and tell you ‘this is where I see us in a year or two years’ because the way I’ve managed my whole career is if I started making targets then if you succeeded in making those targets you are left scratching your head about why you sold yourself and your team short. I’m not going to sell this group of players or my team short by saying where our end point is. There is no end point. It’s just an endless road to improve and us trying to create some special moments for this football club and ultimately have success, that’s it.
“Are we further down that endless road than we were at the beginning? Absolutely. We have set some markers down and we are progressing for sure. How far along…? If I said to you we were halfway then we’d have to adjust that in a couple of months time because we’d hope by then to be flying, and then I’d say we’re not even halfway yet. So we just keep going.”
A blistering start for Celtic in Seville that claimed them a two-goal lead inside 27 minutes, gave way to the concession of four goals before a late counter created a nervy end for the home side. It seemed then that highs and lows on the night betrayed Celtic’s attacking menace and defensive shortcomings. On reflection, it might have said more about the strength of Manuel Pellegrini’s men. In the 17 games they have faced since that confrontation, they have won 11, drawn twice and lost only four times, claiming a famous victory over Barcelona in the Nou Camp only at the weekend for a fifth straight success. Celtic have enjoyed similarly strong form over the same number of games, winning 12, losing three and drawing three. But Postecoglou’s men don’t play in La Liga, of course.
“Look, I think we have made progress in European competition, obviously, domestically as well,” said the Celtic manager of his team having posted nine wins and a draw from their past 10 outings against Scottish opposition. “From where we started a while ago in Midtjylland the team has obviously evolved and every game we’ve kinda got a little bit more self belief in our football, against really good opposition. We’ve had it pretty tough in our [Europa League] group. You are talking about Leverkusen, who are in third spot in the Bundesliga, Betis, third spot in La Liga, and Ferencvaros top of their league. It’s been a really good test for us with pretty much a new team and I think we’ve made progress in every game we’ve played. In the start of the last game I thought we played really well and then after there were parts we got punished, and then we emerged from that. As each game has gone on I think we’ve sorta made a little more progress in terms of the team we want to be.”
With nothing resting on the outcome - except for the £535,000 that would be banked for a win - it can feel that the Betis rematch is of little more than nuisance value. Postecoglou would never publicly buy into that assessment. “It won’t be meaningless tomorrow. The players who we put out are all Celtic players,” he said. “They train with us every day and they represent this football club. We expect them to uphold our standards and play the football we want. It’s an important game. We’ve already had a couple of injuries and we have these games coming up – I need guys to be ready. You saw Liam Scales. He hasn’t played much but he came on for 15 minutes on Sunday and made a real impact [with a goal in the 3-0 win away to Dundee United]. We need other guys to do that and this game is an opportunity to show they are ready.”
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