'That's when I was pretending to be a journalist' - Ange Postecoglou's unearthed column shows he's ready for Rangers v Celtic battle

Of all the ways Ange Postecoglou’s coaching pedigree was impugned the moment he was lined up as Celtic manager in May, the most ridiculous was that he wouldn’t “get” the intensity with which the post is infused.

Celtic boss Ange Postecoglou will take charge of his first Old Firm clash at Ibrox on Sunday. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)
Celtic boss Ange Postecoglou will take charge of his first Old Firm clash at Ibrox on Sunday. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

That he wouldn’t get the all-consuming enmity between Celtic and Rangers through having only operated at club level in - what the uninitiated chose to decree were - the bland footballing backwaters of Australia and Japan.

To be fully disabused of this crass notion, you need only read a column by the 56-year-old published in the Herald Sun in which he chronicles his experience of helming Melbourne Victory in his first game back in October 2012...which just happened to pit them against their ultimate derby antagonist in the form of Melbourne City.

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It was lost 2-1 by Postecoglou’s side, but what was gained in terms of insight is revealed by his brilliant evocation as to the totality of what goes on the line when the bitterest football adversaries go head-to-head. The column demonstrates, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Celtic manager has full appreciation of the crazed demands and desires he must confront in leading his side into footballing battle against Rangers for the first time. Even as he has acknowledged in recent days that every derby is different. The Glasgow version of the derby, with its desperate sectarian underbelly, being more different than most...

Over-wrought emotions are universal when such sporting antipathy is centre stage, though, and Postecoglou recognised that in relating how he sought to understand why the Melbourne match-up was “not just another game” as he faced up to the worst possible outcome.

“A defeat in the derby followed you everywhere,” he wrote. “There was no escaping the hurt, whether in public, in the workplace or sometimes at home. And the victors were not shy in taking every opportunity to rub it in. Sympathy, along with victory, had left the building. I was the newcomer, but the scars of previous battles were present in those around me. Past games and incidents were remembered with crystal clear clarity and the emotions of victory and defeat had left indelible marks on all the participants.”

All would be true if his sparkling revival of Celtic is dulled by defeat in Govan. He might not want to write about such a scenario again, mind… “Yeah, that was about 10 years ago and I was pretending to be a journalist!” said Postecoglou, the piece actually published when he was Australia’s national team manager in 2014. “I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in a number of games that hold that kind of significance and you take something away from all of them. The experience, the build-up to it, it’s all part of it and you come out of the other side, usually, with the knowledge that you have added to the person you are. Because as human beings these experiences shape us. These games were all unique and have different things attached to them.

“Does it prepare you for this particular derby? Probably not. Each derby is unique and this one is definitely unique. It’s one of the biggest fixtures in global football so I am looking forward to that experience and I am sure I will come out the other side enhanced as a person.”

In his column, Postecoglou talks of having “avoided the gaze” of a Victory official who hammered home the point to him that a derby wasn’t just another game.

“As coaches we can say it’s only one game of football, it’s only three points, you don’t get extra,” he said. “That’s true as a coach or manager. But it’s not lost on me that this means more than three points to our supporters. I know what this will mean if we can get a victory. Particularly away from home.

“I know what it will mean to our supporters but even for our players it is a big game and there is extra significance.

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“As much as managers want to take a calculated view and say that we won’t get carried away if we are successful and not get too down if we lose, it’s a fixture that means a lot to the people at this football club and you carry that responsibility into the game.”

Postecoglou - who confirms right-back capture Josip Juranovic could be involved but this week’s other new arrival, Irish defender Liam Scales, is “unlikely” to do so - sees opportunity, as well as disadvantage in the fact that there will be no Celtic supporters in Ibrox for the clash.

“From the fixture’s point of view and its significance around the world it would be great to have two sets of supporters there just for the picture that emanates, how important this derby is to the city,” he said. “We go in there knowing it is not going to be a friendly environment. We know we are going to have the whole stadium up against us and we have got to rise to that challenge and try to overcome whatever impediments that puts in front of us in terms of how we play our football. That’s a fantastic incentive for us. Because we know if we come through that to the other side it will give us strength moving forward.

“We want to be successful of course but just going there, playing our football in that kind of environment is going to make us stronger. And while they won’t be in the stadium there will definitely be millions who will be backing the boys on Sunday. They won’t be walking out there alone, that’s for sure.”

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