Why Celtic's Champions League tilt cannot be defining for Ange Postecoglou

There is a need to rethink the importance of the Champions League to the nascent Celtic career of Ange Postecoglou. A rethink in danger of passing some media commentators by.

Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou pictured during the goalless draw with Bristol City on Wednesday. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou pictured during the goalless draw with Bristol City on Wednesday. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

It was stated by one in recent days that the Greek-Australian would struggle to shake off the false start that would result should his first competitive test with the Parkhead side engender an inglorious outcome.

Yet, this does a disservice to the realism being expressed within the club’s on-line community; a constituency not ordinarily noted for patience and understanding. It also fails to recognise a lesson from history.

The home opening leg of Celtic’s second qualifying round Champions League tie against FC Midtjylland, in rolling around this Tuesday, has come hideously early for Postecoglou. His first emblematic signing - in the form of £3.4m-costing Israeli winger Liel Abada - is just in the door. Meanwhile, there is a host of selection issues to be faced down by the 55-year-old beyond how quickly he can integrate the teenager. Injuries could deprive him of a number of established performers, most notably Odsonne Edouard. And, ahead of Preston’s visit to Glasgow’s east end of Saturday, he has only had three friendlies against modest opposition to attempt to knit together a team. A task made all the more problematic through working with a squad light on senior personnel in a number of key areas owing to the departures of a clutch of loanees after a ruinous season.

All of which hardly bodes well for the encounters with the runners-up from the Danish league who, unlike Celtic, progressed to the Champions League last season. A campaign wherein they claimed creditable draws with Liverpool and Atalanta. So bleak does the picture seem for a Celtic side that were 25 points adrift of title winners Rangers in May, though, that there is a willingness to strain any blame for Postecoglou if they crash and burn out the Champions League this season. At least ahead of the touch paper being lit at 7.45pm on Tuesday....

That is as it should be, of course. Judgements ought to be reserved on what the 55-year-old is capable of achieving with Celtic until he can select a team he has constructed and coached to a point where it carries his obvious imprimatur.

He hardly has an inexhaustible supply of time to arrive at that, but it doesn’t evaporate whatever happens in the two legs against FC Midtjylland.

In part, that is because - even with the scant evidence obtained through the matches down south against Sheffield Wednesday, Charlton and Bristol City - there have been signs of Celtic exhibiting the identity he will demand of them. They have displayed an aggression and intensity in their front-foot attacking intent and ball-winning that has belied how few hours he has had to mould them on the training pitch.

Indeed, it is a credit to him that, merely with a raft of pimply youths and handful of mainstays, he has given rise to the possibility that we may all have been guilty of over-playing how denuded is the pool with which he has been forced to operate. As a rule, the players he deployed down south appeared engaged, and not only in tune with what was being asked of them, but capable of delivering on that. It isn’t just youngsters such as new arrival Liam Shaw, and academy products Karamoko Dembele, Adam Montgomery and Owen Moffat that have shown up well. No-one is claiming that Greg Taylor or Anthony Ralston are the solutions to Celtic’s recent full-back deficiencies long-term. However, the pair have looked as if they could be serviceable options short-term.

Martin O’Neill was able to transform the club’s fortunes two decades ago, when Celtic last found themselves so humiliated by Rangers, not just with fresh blood. He laid the groundwork for a dramatic turnaround by initially squeezing turns out of such as Bobby Petta, Jonathan Gould and Olivier Tebily. It is what smart coaches do, and Postecoglou’s array of successes in a number of different environments point to the fact he can be placed in that bracket.

It still seem eminently likely he could struggle to craft together the disparate body parts of the current squad to fashion success over FC Midtjylland over the next week-and-a-half.

However, there seems an understanding from the Celtic support that, in the event of such a Champions League exit, a black mark would not be placed against Postecoglou that would prove indelible. It could be no other way when Celtic managers have never been judged solely on Champions League qualifying campaigns - just as well with the club coming up short in five of their past nine such sorties.

Gordon Strachan was able to enjoy enormous success across four years at the Celtic helm from 2005 and 2009. He did so with three titles and two Champions League last 16 appearances. All of which followed his tenure at Celtic - wherein he inherited a team that came within two minutes of landing the title the previous season - opening with him presiding over the club’s heaviest defeat in European competition. A coal-black evening in which Celtic were evicerated 5-0 away to Artmedia Bratislava in the second qualifying round of the Champions League.

Postecoglou won’t want to test whether he can exhibit the same bouncebackability skills that Strachan showed subsequent to that. But, this year more than any other, there seems a general acceptance that a new Celtic manager cannot be defined by what happens to him in his opening week or so of competitive continental football.

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