Opinion: Why patience is needed for Ange Postecoglou at Tottenham

Tottenham suffered an embarrassing 3-0 defeat away to Fulham last time out, dealing the club’s top-four hopes a blow; although manager Postecoglou insists that isn’t the target.

Between 2015/16 and 2018/19 Tottenham enjoyed four straight seasons of qualifying for the Champions League, since then, Spurs achieved that feat once.

The introduction of Ange Postecoglou in the summer raised doubts over Tottenham making a return to Europe’s elite competition any time soon.

One fan on Twitter posted, following the immediate conclusion of the season, ‘Where do you think Spurs will rank in the league next season?’, (X) the replies offer a damning sense of perspective. One fan stated ‘Relegation is on the cards. The club is so torn apart that it feels it’s beyond repair as long as Levy is there’ (X), the rest followed the same rhetoric as another fan who stated, ‘with Kane 8-10, without 12-14’ (X).

It wasn’t just the Spurs fans who expected Postecoglou’s side to be well adrift of the top four though, ‘The Guardian Writers allocated 8th place to Tottenham in their predictions (The Guardian), One Football also had placed Spurs in 8th (One Football) and even Football Manager had simulated a Kane-less Spurs to succumb to 7th come the end of the season (Football.London).

The speculation around and eventual exit of Harry Kane in the summer was a monumental issue that Ange Postecoglou had to deal with in the early stages of his tenure.

Perhaps it is a case of Kane being out of sight and out of mind for Spurs fans, but the exit of the England captain and club’s top goal scorer is something that fans had been bracing themselves for years for, with the expectation being a huge drop off in results and performance following the exit of the talisman.

That didn’t become the case however, perhaps down to responsibility for goalscoring and reliance on Kane being shared but most likely down to the impressive stewardship of the situation by Tottenham’s new boss.

We now find ourselves with ten games left of the season, and Spurs are remarkably within touching distance of the top four, even if fifth may be enough to qualify for the Champions League. So why is Postecoglou bucking the trend of Spurs managers of the past in denying that the top four should be celebrated, and is the Australian destined for things beyond the top four at Spurs?

In a press conference, Ange simply stated how ‘I don’t see fourth as the prize. This club has finished fourth before. It’s finished second before’, following up on his honest answer by claiming ‘fourth is not my end goal’ (Football.London).

It’s an answer that the Spurs manager has consistently offered throughout the season, in some ways it mirrors Antonio Conte’s sayings of the past when he repeated how he felt he was better than just challenging for fourth, a message that wore down upon Spurs fans and clearly the players, suggesting the Italian felt he was above the club.

That’s where Postecoglou’s message is different. The Australian is clearly a smart communicator, as proven by his impressive handling of press conferences, but Ange does continuously state how he believes fourth shouldn’t be the aim, but unlike Conte, his point of reference is always the football club.

In the same press conference Postecoglou claimed ‘I don’t want to finish fourth if we haven’t grown as a team and developed as a team’ and that ‘we’re creating something that is going to bring us success next year’ (Football.London).

These statements always see the 58-year-old manager refer to ‘us’ or ‘we’, the points made are always about a collective and intensify the feeling that Postecoglou is creating a siege mentality at Tottenham, an atmosphere that fans perhaps haven’t seen amongst the players since the earlier years of Pochettino’s reign.

Ange Postecoglou
(James Veysey/Shutterstock for London Football Awards)

Postecoglou needs time at Tottenham to deliver trophies

Dejan Kulusevksi has supported this theory in his recent ‘letter to fans’ via the Players Tribune, the Swede said, ‘I already know that the day I leave Spurs, the part I’ll miss the most is the dressing room’, following on to say, ‘I think a lot of our family atmosphere is down to Ange’ (Players Tribune).

It’s not only Kulusevski who claimed that Ange is changing Tottenham’s dressing room. Vice-captain, Cristian Romero, spoke to Football London before the start of the season, explaining how there was a ‘divide’ between the players and Postecoglou’s predecessors and it felt as though ‘not everyone was pulling the same direction’. When then asked about the arrival of the ex-Celtic head coach, Romero outlined that he thought he was ‘exactly the manager that the club needed’ (Football.London).

Tottenham’s sense of togetherness and unity is likely to only strengthen as Postecoglou continues to recruit players that fit his requirements. Much has been made of the manager’s famous ‘calls’ to players that appear to almost always convince a player to join.

One of the most popular quotes was from James Maddison who revealed that speaking to Spurs’ new head coach was ‘really important’ and that Postecoglou informed him in their chat that ‘you’re going to see a completely different Spurs team under me’. Maddison later revealed the quote made him think ‘wow’ and that the belief the manager had mirrored the midfielder’s own self-belief (Daily Mail).

Ange’s desire for good characters has been well documented with him stating before the start of the season ‘One wrong character in your dressing room is a lot of problems. I will always forsake the quality of a player for the right character’ (TNT Sport).

Postecoglou is following a successful blueprint on and off the pitch too. Liverpool manager, Jurgen Klopp mirrored Ange’s words about the importance of a clear philosophy and good dressing room in 2020 as he said, ‘our dressing room allows players to develop potential’ and that working with good characters makes his job ‘massively easier’ (Liverpool Website).

Klopp has also got similarities on the field with the Tottenham manager. Liverpool and Spurs both dominate the ball in their playing styles, actually having the fourth and fifth-highest average possession in the league, with Tottenham averaging 60.6% and Liverpool averaging 60.2% (FBref).

Therefore, why does it feel as though Liverpool are threatening every time you see them on the ball, whereas with Postecoglou’s team, it can often feel as though it’s a patient waiting game that often leaves fans feeling as though more could have been made of the dominance in the game, even if Spurs have won convincingly.

The difference is the two teams’ average shot-creating actions. Statistics display that Liverpool carve the most shot-creating actions in the division by some way, averaging 33.57 per 90 minutes. This explains why it feels as though their possession is always well-used and meaningful, in comparison, Spurs have the fourth highest in the division with 27.64, which explains why Tottenham’s possession can often feel useless at times (FBref).

Part of this is likely due to the shift in playing style from not only last season under Antonio Conte, who only averaged 50% possession (FBref), but also the various managers that have played low-possession, patient football ever since Pochettino departed in 2019.

The shift towards having so much more possession in games requires an adjustment period, players need to understand what they must do with the ball and how to attack teams that are set up to defend, rather than trying to be lethal on the counterattack, a sequence that was habitual under previous managers, Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte.

Postecoglou clearly understands this, proven by him stating that ‘fourth would be great if I feel like we’re growing as a team and we’re creating something that is going to bring us success next year’ (Football.London).

Fans may have to align with this perspective of progression in the team’s philosophy and playing style over league position. Pochettino and many that have followed him cited Tottenham having to go through a ‘painful rebuild’, and although Ange has made the rebuild exciting and enjoyable, fans must be prepared to suffer losses against Fulham and Wolves that are results of teething problems in the embryotic stages of Postecoglou’s time at Spurs.

Keep up to date with all the latest Tottenham news and opinion by following SpursWeb’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.

Related Topics

Have something to tell us about this article? Let us know