Sometimes, a managerial appointment can instantly reinvigorate a football club. A highly-revered and frantically-pursued manager storms into a club in much need of repair, with his formidable reputation and glistening CV signalling a statement of ambition from the club’s hierarchy as pundits unanimously acclaim him as the perfect choice to sort this mess out, once and for all.
Sometimes instead, it’s a 57-year-old Australian who has never managed in a major league. Such is the dismissive narrative that perennial underdog Ange Postecoglou has professionally fought for more than 25 years in football management, which started in the footballing wasteland that was Australia in the 1990s, and now enters the latest of its countless extraordinary chapters as he takes charge of Tottenham Hotspur – following the North London giants’ unsuccessful pursuit of a number of football’s most prestigious coaches.
Postecoglou will feel deja vu in this position, having also been brought in as a late alternative by Celtic two years ago following the collapse of the club’s deal to hire Eddie Howe. A complete unknown, his arrival to European football was widely derided – he was, in his own words, a ‘joke’ – but as he got to work on an extensive rebuild of his Hoops squad, his captivating personality and exceptional brand of football slowly but surely created a sense that this was a match made in heaven. Signing no less than 15 players in a first season written off by many as a transition year, he sealed a memorable league and cup double, making a mockery of the supposedly mammoth task at hand.
A look at Ange’s track record indicates that this should not have been such a surprise. 20 years consisting of numerous water-into-wine jobs on the other side of the world could simply not seem to earn Postecoglou his richly-deserved European opportunity, as rejection after rejection left him questioning whether it would ever come. His Premier League breakthrough arriving at the age of 57 is a fantastic vindication of the saying that good things come to those who wait.
“It was just that my achievements were swiped away pretty easily because of the fact that they were on the other side of the world,” Ange told the Sydney Morning Herald in 2021.
“My achievements even in my own country weren’t valued because apparently I hadn’t coached in Europe. At the same time, there was never any doubt that people were taking notice and I guess after a while, people do just look at my record.”
This level is where Ange will feel he belongs. An iron-willed character, his impact has been felt everywhere that he has managed – simply landing such a high-profile role will not satisfy him. It is a mentality which defines his leadership, helping him transform Brisbane Roar from second-last place to lifting their first ever A-League title with a 36-match unbeaten run in 2011, defeating Heung-Min Son’s South Korea to win a historic first Asian Cup for Australia in 2015 and defying a below-par budget to deliver Yokohama Marinos’ first Japanese title in since 2004 in his last role in Asia.
It is a proven record of consistent overachievement – and best of all, the football is enthralling. A passionate believer in a dominant, possession-based playing style, ‘Angeball’ has developed over the years into what now is a notably similar system to that of Pep Guardiola, without losing that old-school sprinkle of Postecoglou’s former mentor, Ferenc Puskás. Ange’s plan B is to simply do plan A better – if it isn’t aggressive, brave and attacking, it isn’t Ange Postecoglou.
The Pep-style 4-3-3 was used almost exclusively during Ange’s Celtic tenure – characterised by regularly inverting fullbacks, extremely wide wingers and a lot of rotations. It was a system which, when paired with an excellently recruited group of players, became unstoppable for the rest of Scotland as the Hoops broke the long-standing goalscoring record of the Europe-conquering Lisbon Lions of 1967. A keen observer of other coaches, Postecoglou has also deployed 4-2-3-1 and 3-2-4-1 shapes with Marinos and Australia respectively, retaining his all-out attacking principles.
Plenty of managers around the world of football today have depths of tactical knowledge – what makes Ange so unique is that he combines it with emotional intelligence. Unashamedly straightforward in his man-management style, you will seldom find a former player of his who will not speak of their personal admiration for him. Postecoglou galvanises his players through pure authenticity, stirring a mutual belief in his beloved brand of football which invariably produces convincing results.
He openly avoids developing any kind of one-to-one relationship with players, instead remaining as absent as possible from the dressing room in a ‘less is more’ approach to leadership. Former players speak of his distinctive demeanour, sometimes observing hours of training in complete silence, ensuring that when his time to speak does come, his every word is listened to.
“I like to keep a distance between me and the players because the biggest responsibility I have is to make decisions,” Postecoglou told The Sun last year.
“I don’t think any of the players will ever say they got close to me, I’d never sit down and have a coffee with them. It’s human nature if you like someone or dislike them, then it can impact you – I would like to think the players know I have their back and I will fight to the end for them.”
Ange arrives in North London with Spurs in a time of desperate need. Few could have expected such a turbulent 2022-23 campaign for the Lilywhites, as Antonio Conte’s painfully drawn-out, acrimonious departure left the club in complete disarray for the closing months of the season and they now find themselves without European football for the first time in 13 years. Beyond the on-pitch failure, indispensable club figure Harry Kane’s future is up in the air, with long-standing club-captain Hugo Lloris also possibly departing in what feels like a defining summer for the club (Mirror).
In order to navigate this multifaceted maze, Tottenham need a composed, unfazed, single-minded figurehead – and to his credit, that is exactly what Daniel Levy is appointing. In a period of ambiguity, Postecoglou will provide clarity with his unmistakable style of playing, as well as man-managing. An extremely busy transfer window is nothing new to Ange, and as his squad evolves rapidly, his focus will firmly be on who comes in – departures, even of players as significant as Kane, will be left to take care of themselves.
“If players want to go, I am not going to try to convince them to stay. They are in a much better place to decide where their careers are going, and what’s the best place for them,” he told The Herald in 2021.
“I just treat it as something that is happening in the background. What’s important to me is how they train, play and present themselves, that’s all I focus on. I leave outgoing players to other people – I am just working hard to bring some in.”
Ange Postecoglou’s arrival to the Premier League is a triumph for Australian football, a once-unthinkable feat for a thoroughly accomplished but widely unrecognised coach. All that now remains is for him to take on this mountainous challenge in the only way he knows how – front-foot, full-throttle, absolutely without fear.
Some of the biggest names in football management have failed to find the solution to Spurs’ trophy drought – it might just be the biggest unknown of them all who makes Tottenham Hotspur rise again.
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