As Ange Postecoglou arrives in Perth to start pre-season with Tottenham, KEEPUP’s DAVID WEINER sets the scene.
“It wasn’t a gamble, mate. It was a plan.”
It was in Tokyo, 2017, and the Australian national football side was on the cusp of either qualifying directly for the 2018 FIFA World Cup or spinning towards the dreaded play-off pathway.
This conversation included a question about how a line-up featuring the likes of Aaron Mooy, Jackson Irvine, Massimo Luongo and James Troisi must have vindicated his decision to phase out the Golden Generation of veterans when he took over in late 2013.
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Suddenly, I was being quoted back a headline by Ange Postecoglou from a piece months earlier. Verbatim. The stereotype around Ange Postecoglou’s obsession with football, to the minutest detail, was right in front of me.
The quoted piece was a chronology outlining the success of the players who had come in during his tenure; he had reminded me that the decision to move on Lucas Neill, and others, was not a gamble at all.
To some, it remained a point worthy of debate. To Postecoglou, he was steadfast. And years later, as he embarks on the most high-profile squad build of his career with the likes of Tottenham captain Hugo Lloris left behind in London and not touring Australia, hindsight proves his 2013 work was very much a plan, with important benefits for Australian football, including the 2015 Asian Cup triumph.
This story has stuck with me because of what it teaches about the power and responsibility of language.
In the media, we have a responsibility to use it judiciously, especially in this era, where language is used so flippantly, and without thought to the consequences of every word or for mistakes brazenly made through lack of care or attention to detail.
There is a duty to make sense of the chaos, agendas, and noise; to cut through with the common sense that helps readers, or in our case, fans, make informed decisions, form opinions and celebrate our game – especially important here in Australia, where the football media is so insular.
It is the power of language, and rhetoric, which has helped mould the aura of Ange Postecolgou, and which has already helped establish his presence at Spurs HQ over his opening fortnight formally in charge.
“It is probably my best and (most) effective weapon,” he said in a 2019 interview, when I asked how he coped in Japan without the ability to influence with language when he arrived.
But that, alone, shows that Postecoglou has an innate ability to adapt to new environments, with different budgets, cultures, dressing rooms, at a club or international level, even if he remains crystal clear with what he wants to achieve.
So, his first press conference as Tottenham boss was not to be missed, because every word was deliberate, well thought, researched and set the tone for the players in the dressing room he has inherited, and fans in the terraces who, if history repeats, will be chanting his name before long.
Celtic fans swooned over his press conferences and addresses; but some of the box office moments of the last two years came when he bristled as well; biting back at questions that warranted short shrift.
But to pin his success on this theatre alone would be foolish. There’s the tactical acumen, the extraordinary attention to detail, navigation of the transfer market and man management – both in who he moulds, and also who he lets go. The next couple of weeks will be fascinating – and a buffet of content for the local beat writers to feast on – as it becomes clear who is buying in, and who isn’t staying.
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South Melbourne. Brisbane Roar. Melbourne Victory. Australia. Yokohama. Celtic. Postecoglou’s way, or you’re out.
If Tottenham fans want to know what to expect, they just need to rewind the tape.
“At the end of the day I believed in it, and it was a matter of setting the environment and seeing which players and staff fitted in that environment and then try and find people that would take us to the next level,” he said about his Brisbane revolution in the Isuzu UTE A-League, way back in an interview prior to the 2011 finals series.
“I had a really clear idea about what I was going to do and I explained it to the players.”
He quipped: “Most of them were fine with it...the ones that stayed certainly were.“
Tottenham might be in a state of flux, but in luring Postecoglou, their fans can know exactly what to expect: a manager who invests emotionally in their story, and after a short bedding in period, will produce swashbuckling, high risk, high reward football – more often than not – landing in trophies. If he can do it at Spurs …. well, (insert relevant Tottenham not winning a trophy since 2007 gag here)!
He is also fearless.
After Yokohama F.Marinos had more possession than Manchester City in a 2019 friendly, he explained to me: “The teams I coach believe that if you play this way, you don’t adjust it and you don’t have any fear or hesitation because of the opposition.”
He added: “I certainly believe there is an avenue to at least challenge not just City, but teams that want to dominate; to take the game to them.”
It is a surreal moment in Australia’s football history to have a manager on the front and back pages, doing interviews on flagship current affairs programs, leading every sports site, being discussed on sport’s shows consumed by millions, and being described by Pep Guardiola as “incredible”.
Tottenham Hotspur appoint Ange Postecoglou. No matter how many times you say it, you have to pinch yourself it is not Fantasy.
Life comes at you fast. Or in this case, through sheer hard work, talent and single mindedness.
“The main reason I watch EPL is I am in a Fantasy Football League with my mates for the last 20 years,” he quipped during an interview in his time in Japan.
“And I don’t like losing.”
This is no longer fantasy, but the winning mentality is very real. To succeed, Postecoglou has to go where no non-European or South American manager has gone by proving the doubters wrong in the top rung of the Premier League.
But, that’s when Postecoglou is at his best. When the doubters loom large.
Many Socceroos fans did not understand his decision to leave prior to the 2018 World Cup.
Now, back home, in a week where Australian football is at the centre of the football universe, it is serendipitous Postecoglou is here, with a Premier League club.
As Socceroos boss, he wanted to change the game and have Australians talking about.
Taking the long road, he is still blazing a trail, and, potentially, changing the sport for Australians, Asians, and non-Europeans, by being front and centre, in the most popular league on the planet, at one of its biggest clubs.
“I’ll continue to try and do things that keep people talking,” he said during his first season in Japan.
As a Chelsea fan, it is going to be excruciatingly intoxicating watching him do just that.