Celtic icon’s ultimate Ange praise: He tells KEEPUP, ‘no Premier league boss’ could have done this

Ange Postecoglou has overhauled Celtic and galvanised one of the most passionate supporter bases in world football. In his second season with a treble on the cards, Celtic great Chris Sutton chats to KEEPUP’s Sacha Pisani about the Australian trailblazer’s impact in Glasgow and beyond.

In one sweeping sentence, Celtic great Chris Sutton sums up the gravity of exactly what Ange Postecoglou has achieved in just over one-and-a-half years in Scotland.

“I don’t think anybody (else) could’ve done the job Ange has done at Celtic,” Sutton, who works as a pundit in Scotland and England after winning four league titles during six trophy-laden seasons at Parkhead, told KEEPUP.

“I don’t think any manager, I include anybody from down south (in the Premier League), could have come in and turned the club around like Ange Postecoglou.”

Without directly saying it, Sutton is suggesting that, for all their genius and success, not even Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola or Liverpool counterpart Jurgen Klopp could have done what Australia’s very own managerial mastermind has since walking into Parkhead a relative unknown in 2021.

Postecoglou’s relentless Celtic machine is rolling towards a second successive Scottish Premiership crown, and a potential treble – nine points clear at the summit with a second straight Scottish League Cup in their possession as they prepare for another date with Rangers in the Scottish Cup semi-finals.

But not before first taking on their great rivals in the league on Saturday AEST.

Almost two years on from his appointment, the A-Leagues legend and Australian trailblazer has completely overhauled Celtic, and galvanised one of the most passionate supporter bases in world football.

He is also changing Scottish football.

“If you look at Hibernian and Hearts this season and how they’ve played and I might be wrong with this, but they seem to be playing a more expansive brand football which I haven’t seen before,” Sutton said.

“I think there are other coaches who are looking at Ange Postecoglou thinking ‘yeah, why don’t we try to be more expansive’, inverted full-backs and take the game to the opposition. I think it can only be a good thing for Scottish football.”

Postecoglou was appointed in 2021 following his success with Yokohama F.Marinos in Japan, and at a time when there was fan unrest and a disconnect between Celtic and their supporters.

Celtic had just finished 25 points adrift of their fiercest rivals under Neil Lennon, having bowed out early in the UEFA Champions League (qualifying), League Cup (second round) and Scottish Cup (fourth round).

There was also a short turnaround between his appointment on June 10 and Celtic’s first game of the season on July 31, while navigating the departures of stars Odsonne Edouard (Crystal Palace), Kristoffer Ajer (Brentford), captain Scott Brown (Aberdeen) and Ryan Christie (Bournemouth).

“People forget the situation in which he took over and how late he came in. It made it doubly, if not, more difficult for Ange,” Sutton – a Premier League winner with Blackburn Rovers and a one-time England international – recalled.

“All the talk at Celtic was, the league had been a disaster, lost the league by 25 points. The deal was done with Eddie Howe, that was all the talk. Eddie Howe was going to have it and everyone thought it was going to happen. Then it didn’t happen and you could imagine the uproar which is natural.

“Then Ange Postecoglou’s name pops up and everyone is googling Ange Postecoglou. I knew of him from the Australian national team but in truth, I hadn’t really delved into his whole history but then you start delving into it and you’re like ‘blimey, this guy is a high achiever’. Did well in Australia and then took a struggling team in Yokohama and turned them around.”

That first pre-season ended with a 6-2 “walloping” at the hands of David Moyes’ Premier League outfit West Ham on July 24.

“He must’ve been thinking, ‘Jesus Christ, what have I taken over here?’. He must’ve been. He never let on. I think he would be a good poker player,” Sutton said.

Four days later, Celtic crashed out of the UEFA Champions League in the second round of qualifying – beaten by Awer Mabil’s Midtjylland after extra time. Then on July 31, the Bhoys opened the season with a 2-1 loss away to Hearts.

Life for Postecoglou in the Scottish Premier League started with three defeats in six matches, including a Glasgow derby loss away to Rangers. But, he has not looked back nor has he swayed from his high-octane brand of attacking football since that time.

“I have to say, it’s sort of blown my mind the way he’s gone about things,” he said.

“It wasn’t one single thing he had to deal with. There were so many different things that were thrown into the mix. But what I’ve learnt, he has such belief in his methods that what he is doing is right.

“He is such a strong character and because of his belief and his coaching methods. I played under Martin O’Neill, all managers have to have that belief but to actually carry out in such a short space of time, I have to tell you it’s absolutely remarkable.

“If Ange sees it through this season, that would be incredible.”

And to put Postecoglou’s first season at the helm of Celtic into context, he delivered two trophies to the Scottish juggernaut without any of his own coaching staff.

There was speculation around his former assistants Kevin Muscat and Peter Cklamovski as he embarked on restoring Celtic to their glory days. Only this season has he added to his staff with Socceroos legend Harry Kewell.

“It just tells everybody he is self-sufficient,” Sutton said. “He believes in what he is doing is right and he would’ve built up this skillset over 25-26 years of coaching.

“That shows you a strength of character because most managers would go in and think, I need somebody in who has his back. But because he believes so passionately in what he is doing is right and will get results, I think most managers think that way that in difficult times I need someone who has my back.

“Ange Postecoglou probably doesn’t believe he is going to have these difficult times because he’s such a stickler in being self-sufficient. It tells you that he is just going to do it his way. Live by the sword, die by the sword seems his way.

“I do think that is different to most people within the game, but that tells you his inherit belief.”

And he has done it in a city completely consumed by football and home to one of the world’s biggest rivalries.

“It’s mental. The whole environment… you can’t help but get caught up in it,” Sutton said. “Everywhere you go someone is either Celtic or Rangers.

“I live in a place called Norfolk near Norwich. If Norwich lose, the supporters are unhappy. If Celtic draw, the supporters want to kill you. That’s the difference. It’s a brilliant footballing city.”

Changing people’s thinking

Sutton was sat inside the Santiago Bernabeu on November 2 last year as Celtic shipped five goals against the Champions League and LaLiga holders inside 71 minutes.

Real Madrid won 5-1.

But despite the scoreline, Postecoglou’s Celtic never stopped throwing numbers forward. It was a typical performance of a side coached by the two-time A-Leagues-winning boss.

It was the same story on matchday one when Celtic had a number of chances against Real Madrid in Glasgow, only to go down 3-0, in a pair of fixtures with a deep meaning. Postecoglou had played under Los Blancos legend Ferenc Puskas at South Melbourne.

In both fixtures, Postecoglou’s team went toe-to-toe with the world juggernaut.

Before the first game, the Aussie – who became the first Australian to coach a game in the UEFA Men’s Champions League – had told reporters: “There’s no point playing football a certain way but when you get an opportunity to measure it against the very best, you shy away from it and kind of go ‘you know what, let’s just try and limit any sort of damage.”

“This is why he has actually changed my thinking in many respects,” former Chelsea frontman Sutton said.

“If this is all part of the bigger picture and the plan and his plan which he believes in to take the club forward, I’m all for it. But next season, if Celtic qualify for the Champions League, it will be interesting if there will be any change.

“But I think we all know the answer to that (laughs). I actually really enjoy watching the team play.

“The consistency levels they have shown, the brand of football, they’re good on the eye. He ticks virtually every box. The words he uses, the catchphrase ‘we never stop’ and the world relentless comes up time and time again.

“Having played, I think what the team have done this season and last season has been pretty remarkable. Last season in terms of the quick changeround, the managerial change around, all these players coming in. He clearly earmarks these players, knows how they will fit.

“The biggest thing, he is just extremely bullish. He believes in what he believes in. He believes it’s going to work and you know what? If you look back at his 25-year coaching career, it’s hard to actually disagree with him.

“Essentially he’s been a high-class performer and hugely successful and why should he change? It’s maybe other people that need to change.”

Postecoglou’s exploits with Celtic have not gone unnoticed in the Premier League.

Linked with Leeds United, Brighton and Hove Albion, and Everton previously, the AFC Asian Cup-winning coach has also emerged as a possible candidate to replace Antonio Conte at Tottenham, though Spurs appear set to turn to former Bayern Munich tactician Julian Nagelsmann.

“He will be earmarked by other clubs down south, that’s natural but he also has this extraordinary habit of straight-batting anything back from the media. He is just swats things anyway. I don’t know if it’s an Australian thing (laughs),” added Sutton, who has family in Sydney and Melbourne.

Resonating with Celtic fans

For Postecoglou and Celtic, it is a relationship that goes beyond football.

The Greek-born Australian with an immigrant story finds himself halfway around the world again at a club famously founded by an immigrant population.

He has opened up on his immigrant story and it is a tale that has formed a deep connection with the fanbase.

Sutton said: “He is being himself and the biggest thing is the way he talks, it isn’t an act.

“It’s pretty amazing for him to come in, in a short space of time… When Martin O’Neill came to Celtic, everyone was aware who Martin O’Neill was from south of the border. He came up and he was like a God, but everyone knew Martin was.

“All of a sudden, Ange has emerged. It was quite funny when he got the job and they said well you’re second choice and I think he said, he could’ve been third, fourth, fifth, sixth or seventh choice, that doesn’t matter. From the early days to now, the way he gets the club, the way he manages.

“Everything he has done really has been pretty faultless at this moment.

“Our jobs in the media are to be balanced and to say things as they are, but no one is looking for things. From my position, I just sit back and just admire the job he has done under such testing circumstances.”

The Mooy effect

Postecoglou has barely put a foot wrong in the transfer market. From Kyogo Furushashi, Reo Hatate and Jota, to Matt O’Riley and Cameron Carter-Vickers.

One of his shrewdest signings has come in the form of a familiar face in 2022-23 – Aaron Mooy on a free transfer.

The Socceroo was in the wilderness and out of sight in China, where he had been contemplating retirement while dealing with the death of his brother. But after helping secure Australia’s spot at the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup via the play-offs, Postecoglou turned to the former Premier League midfielder.

After a slow start at Celtic, Mooy has established himself as one of the club’s most important players in the second half of the season. He also has his own chant to the tune of ‘Daddy Cool’ as fans and even teammates sing his praises.

The ex-Western Sydney Wanderers and Melbourne City star has scored seven goals across all competitions, and tallied nine assists in the league. It is that form that has put him ahead of O’Riley in the pecking order.

Sutton – the 1997-98 Premier League Golden Boot winner and Norwich City Hall of Famer – said: “When Celtic wanted to sign him, everybody was thinking, which Aaron Mooy are we going to get? The one who was outstanding for Huddersfield in the Premier League?

“He came over and had a slow start. Even when he went to the World Cup, and I went out to Qatar, I was thinking blimey, he’s not been playing great for Celtic this season, everything is a bit slow.

“He played in that St Mirren game (a 2-0 away loss) as the number six/pivot and (Callum) McGregor played more forward. A lot of criticism of him was that Celtic lacked that speed of passing. When McGregor is there, he gets on the half-turn and fizzes passes in and they need to be crisp. As part of Ange’s tactics, that speed and quickness.

“At the World Cup, he actually played in that same position for Australia and I have to say, I’ll hold my hand up, I’d pretty much written Australia off. He was brilliant. People talk about experience, yes that mattered but it showed what a great leader he is. I’ve not met him, very unassuming bloke. A bit of an introvert.

“I thought he was brilliant for Australia at the World Cup and then coming back to Celtic, and he has been really important and Daizen Maeda especially. They’ve given the team a lift.

“He is not overly dynamic in terms of his speed across the pitch, but he is dynamic where it matters and that’s in his mind.

“In many respects, he has surprised a lot Celtic fans in winning that battle with O’Riley. That doesn’t mean it’s the end of O’Riley, far from it.

“You always know there is a player in there because of his past. I knew there’s a player in there but at 32, there’s always that doubt. Has he lost that bit of sharpness that made him the player he was? Certainly among the Celtic fanbase and he has been a major part of the second half of the season.”

Mooy is part of a strong Australian contingent in Scotland’s top flight.

There is Mark Birighitti and Aziz Behich at Dundee United, St Mirren’s Soceroos pair Keanu Baccus and Ryan Strain, Lewis Miller, James Jeggo and Martin Boyle of Hibernian, St Johnstone’s Ryan McGowan the Hearts’ Aussie quartet of Kye Rowles, Garang Kuol, Nathaniel Atkinson and Cam Devlin.

But there is one Australian that has caught the eye of Sutton.

“Who is the little midfielder? He’d annoy me if I was playing against him. I’d stand on his foot,” he laughed as he referred to Socceroos midfielder Devlin.