At first glance, Ange Postecoglou’s journey from leaving his childhood Greek suburban home by boat to becoming a potential Tottenham Hotspur manager looks unlikely.
The quirks of fate which have positioned the Celtic boss as current favourite are even more unusual, but they tell the story of a brilliant – and resilient – career.
The 57-year-old would never have been given his job at Brisbane Roar were it not for a chance encounter in a car park. Working as a TV pundit one afternoon, he left the studio and bumped into former A-League chief Archie Fraser. Roar had sacked manager Frank Farina over a drink-driving charge, and Fraser recommended they speak to Postecoglou.
There were some reservations about a CV featuring Greek third-tier club Panahaiki. Likewise, some questioned at Celtic why a top club would want a coach from the Japanese league – the same stick used to beat Arsenal with in 1996. Arsene Wenger went on to win three Premier League titles.
Who is the real Postecoglou?
Yet Postecoglou’s maverick career is less surprising given his own history. He described his father as an “independent thinker”, a toy-maker who had to emigrate amidst the rise of the Greek junta, the right-wing dictatorship nationalising many businesses – including that of the Postecoglou family.
In Australia, while he mostly played cricket and Aussie rules, the young Ange saw football as a means of getting “my father’s attention and company”.
But it was also a way of uniting with other Greek immigrants. As Postecoglou puts it in his book Changing the Game: “Football was the thing through which I made sense of life, where I created my world and my identity – I was gripped by the game’s beauty.”
Those foundations endeared him to Celtic fans, given the club’s roots in Glasgow’s Irish immigrant population. Postecoglou instantly understood what it meant for a club to symbolise a community, traversing identity and politics.
‘Looking down on the Rangers’
On Saturday, when Celtic play Inverness in the Scottish Cup final, he can complete a domestic treble. Rejection and doubt have followed him – he has proven people wrong every time, breaking the record for Australian football’s longest unbeaten run with Roar (36) and later taking Yokohama F Marinos to a first league triumph in 15 years.
He has already won five of six trophies available to him in Scotland and ahead of this weekend’s final, he insists speculation linking him with Spurs “doesn’t register”.
“Somebody else was favourite last week, weren’t they?” he quipped.
What has registered is the Hoops’ return to supremacy since he took over from Neil Lennon in two years ago. In a panic, Lennon had taken over when Brendan Rodgers had left for Leicester mid-season in 2019.
By the end of Lennon’s tenure, Steven Gerrard’s Rangers were poised to win the league by 25 points, winning the last Old Firm before Postecoglou 4-1. Since then, Rangers have only won two of 10. Celtic have remained, as Postecoglou’s song goes, “on top of the league, looking down on the Rangers.”
There have been unfavourable comparisons made with Gerrard, who left the heights of Rangers’ title to drag Aston Villa into a relegation battle in his first Premier League job. Postecoglou does not boast any status as an England legend, parachuted to the top; the yards have been far harder.
It is not unfamiliar to see Spurs fans mobilising against against a potential new boss, as they did with Gennaro Gattuso, accused of making racist, homophobic and sexist remarks, in 2021.
Here, it is perhaps a little misguided. Postecoglou’s attractive football fits Levy’s famous promise to restore the club’s “DNA”. Influenced by Pep Guardiola, he favours a 4-3-3 with inverted full-backs, who function as additional midfielders when in possession. Without the ball, Celtic move to a 4-2-3-1.
Spurs can be spared the volatility of Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho, but any notion of him being a “yes man” have already been dispelled. When his Australia U20s failed to qualify for the World Cup, he became involved in such an explosive dispute with TV interviewer Craig Foster that he lost his job a week later.
At every turn, he was battling to win over a nation whose heart was not in football. When former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull met China’s President Xi Hinping in 2017 he presented him with an Aussie Rules jersey instead of a football shirt. Postecoglou felt there was insufficient investment in the sport and believed he was treated “brutally” whenever Australia’s youngsters hit a stumbling block.
Only a remarkable turnaround handed him the senior Australia job in 2013 and within two years, he had taken them to the World Cup and won the Asia Cup.
Postecoglou has made a career of finding sides at their lowest ebb and transforming them. That could make him the perfect fit for Spurs, if only he is given a shot.