Why Ange Postecoglou is building a team worthy of Celtic folklore
With Ange Postecoglou, an attitude returned to Celtic that had probably been missing for a few years.
It was a philosophy that meant that the opposition had no right to rest. A philosophy that meant enemies faced relentless attack and would be punished for a single moment of hesitation in the rear.
Postecoglou summed it up in three words: you never stop.
This is the mentality the 56-year-old has forged in the Celtic squad since his very first training session at the club. Ultimately, it was an attitude that helped the Hoops bring the Scottish Premiership title and League Cup back to Parkhead last season.
The determination to play to the end yielded supportive memories that will last a lifetime in a title so important to the club after the disaster of the previous year.
Such a mantra is akin to that of many successful Celtic faces of yore. The double winners of the 1987-88 centenary season, for example.
“The way the manager wants the team to play is similar [to when we played]said Peter Grant, who played on that 1988 team. The Celtic Way. “They have to play with passion, commitment, with a high pace. We were always told to try to win games from the first whistle to the last, no matter what.
“There were a few examples of that last year, scoring very late goals like we did on a number of occasions, especially when you go back to the year of double wins. Big points were won after the 90 minutes or at least very late in the game.
The story of Celtic’s centenary season is one that sounds familiar. When Billy McNeill arrived, Graeme Souness’ Rangers had won the title the previous season and key players in Danny McGrain, Davie Provan, Murdo MacLeod, Brian McClair, Mo Johnston and Alan McInally had left the club. Lots of new faces had to be brought in and it was a title that – given the hurdles they had in front of them – Celtic really had no right to win.
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But like last season, a flurry of late winners and a team ready to give it their all took the double to heaven.
Anthony Ralston’s 97th-minute header at Dingwall; Giorgios Giakoumakis’ late winner against Dundee to complete a hat-trick worthy of the number seven shirt; Jota’s goal at Pittodrie to end a long streak of away wins; Liel Abada’s compound finish against Dundee United as the Hoops were down to 10 men – and the unforgettable scenes that followed.
For those of 2021-22, read the 1987-88 equivalents: Paul McStay’s weak volley against Hearts to keep their invincibility intact; the late winner of Joe Miller at Tannadice on Boxing Day; Andy Walker’s chest goal against Rangers.
All are examples of we don’t stop attitude in a team that will live forever in Celtic folklore.
This spirit of giving everything for the shirt is ingrained in the team today, just as it was in the centenary year, despite the evolution of football in years past.
“There are different ways people impose their personality on the game,” Grant said. “You have very good players – I worked with Callum [McGregor] in Scotland I saw him as a young player, I saw him in Notts County when he went there as a young man, that says a lot about him too.
“Some people leave Celtic, and it looks rosy elsewhere, and they don’t do particularly well. While Callum went to seize this opportunity with both hands. He did exceptionally well there and it showed a tiny bit of personality about him. I think people show it in different ways: passion, commitment, drive, determination.
“You also have new boys coming now and it’s completely different [to when he played. Maeda isn’t a Celtic supporter, for instance, but chases lost causes and makes it very difficult for defenders. He gives everything in every time… they put their personality [into the game].”
Personality is definitely something the century-old side had in abundance. Players like McStay, Murdo MacLeod, Tommy Burns, Roy Aitken and Grant himself have combined no talent with passion and commitment.
“Our days were slightly different,” Grant said of playing in midfield. “Now you’re more of an interceptor because you’re not allowed to do that. In our time, you were winning tackles, setting the tempo of the game from the first whistle.
Scoring 92 league goals last season, the most since the historic invincible hat-tricks season of 2016-17, it was a campaign that came as no surprise to anyone who had worked alongside or against Postecoglou before.
Of the 92, 13 came in the last 10 minutes of a game. What’s more, each of those goals was inside the opposition’s penalty area – rather than just a long-range howler that goes off once every 20 or 30 attempts. Goals, in other words, that were well worked out and followed Postecoglou’s game plan.
It wasn’t just on the opposing side of the pitch that the players dug deep. In the league, the Hoops conceded just one goal in the last 10 minutes of a game last season – John Souttar’s 89th-minute header in the season opener against a Celtic side who feels a thousand leagues from today.
The mantra of not stopping didn’t just mean that the coach wanted his teams to give their all until the end. Postecoglou knows when teams are most vulnerable and ensures that those downtimes are punished.
“One of the things about Ange was trying to score as quickly as possible from the kick-off,” Australia international Ryan McGowan said. The game of the world recently. “So it didn’t matter if it was the first kick-off, after half-time or as soon as they scored, because some statistics indicated that teams were the most vulnerable when they scored.
“There was a kick off, we had a video analysis [on it] and he went crazy because we took the kickoff and sent it back – we didn’t move forward. He went crazy for about 25 minutes, just saying that our principles, what we want to do as a unit, is to always try to move forward no matter what.
“We won that game, but he spent more time talking about that kind of principle than anything else.”
Celtic have also reaped the rewards of such intent. Kyogo Furuhashi’s equalizer just 11 seconds into the opening game of the Hibernian League Cup final came straight from the kick-off and ensured the momentum remained in the Hoops’ favor . It helped Postecoglou get his hands on a trophy just five months after joining.
The Aussie has shown no signs of taking his foot off the accelerator ahead of his legendary second campaign with the signing of Alexandro Bernabei for £3.75million, despite being a defender, a very good defender made to bolster his team’s attacking prowess.
The Centennial team, it must be said, struggled to maintain their winning formula next season. They finished third in the league and only won the Scottish Cup – but that’s not a fate you can imagine for the Postecoglou charges.
“Things are always moving,” Grant said. “Players, managers and coaches all come through but the fans are still there.
“With Celtic you have to play well, you have to win… and you have to excite the fans. They are the most important people in the football club.
Add Bernabei to Postecoglou’s permanent acquisitions of Jota, Maeda and Cameron Carter-Vickers and fan excitement is sure to be on the cards next season.