"He can absolutely deliver"; Japanese football expert speaks to 67HH about Celtic candidate Ange Postecoglou

By Euan Davidson

May 29, 2021

Given what we don’t know about current Celtic ‘favourite’ Ange Postecoglou, it’s important to ask around.

Postecoglou, as we’ve covered, is currently working in Japan. Having had stints with Brisbane Roar, with whom the Greek-Australian boss managed three titles. With Yokohama F Marinos, he won the J-League, playing a scintillating brand of football, impressing neutrals worldwide.

But beyond that, there’s little that Celtic fans outwith Australia or Japan know about a man who took the Australian national team to their first piece of silverware.

We asked Japan Times journalist Dan Orlowitz for his insight on the mystery man who’s the favourite to land Neil Lennon’s old job.

What brand of football do his Yokohama F Marinos side play? Is he tactically adaptable or does he stick with a certain methodology? And do fans embrace it?

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Ange’s brand of football is unapologetically aggressive attacking. Playing from the back with a goalkeeper acting basically as a sweeper, lots of vertical movement, team buildup and pass work. That’s what he believes in. That’s what his players believe in, that is the way they play, and if it doesn’t work they do it again.

The fans have definitely embraced his style. There were some frustrations in the first year mostly because the defence was porous and Hiroki Iikura was out of his depth in goal. But they held on to avoid the drop and were duly rewarded with the title in 2019. I think the fans understood that ’18 was a work in progress because they saw that he was building something that the players believed in, and that was really key.

Ange Postecoglou, on the set of Dragons Den…? / (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Ange Postecoglou: “Never lost the locker room”

As inconsistent as they were that season, Ange never lost the locker room. He’s known as Boss for a reason – everyone appreciates that he’s consistent in wanting to make it succeed and owns his philosophy. He’s running the show.

The last European managerial success story translating from the J-League, or certainly the most famous, is Arsene Wenger. What are the challenges facing coaches who come over from Japan? Is there a huge change in footballing ethos from Japan to Europe?

If you agree with the premise, it’s only the second time in history that a J.League manager will have made the leap to a top European club, so it’s difficult to answer because we have such little data to work with!

I think the biggest difference will be in terms of expectations (especially by fans) and the level of media scrutiny. Foreign managers and players will agree that the J.League is far easier an environment to work in – for better or for worse – in terms of pressure and quality of life. I wouldn’t dream of comparing the Yokohama Derby to the Glasgow Derby!

That’s not to say Ange is a babe in the woods. He dealt with a lot of pressure and media scrutiny as Australia’s head coach. And quite frankly he took a lot more flack from them than he deserved. But the pressure he will be under at Celtic will be much different from the pressure he was under at YFM. And he won’t be able to stand on his CV because it seems like so few Celtic fans have any idea of how difficult the J.League is to win compared to the Scottish Premiership.

Celtic star Tom Rogic with Ange Postecoglou / (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

“Deserving” of a job in Europe

Do you think European clubs should’ve taken a chance on Ange Postecoglou by now?

If you look at what he did in Australia and how his Marinos have played, he’s definitely deserving of a European shot. We’ll all be very sad to lose him if this move happens, but very happy to see him get this opportunity.

In the press, Postecoglou seems amiable; what’s the consensus on him as a character from your perspective, and your colleagues in the Japanese media?

Ange Postecoglou: “Doesn’t suffer fools gladly”

Those of us in English-language media appreciate that he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. And the more football-savvy Japanese media definitely appreciate that as well. He’s honest, he’s blunt, he’s not a bullshitter. If you throw him a softball he’s not going to give you some puffed-up answer that makes a good headline. He’s going to tell you what he thinks – something we don’t see from managers very often here! It’s always fun to watch him do his postgame flash interviews for DAZN because of how clearly he doesn’t want to be there answering the same 3 stock questions.

Celtic are to embark on a massive rebuild. Does Ange Postecoglou recruit well? And does he have a history of nurturing young talent?

He’s done very well with recruiting at YFM. Although he’s had the benefit of the [City Football Group] scouting machine which of course other J.League teams don’t have. You really saw that in the transition from 2018 to 2019, when all of the puzzle pieces finally came together. I’m sure he’ll be happy to have a bigger budget at Celtic but what’s more important to him is that he has players who buy into his vision.

His teams have always struck me as older and a bit more seasoned. But certainly there’s plenty of young talent at YFM and you’ll absolutely see Daizen Maeda tearing it up at the Olympics this summer. Ange also helped

Starlet Takefusa Kubo / (Photo by Angel Martinez/Getty Images)

gain confidence during his loan spell there in ’18, which really set the stage for him to explode at FC Tokyo in ’19 and get picked up by Real Madrid when he turned 18.

Celtic fans’ expectations

Celtic fans have high expectations, chief among them being an entertaining style and positive results. Simply put, can Postecoglou deliver?

They will absolutely get that entertaining style. If you’re a neutral there are few J.League teams more entertaining than Marinos when they’re running on all cylinders and only a couple teams (including Kawasaki Frontale, who are the most entertaining team in Japan) have managed to stop them completely flat.

Results may take time, and I understand that Celtic fans are going to be very antsy after last season. But if they have faith and if the club gives him resources he can absolutely deliver.

Some quotes have been edited for length.

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