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Things could go spectacularly well for Ange Postecoglou at Tottenham Hotspur. They could also go spectacularly badly.

Where some managers can be considered the safe option, Postecoglou is the opposite.

He is extremely talented, a visionary, and can be deeply empathetic. But he is also completely uncompromising. He has an almost evangelical commitment to his principles — mainly that his teams play exciting, attacking football.

“His approach is to not compromise,” says James Holland, a central midfielder who played for Australia under his countryman. “The word ‘compromise’ is definitely not in his vocabulary.”

Others speak of Postecoglou’s “no bullshit” policy. He is unfailingly straight-talking — whether that’s to his players, the media or his employers. That could be just what this Tottenham squad needs, or it could be disastrous. Ditto the club’s hierarchy.

Postecoglou has a crystal-clear vision of how he wants the game played that should serve him well at Spurs. He is so wedded to attacking football, linked to how his father viewed the sport, that he calls it “an extension of me”. If anyone tries to interfere with that vision, he simply will not stand for it. Like when he resigned as Australia manager seven months out from the 2018 World Cup because he became tired of the in-fighting that was going on within the Australian FA.

All of this is part of what makes Postecoglou such a fascinating choice as Tottenham’s new head coach — a bundle of contradictions and extremes just waiting to be unleashed on a club who have had more than their fair share of drama over the past few years.

Here is a man who is at once hugely motivational and a great orator but who remains intimidatingly distant from his players. Brilliant at outlining his vision in public but also well capable of being prickly with the media. Someone who has won titles pretty much everywhere he has been and yet because he’s 57 years old and has never managed in one of Europe’s top leagues, is seen as a gamble.

There was almost identical scepticism when he took over at Celtic in the summer of 2021. Two years on, Postecoglou has achieved everything that was asked of him in Glasgow and more. It’s been the same story throughout his career — defying the doubters to win multiple titles with South Melbourne and Brisbane Roar back home (making him the most successful coach in Australian top-flight football) then making the step up to international football to win the Asia Cup with Australia, before proving his methods would work abroad by winning the Japanese league with Yokohama F. Marinos.

Rather than fazing Postecoglou, proving people wrong excites and motivates him. “I enjoy it when I’m questioned,” he said in an enlightening appearance on the Masterminds: High Performance Sports podcast in 2020. “It brings out a resilience in me.”

The level of devotion Postecoglou inspires in those he works with is astonishing. “By far the best footballing brain I’ve ever met. It’s insane,” says Thomas Broich, a one-time German wunderkind Postecoglou persuaded to swap the Bundesliga for the Australian A-League who is now Bundesliga side Hertha Berlin’s head of methodology. “The biggest mentor in my life.”

Tommy Oar, a midfielder who played under Postecoglou for Brisbane Roar and Australia adds: “Ange is head and shoulders above the managers I worked with. He’s similar to Jurgen Klopp — every player wants to win for him.”

Beyond just football, Vince Rugari, a sports reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald, says Postecoglou is “Australia’s best coach ever, in any sport”, which is some praise given the country’s rich sporting pedigree. “He’s a freak, he’s unbelievable,” Rugari adds.

When he meets the Spurs players, Postecoglou will do what he has done in his previous jobs. He will tell them that everything remarkable that has ever been achieved has been done with people doubting whether it could be done. That there will be scepticism, pessimism and misunderstandings about what he is trying to do, but that’s how you achieve things in life. That they have to be brave, take risks, and believe in things that are not tangible.

Some will buy into it straight away, others won’t. And those that don’t will know where the door is. That’s the Postecoglou philosophy.

“I want players to feel part of something special that they haven’t experienced before,” he said three years ago.

Now it is Tottenham who are set to experience something they never have before. And judging from his life and career so far, they are in for a thrilling ride.

To understand Ange Postecoglou, you have to first understand his relationship with his father, Jim. It is a relationship that underpins everything he does and believes in.

Postecoglou’s father was a tough man, determined to make a better life for his family. He left Greece in 1970, when Ange was five, and emigrated with his wife and two kids (Ange and his older sister Liz) to Melbourne, with its considerable Greek population. They settled in the suburb of Prahran, now full of hipster cafes, but back then a neighbourhood primarily for working-class immigrants.

Postecoglou senior worked hard and would leave home in the mornings before his children were awake. He would get back late, eat dinner and go to bed.

Ange found his exterior hard to penetrate. At least, that is, until he went with him to watch South Melbourne Hellas, the local football club founded in part by Greek immigrants. “Come the game on the Sunday, he’d be a different guy,” Postecoglou said on Masterminds: High Performance Sports.

Postecoglou saw how football made his father come alive and he knew this was his route to forming a bond with him.

“I love football not because it was a choice between sports,” Postecoglou wrote for website AthletesVoice soon after Jim died five years ago. “It was what brought me close to my hero. We sometimes lose sight of what sport is about. I have come to understand this. It’s not about winning or losing, it’s about the connections it makes. It connects people, cities and countries. It connects parents to their children.”

So much of Postecoglou’s philosophy on football and life can be traced back to this; his belief in the importance of the sport to bring people, families and communities together, and the level of respect he has for its clubs and their supporters. And on a personal level, his unshakeable desire to have his teams play football that his father would want to watch.

“When people ask me about my philosophy and who has inspired me, they are generally disappointed when I say that it was no one specific,” he wrote. “Not Barcelona or Liverpool or Pep Guardiola or Johan Cruyff. No one who coached me or who I played with.

“The answer lies in those three little words: ‘Κάτω η μπάλα’ — roughly translated, it means ‘Keep the ball down’. They were my father’s mantra.”

Knowing this, Postecoglou’s claim that his footballing philosophy is an “extension of me” makes more sense. Likewise, his assertion that: “You can’t shift me from what I believe.”

It’s about a lot more than football to him. And it’s about more than just his relationship with his father. Football in Australia gave many migrant populations a sense of belonging and community, and for Postecoglou and many others from Greek, Croatian, Italian and other European diasporas, it was steeped in every fibre of his being.

Postecoglou’s dad would get Ange up in the middle of the night to watch English football games on TV, and it was Liverpool, the community club with an attacking philosophy, that he was most drawn to.

“His upbringing is a big thing,” says the journalist Rugari. “Football is not a big code over here — the backbone of football in the modern era is migrants. It has shaped football in so many ways. He played for South Melbourne, a Greek club. The whole thing fits together with his immigrant story.

“And now a big part of his mission is to open people’s eyes to other regions. He’s brought in players from Asia. He wants to dismantle Eurocentrism — show people it doesn’t matter where you’re from as long as you’re good. He’s a trailblazer and an avatar of pride for Australian football at the moment — he’s our guy. We don’t have a player at that level anymore, so he’s at the forefront of it at the men’s game. Showing people it’s possible.”

Having watched South Melbourne with his dad, Postecoglou joined as a youth player aged 12 in 1978. A left-back, he spent his entire playing career there, becoming captain at 21 and winning the National Soccer League (NSL) title, the precursor to the A-League, in 1984 and 1991 — the latter with legendary Hungarian player Ferenc Puskas as their manager. Puskas made a big impression on Postecoglou, who was not just his skipper but also acted at times as his interpreter — and driver. Puskas’ humility, despite all he had achieved in the game, made a big impression on Postecoglou and helped shape who he is today. As did his commitment to attacking football. “People talk a lot about me being an attacking coach and that was where the seed was sown,” Postecoglou said in 2014.

Postecoglou retired at 27 because of injury and became the club’s head coach three years later.

Peter Filopoulos was South Melbourne general manager when Postecoglou became their coach and says his leadership skills were already apparent that early: “Even as a player he was a strong leader and took the role very, very seriously. He always held the view that anyone who wears the shirt wherever he coaches, he wants it to be about the jersey and representing the fans.”

On one occasion, when he was an assistant coach, South Melbourne lost an away game and on the coach ride home Postecoglou felt the players were acting as though they’d won. He stood up at the front of the bus and reminded the players what it meant to play for the club and the shirt. He told them that some of them didn’t deserve to wear it.

In 1996, the following year, Postecoglou became head coach. Australian football was still semi-pro then and he was working at a bank to supplement his income. In those pre-mobile phones days, Filopoulos had to turn up at the bank in person to inform him the job was his on an interim basis. It became a permanent role and Postecoglou’s managerial career was up and running.

Filopoulos says South Melbourne had other targets in mind at the time, and so a theme for Postecoglou’s career was set: he wasn’t necessarily first-choice and had plenty of doubters, but he quickly overcame them.

With a young Postecoglou in charge, managing some players who had been team-mates, South Melbourne won back-to-back national titles in 1998 and 1999 before the NSL reformed as the A-League in 2004. Those successes gave South Melbourne a crack at Sir Alex Ferguson’s treble-winning Manchester United in the inaugural Club World Cup. They lost 2-0 at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, but in another portent for what was to come, Postecoglou insisted his team played on the front foot even though they were up against far superior opposition. South Melbourne were a semi-pro team at this point, remember. United’s starting XI that day included Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Andy Cole. David Beckham came off the bench.

“Ange was a visionary,” says Filopoulos, now the head of marketing, communications and corporate affairs at Football Australia. “He had a very strong vision and then made sure everybody came along on the journey. Not someone who wants to take the journey on his own and take all the credit. You feel like you’re part of a bigger story when working with Ange. I felt like that as general manager and it’s the tightest I’ve felt with a head coach.”

Postecoglou is also said to be adept at managing-up within a club — which can be an important skill at Tottenham. “He manages the board well, making sure they know what the plan is, what the roadmap is, what he’s striving for,” Filopoulos says.

“He’s a very humble guy and will embrace Tottenham, the fans and the culture.”

Postecoglou’s huge success with South Melbourne earned him an interview for the Australia job in 1999 when still in his mid-thirties. He didn’t get it and was instead appointed as manager of the national under-17s team, a role he filled for five years between 2000 and 2005. He then took charge of the under-20s, and it was here that he had a famous argument on Australian TV in 2007 with former Crystal Palace midfielder, and one of Australian football’s biggest names, Craig Foster. Postecoglou held his own in a heated exchange as he defended the team and his record despite the under-20s failing to qualify for their World Cup. As with many of his one-time adversaries, Postecoglou and Foster have since reconciled.

Postecoglou left that job soon after the exchange, then endured a couple of years even further in the wilderness — he later said the interview made him “unemployable” in its aftermath.

His reputation had taken a hit and he spent one strange half-season in charge of third-tier Greek side Panachaiki. He left in December 2008, even though the club were still one of the favourites for promotion, after falling out with the hierarchy.

He returned to Australia and was given a platform on Fox Sports TV, where he made a very good impression as a studio analyst. Alongside that, he ran coaching clinics and helped out a friend by briefly managing Melbourne semi-pro side Whittlesea Zebras.

In part because of his profile as a TV analyst, A-League side Brisbane Roar took a punt on him in 2009 after they sacked head coach Frank Farina, the man who beat Postecoglou to the Australia job a decade earlier, because of a drink-driving charge.

Postecoglou’s three years at Brisbane, turning them into back-to-back champions who went on a 36-game unbeaten run in a salary-capped league designed to stop that kind of domination, says so much about what makes him so revered.

There was the overhaul of an ageing squad, sensational football, and proving the doubters wrong.

Postecoglou came in and straight away got rid of big-name players such as Craig Moore, Charlie Miller, Bob Malcolm and Danny Tiatto. They’d nearly won the league the previous year, but Postecoglou felt they had too much power and weren’t fully on board, so off they went.

“When Ange came in, it was always his way and no room for negotiation,” remembers Oar, who was a midfielder at Brisbane and working under Postecoglou again with Australia. “He knows what he wants and I remember in the first week or two there was a big shake-up. Everyone was a bit taken aback.”

Results were not initially great — another Postecoglou staple — but they were ultimately spectacular. Helped in large part by the signing of Broich in 2010.

Broich was an extremely talented attacking midfielder, who was 29 by this point but in his youth had been held up alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski as one of the great new hopes of German football. After spells with Borussia Monchengladbach, Cologne and Nuremberg, however, he had lost his love for the game. Enter Postecoglou, who was in Europe on a scouting mission for players and drove over from the Netherlands to try to persuade him to up sticks for Australia.

Broich takes up the story:

“He sat down with me for an hour and drove straight back to the Netherlands. We had a great talk and he convinced me to come to Brisbane.

“It was a good talk but a lot of people in football talk the talk — I didn’t know he would be the guy who could pull it off. Only when I started working did I realise what a special character he was and how knowledgeable he was. By far the best footballing brain I’ve ever met in the business. It’s insane, his understanding of the game. When you play football his way it’s really tough at the beginning but it becomes so easy — you’re always one step ahead of your opposition.

“He knows exactly where you should be for every pass. It wasn’t robotic — decisions were always up to us — but the structures, patterns and movements he created were always very clear and made a lot of sense to us. Every passing drill he developed was transferable to the game. He had a lot of restrictions in training that helped us in the game. Balls above waist height weren’t allowed and that was very tough at first, but you persist and it gets easier and you start to do it on the pitch.

“He helped me with finding those little pockets, getting into those areas in between, where the opposition marks you. He was so determined to work on my turn when I received the ball. He wasn’t about having a safe first touch, sometimes even a touch towards our own goal, he wasn’t having any of that. He was forcing me to constantly scan for the next pass and to turn with my first touch, even though this might feel uncomfortable because we are taught differently when we are younger. He helped me find space and then he taught me how to make the most use of that space. How to quickly get into a penetrating position.

“Training was brutal — way harder than games.”

Other players remember training sessions being short but extremely intense from the very first day, with Postecoglou chucking a ball back onto the pitch whenever play went dead to ensure there was no let-up for the players. Spurs’ squad are in for a punishing but rewarding pre-season.

Broich was a big success, being voted A-League player of the year in two of his first three seasons as he helped his team to consecutive titles. Brisbane’s expansive, possession-based approach earned them the nickname “Roar-celona” in an homage to Pep Guardiola’s contemporary all-conquering side at the Camp Nou. It was unlike anything Australian football had ever seen.

They achieved this success in large part because of Postecoglou’s devotion to his way of football; the kind he thought his dad would want to watch.

“That stuff doesn’t happen overnight,” Broich says. “It’s about perseverance. Can you stick with that idea even if you concede a few goals or lose a few games? It was really tough in the beginning — we had horrible results in pre-season. Same at Celtic; they started badly.

“He believes in it so uncompromisingly, it’s unbelievable. It’s his way or the highway. That’s what’s different from all other coaches — all of them say, ‘Yeah, play out from the back — but if you have to, clear it’. And then people start hoofing it. He was never that guy. He always put the responsibility on players around you to help out the player on the ball. So it was never about you making a mistake, it was about why were you (a team-mate) hiding and not helping him out.

“We had one game when one of the centre-backs made a mistake for a goal. Instead of hammering this guy, he applauded him for being so brave and was hammering the rest of us for hiding and not showing for him and not providing support. He said, no matter what, this guy will always be a starter because he’s got the courage and is trying to execute the game plan. He made everyone else feel doubt about whether they would start the next game. I was on the receiving end, he was shouting at me.”

Broich also came to understand, as so many others have before and since, that Postecoglou is a great man-manager because of the way he empowers his teams, rather than by putting an arm around the shoulder.

“He was distant, not a buddy,” Broich says. “We had a lot of respect for him. Fear is not the right word, but he had this aura about him. You knew you had to be very focused and disciplined all the time. Really demanding. (A) No-bullshit policy.”

Postecoglou explains his approach like this: “By keeping my distance from players and staff, it means my decisions are unemotional. It makes sure every decision I make is best for the team and what we want to achieve. But I do feel I wouldn’t have achieved what I have if they didn’t feel close to me. It’s just a different kind of closeness.

“Players will all say they’ve never had a conversation with me longer than a minute. I’m not a great social beast in life in general. I do keep a distance from the players. It takes them a while to get used to that.”

Matt McKay, another midfielder who played under Postecoglou for Brisbane and Australia, says part of his man-management skill is making every player feel important. “He demands results from each individual,” McKay says. “When I was at training, I always thought, ‘He’s looking at me’. It was like the Mona Lisa! You’re always wanting to impress him and go that bit extra to help the team. He is a good man-manager and motivational, which is important — they’re long seasons and there are lots of games, it can be hard to stay motivated.

“He’s relentless. If I was a player at Spurs, I’d be excited because he’ll change their careers, he’ll make them better players. He improved me and the other players at Brisbane loads, got us believing in what he wanted to do.”

“He used to say all the time during games, ‘If in doubt, go forward. Play positively’,” adds Oar. “He wants you to feel free and unrestricted. ‘If in doubt go forward, and if it doesn’t work out I’ll back you’. He said that all the time.

“It’s really motivating for a player to hear that, really empowering. Motivating to be able to go on the field knowing the coach really supports you in that way. He burdens himself with lots of responsibility.”

After that second title, a conflicted Postecoglou left for Melbourne Victory — a precursor to his decision to swap Celtic for Spurs just after winning the Scottish treble.

As with Brisbane, he immediately cleared out some of the more established players — including Harry Kewell, who he later appointed as a coach at Celtic. He also tinkered with the tactics, opting for a 4-2-2-2 system but with two small, nimble attackers in Marco Rojas and Archie Thompson.

Postecoglou didn’t win the A-League in his first season back in his hometown but laid the groundwork for the success later enjoyed there under his then-assistant Kevin Muscat. And things came to an abrupt end in October 2013 when he was appointed Australia manager after Holger Osieck was sacked having steered the team to the following year’s World Cup.

That tournament in Brazil was just around the corner, but, typically, Postecoglou didn’t play it safe. He dropped captain Lucas Neill from the squad and told 110-cap goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer he couldn’t guarantee he would start in his first set of friendlies, then out he went as well.

And similar to his recruitment of Broich at Brisbane, Postecoglou wanted to widen the net and look for eligible players who had so far been overlooked. One of those was Massimo Luongo, a former Spurs youth player then of Swindon Town in English football’s third tier, who Postecoglou flew over to meet and convinced to become part of the Australia setup. Luongo was in that 2014 World Cup squad and then played an important role as Postecoglou’s side won the 2015 Asian Cup (their version of the Euros or Copa America) on home soil, scoring the opener in the final against a South Korea team containing now-Spurs star Son Heung-min.

That Asian Cup triumph was a big moment for Australian football and a major source of pride for Postecoglou. He has always wanted to put Australian football on the map and sought to empower his players by removing the inferiority complex the nation has sometimes had. “He made it quite clear that people look down on Aussies in a footballing sense,” says McKay. “It’s not our main sport and it’s just the way the football world is, but he made us believe we could achieve something special.”

“His aim was to make Australia a serious footballing nation,” goalkeeper Mat Ryan said soon after Postecoglou’s 2017 departure.

This was a big message before Brazil 2014 as well, where Postecoglou once again refused to play defensive football despite the considerable talents of their group opponents: holders Spain, the Netherlands and Chile. Australia lost all three games but Postecoglou made an impression on his players.

“He was completely uncompromising, but it was 100 per cent rewarding,” says midfielder James Holland. “He instils the self-belief he has in himself and his style of football into his players. And if it doesn’t work, we go again: ‘If you make a mistake doing it, it doesn’t matter. I back you as long as you do the right things’. Knowing that gives you a lot of confidence.

“He’s an intimidating guy, but once you get to know him, you understand where it’s coming from. Training was tough. As a central midfielder, we did a lot of exercises with boxes and creating triangles and giving options and getting on the ball. It was all about opening your body up, always looking to play forward.

“He’s also very brave in his decision-making. He practises what he preaches. The World Cup experience was amazing and we put up a good fight. Played some really good football. Our mindset was we wouldn’t set any goals (for the tournament), we don’t want to limit ourselves — anything is possible. He was so ambitious and maybe we as a group didn’t believe in it as much as he did.”

As much as Postecoglou was desperate for Australia to show what they could do at that World Cup, his bigger priority was winning the Asian Cup they were hosting the following year, which they succeeded in doing with a 2-1 extra-time victory over South Korea in the final. Son scored Korea’s goal and he and Dejan Kulusevski are two Tottenham players tipped to thrive under a manager who wants his wingers to attack first and foremost rather than support their wing-back defensively as was often the case in the past two seasons under Antonio Conte.

Postecoglou was typically distant with the players while Australia manager — so much so that some wondered if they’d done something wrong — but he became renowned for his stirring speeches and motivational skills.

“His team talks were amazing. I actually wrote some down because I was so impressed with them and kept them in my phone,” Holland says.

“One thing that sticks out to me was him saying he wanted us to think about the one person who supported us and was there throughout our whole career. That person who drove us everywhere — to training and games, who was there through the thick and thin, through every single moment, and when we go out on the field today we’re standing on their shoulders and so we’re 10 feet tall because we don’t go out there alone — we go out with that person. So they’re not just facing us today, they’re facing all of us — us and all our loved ones.

“The way he delivered it was so powerful. And we knew his father was a massive presence and influence in that regard and every time he gave a team talk like that, you wanted to run through a brick wall for him.

“He was a brilliant storyteller and very good at using real-life situations that trigger your emotions.”

Postecoglou admits that: “I like to tell stories, to say why we’re doing things. I love the detail behind it.” And there are many similar testimonies to Holland’s from other Australia players, including Bailey Wright, who calls him “inspiring, a game-changer”.

Australian TV station Channel 10’s footage from his team talks at the time give a sense of why.

On one occasion, he is telling his players: “Whatever you’re feeling, they’re (the opposition) feeling fucking 10 times worse. Ten times worse, trust me. Because they’re chasing the ball.

“That’s who we are, we can work through it.”

On another, Postecoglou says: “Be brave. I’ll back you 1,000 per cent. Just know either side of you you’ve got someone you can rely on. So if you fuck up, they’ll make it up for you. And next time they fuck up, you’ll make it up to them.

“Be ruthless, be relentless.”

As well as the carrot, there was also plenty of stick — at one point, Postecoglou punches a TV screen and says: “There’s fucking got to be a reaction there. Someone! Fuck sake! Do you want to be a fucking soft team?”

On another, he says: “Some of you are getting lazy. And I tell you what, I’m not fucking putting up with that. I can see it. You can’t hide from me. I know who’s lazy and who’s not. You don’t walk off the pitch like you are now. You fucking crawl off the pitch, knowing you’ve given it everything you have.”

According to Luongo: “He is frightening because he’s so distant that you don’t really see much of him. And he doesn’t lose his temper that often but he can switch and do it every so often.”

Australia performed respectably at the 2017 Confederations Cup, a warm-up event in Russia for the following year’s World Cup — drawing with Cameroon and eventual runners-up Chile and losing 3-2 to Germany, who would go on to win the final — and again did it playing the kind of attacking football Postecoglou demands.

Postecoglou’s refusal to compromise on his attacking principles was becoming an issue, however. Former Australian players such as Mark Bosnich and Robbie Slater led the criticism as the national team only just managed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. It took extra time to get them past Syria in the Asian play-offs and only a post saved them from elimination in the 89th minute of the second leg.

Postecoglou’s view was always that Australia needed to think beyond just the next game and try to lay down foundations for the future. But at that point, others believed there had to be a degree of pragmatism with a World Cup spot at stake.

Some in the media found Postecoglou unnecessarily prickly at this time, as he became increasingly frustrated with the criticism of him and his team. In the end, with the criticism continuing and constant rancour and in-fighting at the Australian Football Federation, Postecoglou quit two weeks after that October play-off win over Syria secured qualification. It was a huge call with a World Cup seven months away but is typical of a man who will never compromise on his principles.

In late December, he was appointed manager of Yokohama F. Marinos in Japan’s top flight.

Postecoglou’s time in Japan was important for several reasons. He showed that his football could work in a different country and within a totally different culture, he developed closer links with the City Football Group (CFG) — which owned 20 per cent of the club — that later helped him get the Celtic and Spurs jobs and he scouted Japanese players who would ultimately prove crucial to his success in Scotland.

He also once again overcame a slow start to be successful. The team only avoided a relegation play-off on goal difference in his first season. They were brilliant going forward, scoring the joint-second most goals in the division, but conceded the third most.

Part of the solution was Postecoglou once again being ruthless with a veteran player — getting rid of the legendary 40-year-old centre-back Yuji Nakazawa at the end of that season. It was a brave call in a culture where elders are treated with a lot of deference and respect. For Postecoglou, it was a simple calculation that Nakazawa couldn’t cope as part of the high line he wanted to play.

The following season, Yokohama won the title playing a thrilling brand of attacking football. Pressing high and winning the ball back quickly were staples of the team. Helped by some astute summer signings, Postecoglou demonstrated that despite not speaking the language, he could still get his message across clearly to his players.

On the Masterminds: High Performance Sports podcast in 2020, he explained how adjustments he made helped in this regard: “I don’t speak Japanese. When I give a team talk now, I say my bit and then the interpreter says it in Japanese, then a Portuguese interpreter tells the Brazilian players. Then a Thai one tells the Thai player. I have four people talking at once. I’ve had to really sharpen my message because if I did a Churchillian speech we’d be there for hours. So I’ve had to make them really precise to get across my point.”

Midway through that 2019 season, Yokohama’s CFG links led to a July friendly against Pep Guardiola’s on-tour City. Postecoglou’s side lost 3-1 but they had 58 per cent possession and made a big impression on the Spaniard.

Commentator Ben Mabley was a touchline reporter at the game and had to act as an interpreter when a stressed Guardiola started telling the fourth official he needed to make substitutions sooner than he’d hoped. “Marinos were running much harder than City expected and they weren’t used to that,” Mabley says. “So Pep was obviously struck by it. He was full of praise for Marinos’ work rate and style of football.”

After the game, Guardiola said: “Both City and Yokohama have the same philosophies.”

This praise was a stark contrast to the criticism Postecoglou had endured the year before when his football was deemed too high-risk for the more conservative J1 League.

Being in Japan also crystallised other elements of Postecoglou’s philosophy. One was that attitude mattered more than technical ability when it came to things like playing out from the back.

Sean Carroll, a Japan-based football journalist, interviewed him on several occasions and was told: “More than about technical ability, it’s about have they got the guts? Can they do it with no fear? Even if we make mistakes, will they keep doing it?”

Postecoglou added that he looks first and foremost for players with the confidence and mental strength to keep performing in that way even when fans are restless and they want them to go long. He also explained that he wants forwards who are willing to work for the team. Not just a No 9 who will stay forward and score goals. He needs them to be pressing for the team.

Observing Postecoglou up close, Carroll says he saw someone first and foremost who just loved football and being a manager: “He always seemed perfectly comfortable coming to Japan, even though he didn’t speak the language. He always seemed nonplussed by that. His view was that his job is as a football manager and yes, there are differences between players in Japan and elsewhere, but that was also true of players from different generations that he’d managed. He believed he had a philosophy and you have to work with the players you have. He always seemed perfectly at ease.”

And similar to his message to Australian players that their nationality should not be a barrier to success, Postecoglou stressed to his players at Yokohama that they were so much better than the stereotypes which surrounded them. While there, he was constantly scouting for talent, convinced plenty of Japanese players could be successful in Europe.

This paid instant dividends in his next job.

All the dismissiveness that met Tottenham’s initial links with Postecoglou played out in an almost identical way two years ago when he was appointed Celtic manager.

Did Celtic really think the way to close the 25-point gap from the previous season to champions and arch-rivals Rangers was to appoint an Aussie who’d never managed in a serious European league? Eddie Howe was the club’s first choice and Postecoglou was so mocked by Celtic-supporting talkSPORT radio presenter (and former Spurs forward) Alan Brazil that he had to apologise a year later when they won a league and League Cup double.

As it turned out, Postecoglou was an inspired choice. The move came about in part because Postecoglou was recommended to Celtic’s hierarchy via contacts within CFG. Both former Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell’s son Mark, who was appointed the Glasgow side’s head of scouting and recruitment in 2022, and acquaintance of Celtic’s hierarchy Fergal Harkin worked for CFG at the time, so were familiar with the Australian’s work in Japan.

Similar to Spurs now, Celtic were a mess. There was boardroom upheaval, they were selling their most valuable players, and recruitment was all over the place. Postecoglou oversaw several signings in his first summer, including two from the J-League — most notably Kyogo Furuhashi, who has scored 34 goals in 50 games this season. More experienced players such as former England goalkeeper Joe Hart came in — from Spurs, coincidentally — and he has credited Postecoglou with revitalising his career, even if this season has been a tricky one.

Nine of the 11 players who started last Saturday’s Scottish Cup final win were Postecoglou signings and there were typically high-profile departures soon after he arrived as well. Centre-back Kristoffer Ajer left for Brentford, while the club’s main attackers, Odsounne Edouard and Ryan Christie, were sold to Crystal Palace and Bournemouth respectively. By way of replacement, Furuhashi was moved from a wider to a more central position and it has paid off handsomely. He has since been linked with a move to, yes, Spurs.

Postecoglou’s recruitment was generally seen as very impressive at Celtic, partly thanks to his knowledge of Asian markets. His success with signings contributed to Brighton & Hove Albion of the Premier League considering him when Graham Potter took the Chelsea job last September.

Boldly, Postecoglou arrived at Celtic with no backroom staff of his own, though he later appointed countryman Kewell. He says he likes to regularly change his coaching team to ensure he’s always being challenged. He is expected to bring Celtic assistant John Kennedy with him to Tottenham.

As with most of his previous jobs, things started slowly for Postecoglou. Celtic dropped 11 points in their first seven games and found themselves sixth in the 12-team Premiership. At this point, a video of one of Postecoglou’s first training sessions, where he wore a microphone and said the now-famous line: “We never stop. We stop at half-time and we stop at the end of the game when we celebrate. If the opposition wants to stop, that’s good for us” was the subject of ridicule. By the end of that season, “We never stop” was a cherished mantra.

After that slow start, Postecoglou said to the Scottish media: “You call things early here, don’t you? It’s quite remarkable that seven games in people are calling the title already. It’s just not how I work.”

Being judged too early, based just on results, is something that infuriates Postecoglou. He is a big believer in judging teams based on their performances rather than on a few results. In any case, the results soon matched the performances and Celtic stormed to the title. Players spoke of feeling revitalised and how good a team spirit Postecoglou had fostered, despite him, as always, keeping his distance from them. The squad were discouraged from using their phones at the training ground to try to build closer relationships between team-mates.

In the final month of that 2021-22 season, Hart summed up the mood in the camp to BBC Sportsound: “He’s a great manager to work under — a top guy. I’m 35. I could be bored of football by now, but I’m not under this guy. He makes me want to come into work every day, makes me want to learn, makes me excited. I can’t wait to get in every day, I can’t wait to play the games, I can’t wait to play the system.”

Supporters were similarly enthused, partly because of how good a public speaker Postecoglou was — something that appealed to Spurs during their recent search.

In the February of that first season, after Celtic had beaten visitors Rangers 3-0 to go top, Postecoglou channelled the spirit of his father and those who he had watched South Melbourne with as a kid when he said: “I said to the players that we had 60,000 in tonight and I’m sure a lot of them walked in with some problems in their life. For these 95 minutes, we made them forget that and feel good, and that’s something special.”

Other choice lines have included him explaining his commitment to playing his style of football despite conceding four goals in both the first two Europa League group games under him that season: “My view on that is, if you are a strict vegetarian, you don’t drop into Macca’s (McDonald’s) just because you are hungry mate, you know? This is what I believe in!”

Tactically, Celtic became a joy to watch. Playing with inverted full-backs and No 8s who move wide, the sophistication of the team’s rotations and passing patterns have been a revelation. And they support the idea he explained while in Japan — that playing his way is as much about attitude as it is ability.

The Tottenham players will have no excuses. Even Hart, so uncomfortable on the ball he was jettisoned at City by Guardiola almost as soon as he was appointed in 2016 (and elsewhere), has embraced it. “We live and die by it,” Hart said last month. “There’s been many coaches and managers I’m sure out there who say, ‘Look, this is how I want you to play and, if it doesn’t (work), it’s on me’. I have heard that many times. But I genuinely feel comfortable making risky passes, short passes, and if someone does miss a pass or a tackle and the ball goes in, I don’t think any of us would even flinch because that’s what we are being asked to do.”

And where many Spurs players have stagnated over the past couple of years, the level of improvement by many of the Celtic squad in the two seasons under Postecoglou has been remarkable. Tom Rogic and David Turnbull were orthodox No 10s for most of their careers but became essential No 8s within Postecoglou’s 4-3-3 in his first season, with Rogic arguably having his best season as a pro. Nir Bitton had a mini-renaissance, while Callum McGregor quickly became one of the side’s most important players after a personally disappointing 2020-21.

“His signings have been a breath of fresh air, but improvement of what was already there has been one of the most impressive things,” says Mark Wilson, the former Celtic defender and now a pundit on Radio Clyde in Glasgow.

McGregor operated as a ball-playing No 6, a position which is essential to Postecoglou’s side. Postecoglou needs someone there who can play incisive forward passes and take risks.

Furuhashi’s first of two goals against Aberdeen in last month’s Premiership finale is a great example of this and ‘Ange-ball’ more generally. A pass is threaded forward, through three opposition players, to Greg Taylor, who has inverted from left-back into a central area. From there, he presents Furuhashi with the chance to score. Yves Bissouma, who performed a similar job at Brighton before joining Spurs last summer, could be the man for the McGregor role.

Even last season, the sense at Celtic was that Postecoglou’s principles had become writ so large that he could probably go on holiday for a few weeks and the levels of commitment and focus in training wouldn’t drop. For Tottenham, a club so lacking in identity in the past few years, this should be very encouraging.

On the flip side, Postecoglou’s lack of tactical flexibility was seen by some at Parkhead as an issue. In Europe in particular, his policy of: if Plan A doesn’t work, let’s do Plan A better, was not for everyone.

Even away at Real Madrid in this season’s Champions League, Postecoglou refused to compromise and instructed his team to attack the European champions at the Bernabeu. They ended up losing 5-1, despite playing well in patches. In general, Postecoglou’s record in Europe with Celtic was poor — a Europa League group-stage exit and a first knockout tie defeat in the Conference League in year one and a winless Champions League this season. Although, Celtic have struggled in Europe for some time now.

Postecoglou’s in-game changes have also not always had the desired effect — perhaps again because he’s loath to fundamentally alter what the team is doing.

Generally, though, Postecoglou’s time in Scotland is viewed as a huge success. He didn’t just win five of the six domestic trophies available; he transformed a club hurting after seeing Rangers deny them an almost mythic 10 titles in a row.

“He’s succeeded in everything he wanted to do at Celtic in a short space of time,” says Wilson. “The club was in turmoil and within 18 months he turned it on his head. He had a vision, a clear plan, and didn’t bring any staff in. He did it by himself. To have the courage of your convictions like that is amazing.

“A real leader. That’s what Spurs will have. He won’t be berating officials like Conte or criticising opposition managers. He’s calmer than that. But behind closed doors, he is one not to be messed with.”

Of the dozens of people The Athletic spoke to for this piece, what shone through again and again is how passionately everyone spoke in defence of and admiration for Postecoglou. The idea the Tottenham job will be too big for him is ludicrous to them. They cannot see him failing if he is given time.

That’s a crucial if though. Because what’s also clear is that for Postecoglou to be a success, everyone at the club will have to accept that there might well be a slow start to next season. That there will be some bad results. Errors playing it out from the back. Doubts.

If everyone can see past those, then Postecoglou could be a spectacular success rather than a quick-fire failure, which at an unforgiving club like Spurs is also possible.

But for those doubting him, remember that proving people wrong is something he’s done his whole career.

Going all the way back to South Melbourne, as his general manager there, Filopoulos recalls: “He’s never been the natural choice. Even at South Melbourne, he wasn’t the first name that came up (to be the manager). We were looking for other coaches when he got the job. There have been doubters in every part of his career, but he wears his heart on his sleeve and he just goes for it.

“He’s proved people wrong everywhere he’s been.”

(Top photo: Ronny Hartmann/AFP via Getty Images. Design: Sam Richardson)



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