As Ange Postecoglou prepares his Celtic team for only his second competitive football match in charge of Celtic tonight there must be a realisation dawning on the manager that the demands at this club are something he’s never been accustomed to elsewhere.
In his first media interview Ange physically prickled at a mainstream media journalist questioning the standard of football he had managed in before and he was right to be annoyed. After all the question was asked in a way that undermined the quality of football he’d overseen, and as a man who had managed a league title winning side in Japan, the query was disrespectful.
The questioner was bigging-up the game in our wee corner of European football far too much if we thought the standard was far superior to the J-League. When you add in the fact Postecoglou had managed at World Cups then the standard he was expecting to manage at wasn’t in question. Pressure however, now that’s a different story. Scrutiny? That too was worth exploring, but it wasn’t. Instead, the journalist in question tried to aim a lazy kick out at Ange’s credentials and missed the target.
Now Celtic’s new boss will see just what he has let himself in for and the pressure of managing Celtic and expectations must be seeping in. Postecoglou has just completed pre-season, a series of games to get players fit in the main for the season ahead and already there is pressure and scrutiny in abundance.
Eight days ago, Celtic went into a first leg of this Champions league qualifier against FC Midtjylland on the back of a home defeat to a Preston North End side who will do well to trouble the play-offs in the Championship this coming season and many were worried. Celtic however put in an excellent attacking, and in the main comfortable defensive performance.
Bar an idiotic red card handed to an experienced player who should have known better, Celtic were on course to win that tie with a couple of goals in hand. That is even accounting for a goalkeeper who was caught in two minds to punch or catch a strike at goal and managed to do neither, and an 18-year-old rookie having to come in for his first competitive game for the club in the middle of a defence itself lacking experience.
The result was a score draw but confidence Celtic could go to Denmark and finish the job was high. What a difference from the perception of Celtic’s chances the previous Saturday at 4.45pm.
Yet somehow another friendly defeat has some of us inserting pencils up the nose and wearing our underpants as a hat. West ham won 6-2 and Celtic were given a counter attacking footballing lesson.
Apparently West Ham were behind us in our preparations and it was Bhoys against men stuff. In the scheme of things did the result or performance matter? No, it didn’t.
It was another pre-season friendly sandwiched between two games that do matter and one of which we’d already done rather well in. Did losing to Preston impact our first leg performance or did Celtic’s standard of play impress against FC Midtjylland last Tuesday? Will losing to a superior West Ham impact the outcome of this match? No, it won’t.
Celtic started the game well against West Ham and in an attacking sense we caused them problems. We were playing a side who finished in the top six of the EPL last season and one whose manager has mastered the art of the counter attacking approach to football as well as anyone.
Celtic were off it on Saturday of that there is no doubt but a pre-season game, no matter the worth of it in terms of preparation, does not have a competitive edge. As such it was an After the Lord Mayor’s show mentality exhibited, particularly so in recovering lost possession as we witnessed on Saturday. Considering that was on the back of a draining Champions league qualifier and just ahead of another, I’m sure the players can be forgiven for not being as mentally attuned as last Tuesday nor as physically on their game.
Tonight, however Celtic are not playing a top six EPL side, the match is a competitive encounter and both the player’s record and the manager’s tactics in the main haven’t been found wanting in the one competitive match we have played. The other games we have played so far simply do not matter at all.
Our opponents tonight have won only one game of football this season, last season finished as runners up in their league, have lost a lot of their top players and have others in the huff. They also have a manager who has never managed at the competitive end of any top flight competition and is a rookie when it comes to European football – and just a week ago they could barely lay a glove on Celtic.
Yet the scrutiny and pressure is being ramped up. Much of it is concern at matters off the pitch and the limited numbers, defensively particularly, Celtic have to play with. Concern is understandable; however, panic isn’t. That is unjustifiable.
Our midfield and attack gave Midtjylland the run around last week, they couldn’t cope for large parts of that game. Defensively we limited them to two opportunities all night. We are playing the same opponent tonight.
Scrutiny and pressure come with the Celtic job and Ange Postecoglou will have expected that, however I doubt he’d have been prepared for pre-season games to come under the microscope quite as much as this. That they are is indicative of legacy issues within the support from last season’s performances and frustration amongst us all for a manager being hamstrung by the transfer hesitancy exhibited in the Boardroom.
There is plenty of time to analyse performances however we’d do well to save such analysis for competitive matches. That is only fair and so far in that regard Ange Postecoglou hasn’t let anyone down.
We all knew this season was going to be one of huge change, we were all aware we were criminally under prepared for European football, indeed most of us knew fine well that Champions League qualification was likely to have been extinguished after the collapse of the Eddie Howe deal and the lack of preparation time left, particularly with a historically hesitant and risk averse board when it comes to transfer activity.
The journalist asking the question at that first media press conference was being entirely disrespectful to our new manager’s previous achievements and the environment he’d achieved them in. Our Board’s hesitancy in the transfer market to date has been just as disrespectful to their new man.
For some of our own support however to now act as if we expect a new manager and fresh playing philosophy to be ready and consistent at this juncture is entirely without reason. And to have judged most of that progress on pre-season games is grossly unfair.
Scrutiny and pressure may well come with the Celtic job, but there’s a time and place for it and it is not pre-season games. Nor should it even be in a Champions League qualifying route we ourselves know could ultimately, even if it is not tonight, be a bridge too far for an understrength squad.
Right now, all we can expect is for gradual progress to be exhibited and to be as competitive as our limited squad can manage. Balanced performances and consistency will take time. At this stage that is all we can ask of Ange Postecoglou and this Celtic team, anything more is unreasonable expectation.