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How Ange Postecoglou delivered the Premiership title for Celtic

Celtic clinched the title at Tannadice on Wednesday night.

How Ange Postecoglou delivered the Premiership title for Celtic SNS Group

Celtic are champions of Scotland after their 1-1 against Dundee United ensured they can’t be caught at the top of the Premiership table.

It’s the tenth title in 11 years for the Parkhead club, but a first in Scotland for a manager who arrived in the country to little acclaim less than a year ago.

Ange Postecoglou may have won trophies in his native Australia and Japan, and took his national team to the World Cup, but he faced a huge job when taking the reins at Celtic last June.

There’s been a lot of football played since and after 37 league games have been played, Celtic have clinched the trophy they targeted at the start.

We’ve had a look back at the journey the team has been on since Postecoglou started work.

The previous season

Neil Lennon was sacked in February as Celtic lost their grip on domestic trophies. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)SNS Group

The task that faced Postecoglou when he walked through the doors at Celtic can only really be appreciated by looking at the season gone before.

After a record-equalling nine-in-a-row, the team had been in pursuit of a tenth consecutive league title and were in a position of strength, having maintained a stranglehold on all the domestic trophies.

Things went from unrivalled to unravelling pretty quickly. The Champions League bid was over almost before it had begun. The Europa League campaign was miserable. The defence of the League Cup ended in a second-round loss to Ross County, while Rangers knocked them out of the Scottish Cup.

Most dismal was the league record bid, with Rangers ending hopes of ten-in-a-row with an unbeaten season and Celtic 25 points behind.

There were Covid scandals, fan protests and the sacking of Neil Lennon. Chief executive Peter Lawwell announced his retirement, while captain Scott Brown made his exit at the season’s end.

And after all that, the months-long pursuit of Eddie Howe ended in failure, with Celtic left to look at Plan B. Enter, to little fanfare, Ange Postecoglou.

The squad turnaround 

Kyogo Furuhashi became an instant favourite at Celtic. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)SNS Group

It wasn’t just Scott Brown who left a hole in the Celtic squad before the new manager’s arrival. Mohamed Elyounoussi, Shane Duffy, Diego Laxalt and Jonjoe Kenny all returned to their parent clubs after loan spells.

And as Postecoglou looked to bring in replacements, more players made their way out the door before the window ended. Ryan Christie, Kristoffer Ajer and Odsonne Edouard all departed for England in multi-million pound deals.

More than a dozen players arrived in the summer window as Celtic worked to get numbers in, Former England number one Joe Hart brought recognised experience, as did free transfer James McCarthy, while imports such as Liel Abada, Josip Juranovic and Giorgos Giakoumakis all looked promising.

Carl Starfelt and Cameron Carter-Vickers came in from Rubin Kazan and Tottenham Hotspur respectively and were expected to quickly form a defensive core. Jota arrived on loan from Benfica with a burgeoning reputation and an opportunity to shine. 

A handful of young prospects were added to the wider squad and there was one signing that was undeniably 100% Postecoglou as forward Kyogo Furuhashi arrived from Vissel Kobe, as the former Yokohama F Marinos boss returned to the J-League for a player he thought could cut it in Scotland.

Fringe players left as the new-look squad tried to get to know each other quickly and hit the ground running in all competitions.

Overcoming a difficult start 

Postecoglou saw his new side dumped out of Champions League qualifying. (Photo by Claus Fisker / SNS Group)SNS Group

With change in almost every department, it’s no real surprise that things didn’t click instantly, but at a club where there’s little room for error, questions were asked as they were knocked out of Champions League qualifying by Midtjylland and lost their Premiership opener against Hearts.

Questions were being asked about speed of recruitment and direction of travel, there were signs of progress as Furuhashi in particular made and impact and a six-game winning streak that included two 6-0 wins gave reassurance to fans that this was a project that deserved time.

Still, results were uneven in the early part of the season, and a five-match spell that included losses to AZ, Rangers, Real Betis and Livingston showed there was a lot of work to be done.

The last thing needed was a return of off-field disruption, but chief executive Dominic McKay left abruptly after just a few months in the job. What could have been the spark for crisis was played down by Postecoglou, who said he had a good relationship with interim boss Michael Nicholson, and the issue never cropped up again.

That defeat to Livingston in mid-September proved to be the last defeat in the league, as the team found their groove, in domestic football at least. The team kept pace with Rangers at the top of the league. European results weren’t enough to progress in the Europa League, but the manager could point to definite signs that his ideas had taken shape and that his signings were able.

Imposing ideas

The manager worked to get his ideas across to his players.   (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)SNS Group

If you were to compile a list of the most-used phrases from the Australian this season, then “We just play our football” would be near the top. 

Postecoglou has been consistent throughout the season in avoiding talk of title races and targets, points and wins, draws or losses. The manager laid out his belief that if he could get the team playing to his style and expectation, then results would take care of themselves.

Snippets of training ground coaching, in-depth interviews and a look at his managerial background showed exactly what his expectations were. Fast-paced, attack-minded football that involves high-pressing when out of possession and building from the back when they have the ball.

The approach was perhaps best demonstrated in the 3-0 win over Rangers in early February that saw Celtic move to the top of the table. A relentless, energetic start from the hosts left Rangers on the back foot and struggling for an out ball in a whirlwind first half.

A series of hamstring injuries to key players saw the approach questioned and Postecoglou insisted that the system worked and, fitness-wise, everything was geared towards being strong towards the end of the season. That’s been borne out as the manager has had virtually a full squad to choose from in the final straight.

Integrating new players 

Reo Hatate scored key goals as Celtic beat Rangers to move top. (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)SNS Group

After the summer influx were bedded in quickly and Postecoglou got to grips with his squad, it was inevitable that he would add to his group at the first opportunity.

Though the January market is notoriously difficulty to add quality, and Celtic had a habit of late-in-the-window deals, this time they were prepared and had the signing of a trio of players from the J-League agreed before the turn of the year.

Though Yosuke Ideguchi has yet to become a regular first-team contributor, fellow midfielder Reo Hatate has already made an impact with a brace against Rangers being the highlight of his first few months. Forward Daizen Maeda’s non-stop running has made him a favourite and he’s already found the net eight times.

Matt O’Riley was the other first team January signing, arriving from MK Dons for £1.5m and already looking a snip at the price. 

Ideguchi aside, the players almost instantly adapted to the system and became important contributors as Celtic motored towards the title.

Relentless pursuit, staying on top, keeping focus

Postecoglou has won all four Manager of the Month awards in 2022. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)SNS Group

Having spent the first half of the season finding their feet, then trailing the defending champions, Postecoglou’s Celtic maintained a steady run of form in the league from October onwards.

The League Cup win in December added confidence, but it was in January that things started to turn in the Premiership. Rangers dropped points in two of their three games while Celtic took maximum, and when the sides met in the first game of February, it was all change at the top as Celtic were comfortable winners.

A win at Ibrox in April helped extend the gap amid a run of six straight victories and a draw against Rangers at the start of the month all but assured Postecoglou and his players of the title.

Connecting with fans

The Australian has already built a strong connection with the support. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)SNS Group

Last season’s problems saw a deep disconnect between the fans and the club, if not the team, with protests against results and the board’s leadership.

Neil Lennon became a target for a section of the Celtic support as their grip on three trophies disappeared and the new manager was always going to have to win over the support in any case.

Postecoglou had both the advantage and disadvantage of coming from the other side of the world. With a reputation foged at club and international level, he was always going to get the benefit of the doubt, though the lack of European experience meant some questioned his appointment. 

Results make any manager popular, but Postecoglou’s approach won many over from the start, with his straight answers and clear expectations helping him get his message to the support that a fix wouldn’t be instant but the process was worth trusting in.

An appreciation of the demands of the job and the size of the club and its history didn’t do the Australian any harm either. 

Ultimately, a winning team with a recognisable style and high work rate is what have convinced the fans that they have a manager worth backing. A recent #AskAnge session on the Celtic Twitter account showed the respect he has, and the fascination with his approach, but delivering the number one target has cemented his place in the support’s affections. 

Postecoglou spoke last year about everything being a work in progress that should be judged at the end of the season. With the title delivered, judgement has been favourable, and after a summer break, the manager will be asked to take the next step, with a place in the Champions League ensuring a challenge ahead that will match the one just met.

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