Inspired by Bill Shankly and Ferenc Puskas, Ange Postecoglou is the risk-taking trailblazer reviving Tottenham Hotspur with his no-fear philosophy.
Postecoglou has been a breath of fresh air for Spurs, banishing the bitter cycle of failure and recrimination that haunted the north London club before his close-season arrival from Celtic. The 58-year-old is the first Australian to manage a Premier League team.
And when Tottenham host top-four rivals Liverpool on Saturday, Greece-born Postecoglou will fulfil a dream more than half a century in the making. He fell in love with football as a child, idolising the all-conquering Liverpool teams of the 1970s managed by the charismatic Shankly.
“I always wanted to be a manager. I was a massive Liverpool fan. I loved Bill Shankly. I loved the boot room stories,” he told the ‘BBC’. Despite his boyhood admiration for Liverpool, Postecoglou is no wide-eyed stargazer, as his impressive impact with previously moribund Spurs has proved.
The club finished a lowly eighth in the Premier League last season following a miserable campaign in which Postecoglou’s precedessor Antonio Conte launched scathing attacks on the culture of a club without a major trophy since 2008.
Revitalised this season, unbeaten Tottenham have already defeated Manchester United and drawn with Arsenal to move into fourth place, two points behind second-placed Liverpool ahead of this weekend’s showdown.
In an echo of the way Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp hauled his club out of a deep depression with the power of his magnetic personality, Postecoglou’s positive vibes have been restorative for Tottenham.
The most visible evidence of his person has come in his team’s determination to embrace his bold desire to play out from defence with bravery and precision. Even when James Maddison nearly gifted a goal to Arsenal’s Gabriel Jesus during last weekend’s 2-2 draw, Postecoglou had no qualms about backing his player.
“I gave it away but the manager makes me feel so good that I can get it again and if I give it away, it’s OK because that’s how he wants us to play,” Maddison said.
September 29, 2023
The way Tottenham twice battled back from behind to take a hard-fought point from the north London derby offered further proof of Postecoglou’s ability to unify his club.
“He is bringing us together like a family. He is more like a dad or something. We are like brothers together and we have to do this for each other. We fight for each other. He is building that,” said Tottenham defender Micky van de Ven.
Family has always been a driving force for Postecoglou, whose parents moved with him to Australia when he was five after losing their business following a Greek military coup.
Aside from his football-loving father, the biggest influence on Postecoglou’s managerial style came during his playing career with South Melbourne Hellas (now South Melbourne FC), where he was coached by Real Madrid great Puskas.
“He just didn’t like defending at all. His attitude was they score four, we score five. We ended up winning the league. It stirred something inside me and I thought, ‘why not’?,” Postecoglou said.
It was a philosophy that served him well during successful spells as coach of Brisbane Roar, Australia, Yokohama F Marinos and Celtic.
Searching for a coach capable of lifting the gloom left by the intense Conte, Tottenham flirted with Julian Nagelsmann, Vincent Kompany and Arne Slot before settling on Postecoglou, who won two Scottish titles with Celtic.
He may not have been Tottenham’s first choice but after taking a circuitous managerial path that felt destined to end in frustration, Postecoglou is relishing his late-blooming career.
“I never thought I would get here to be honest, not because of my ability, just because no one was looking this way,” he said. In the past, Tottenham optimism has often been followed by a precipitous fall, but Maddison says things are different under their new boss.
“When you hear fans and neutrals talk about Tottenham, they often say, ‘soft, weak, they’ll bottle it, Spursy’, all that rubbish. The last couple of weeks show we might be going in a slightly different direction.”
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