WHEN Ange Postecoglou took Australia to the 2014 World Cup, he did so believing he could win it. When the Greek-Australian quit immediately after the Socceroos claimed a place at the 2018 tournament, he did so because the mood he had was that too many members of the association felt qualification was the height of their ambition.
So it’s no surprise that when Postecoglou looks to this week’s game against Norwegian side Bodo/Glimt in the inaugural Europa Conference League, his plans aren’t short-term.
“I want to go further in each competition. I never went into anything without thinking about trying to make it through,” he said. “I took Australia to a World Cup and thought I could win it. I know people will say I’m ridiculous, but that’s how I’m made up.
“You get into something and do your best to succeed, that’s what we will do in Europe. Why give up this opportunity if it exists? You might think next year or the year after, but it might never happen. We are in the competition and we want to succeed in it. This is what we will try to do.
“A win in Europe is always meaningful, no matter who you play against. They don’t come that often – you have to fight to win them all. So I don’t neglect that competition. I want us to play well there and that we win because it adds to the prestige and history of this football club.
In another season, Celtic’s 9 points in the Europa League would have been enough to qualify for the knockout stages of the UEFA second-tier tournament. The final win of the campaign came against Real Betis and while there was a different tension surrounding the game as Celtic had already been knocked out and the Spaniards were already assured of progression, the young side that Postecoglou a lined up acquitted herself well.
Amid a string of demanding games as Celtic were hampered by injury problems, the Greek-Australian spoke after that encounter about the lack of depth within the squad. This has since been resolved in the January transfer window and, with Christopher Jullien set to feature at some point today against Raith Rovers in the Scottish Cup and James Forrest also returning, those pressures have eased.
“There’s no doubt that the first part of the season was a huge challenge for us,” he said. “It was a double-edged sword. We had played well in the Coupe de la Ligue, so we had a lot of games and we wanted to do well in Europe.
“But we were strained in terms of players and injuries. But at the same time, we really wanted to make sure we were involved in Europe after the new year. Our results against Ferencvaros helped us reach that space. We were all super excited to be in Europe again. It’s another challenge for us and we want to test ourselves on the continent. This competition now gives us that opportunity.
“I don’t like to give priority to a competition. Because you go ahead and you say to yourself: “How many opportunities will we have to do special things in Europe”? I think you can take it for granted. We’ll probably be in Europe every year, but if you start prioritizing you can miss opportunities.
There is another opportunity ahead of Celtic this afternoon as they face a Raith Rovers side still reeling from their off-pitch scandal around the David Goodwillie case. After winning the first silverware offered this season, the Postecoglou team is the only team that can possibly win a domestic treble. If last season felt far removed from the triumphs that resulted from a single treble, this season already feels like redemption.
“Apart from the last three games, we’ve shown different sides of ourselves this season as a team,” he said. “Against Dundee United recently, we scored last minute to win. That’s what I tried to emphasize to the players – it’s our resilience that has gotten us this far, not just the brilliance of our football.”
Postecoglou’s compatriot Tom Rogic claimed an iconic role in Celtic’s Invincible treble season during Brenda Rodgers’ first season at the club. A last-minute goal in Hampden monsoon conditions sparked wild celebrations from the usually unfazed midfielder with Postecoglou keen to make his own mark on the tournament.
“I can’t remember where I was in 2017… I still had other things to do in my life!” joked the Celtic manager. “No, I remember that goal. Tommy already has a wonderful legacy at this club and he scored a lot of iconic goals like that.
“That’s the beauty of cup finals, that’s why I’ve always loved them. Because there’s always a story or an incident that comes out of it.
“It either takes a piece of magic or a calamity for the trophy to be won. It was one of those games. The Scottish Cup final and the FA Cup final have always been big events in terms of spectators.
“It’s one of those competitions that even from afar, the Scottish Cup final is the one I’ve watched from halfway around the world. “I’ve always known the importance of this event. So yes, this is another competition I want to succeed in. We have to be ready for the challenge today.