How Ange Postecoglou won over Celtic fans and conquered Scottish Premier League

Postecoglou has turned Celtic around this season, despite a rocky start.Credit:Getty Images

“We love Big Angel,” they say. “He’s been so good. He’s changed the club. He makes the fans feel part of it again.”

Young children proudly wear Ange masks to the game. Some, as well as mum and dad, drape themselves in flags bearing his image and trademark quote “We never stop”. Others wear replicas of the black woolen knits he chooses to wear over his match-day shirt and tie.

Moments after his team lifted the Scottish premiership trophy after a 6-0 demolition of Motherwell on Saturday night (AEST) – his sixth and most significant top-flight crown across three continents – an emotional Postecoglou let it all out.

“It’s pretty hard for me to explain to people but when you go grow up on the other side of the world, this is what you crave,” the 56-year-old said on the sidelines of packed Celtic Park, where 60,000 fans were still there almost an hour after the final whistle.

“I am passionate about football, I love it, but I happened to live in a country where they don’t share that. They are passionate about other sports, but I have been craving this all my adult, my young life.

“The moment I got here I tried to immerse myself in it, it is what I want to be part of. It hasn’t disappointed.”

Postecoglou is the first Australian to coach, let alone win a title, at a major European club in a men’s competition. And the significance is not lost on him. While Celtic have now won 10 of the last 11 Scottish Premiership titles, they finished last season 25 points behind local rivals Rangers and the club was plunged into chaos.

He was mocked as “Ange Postecog-who?” when his shock appointment was leaked to the Scottish media. When the club dropped 11 points in the first seven league games, former Scotland striker Kris Boyd declared he had no authority, no backing, no support from the board and virtually no chance of being successful.

“Postecoglou might as well hand in his resignation and take himself back to Australia,” he wrote in The Scottish Sun.

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But now, after a 31-game undefeated streak, he is the king of his castle, the manager of the year and the top dog at Paradise, the home of the 134-year-old club. The achievement puts him at the top with a handful of Australian sporting feats on the world stage.

However, it’s the way he transformed the club, winning over its players, its hundreds of thousands of fans around and his fiercest of critics that elevates his sheer impact above and beyond a list of comparative achievements in Europe of great Australian soccer figures, such as Tim Cahill at Everton, Craig Johnston at Liverpool, Harry Kewell (Leeds and Liverpool) and Mark Viduka at Celtic and Leeds.

He has become a cultural phenomenon. Diehard fan and rocker Rod Stewart has turned up unannounced at his home and hugged him. Snoop Dogg wants to party with him.

Mark Palmer, a sports writer for The Scottish Timessaid while winning a premiership is always a team effort, he has pondered whether there has ever been a stronger case for saying none of it would have been possible without one man.

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“Perhaps, in the entire history of Celtic, has any one individual ever made a more colossal impact more quickly than Postecoglou has this season?” he asked.

“Postecoglou has given Celtic a style and substance while bringing order and strategy to the club’s previously haphazard approach to recruitment. Furthermore, he has healed and revived a relationship with supporters that had fractured so badly.”

James Forrest, a Celtic fan whose regular blog posts have ridden the wave of emotions of the club’s ups and downs over recent years, said the scale of what Postecoglou has achieved in just one season is “extraordinary”, even if most fans simply believe he’s restored the club to its rightful place.

“He is clearly a man, a manager, of substance and if he had taken over Celtic in better times, under better conditions, there is zero doubt that he would have been a mighty success story,” he said.

“The world may have seen his achievements and simply not understood the full range of his talents and skills … in a way it was perfect that he inherited a shambles, that he took over a team which didn’t need fixing but transforming. A club that required a revolution.”

Fellow Australian Tom Rogic, who grew up playing in Canberra before spending the past decade at Celtic as an attacking midfielder, farewelled the club on Saturday. His career was languishing before Postecoglou turned up last year. This season he made Professional Footballers’ Association Scotland Team of the Year. The pair shared a warm embrace, with Rogic moved to tears by the applause of the crowd after he was substituted in the second.

“I couldn’t contain my emotion, it was hard. It’s a special club, it’s been an enormous part of my life,” he said. “Off the back of last season, it’s enormous. It’s a special season to go out on.”

Rogic says he always believed in Postecoglou and says it’s “nice to see that people on this side of the world are starting to take notice”.

“He’s done a hell of a job.”

Goalkeeper Joe Hart, who was capped 75 times for England and among the English Premier League’s stars with Manchester City for almost a decade, says at 35, he’s felt like “a young kid coming into training every day” under Postecoglou. “He’s made an old donkey like me feel young again,” he said this week.

Postecoglou shared a hug with his wife Georgia and young sons Max and Alexi prior to an emotional lap of honor of Celtic Park after the game. He has jokingly lamented the fact his boys speak with an American twang after a few years in an international school in Japan.

Postecoglou with his wife Georgia and kids Max and Alexi.

Postecoglou with his wife Georgia and kids Max and Alexi.Credit:Getty Images

Sustained success will likely mean it won’t take long before they’re speaking with a Glasgow patter. A contract extension is mooted and the Champions League – the ultimate challenge in club soccer awaits.

Introduced to the packed stage to Men at Work’s down under for the presentation, the man of the moment left the crowd with goosebumps after a stirring thank-you speech. He paused for a moment to regain his composure as the fans chanted his name.

“I’ve got a group of players who have been unbelievable, champions of Scotland and well deserved,” he said, before describing Celtic fans as “the best on the planet”.

“You’ve embraced me, you’ve embraced our family, you’ve embraced this jumper, and I want everyone to enjoy today, enjoy this summer, and we’ll come back bigger, better because we never stop.”

Decades of hard works have paid off almost overnight for this Australian. And it’s easy to get the feeling he’s only just begun.

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