The Australian’s overall record might be patchy – with serious dunts and serious disappointments – but there have been some fine victories. Never, though, a genuine statement win … a night when a big shot from one of the top five leagues are sent away with tail between legs. These don’t come along often for Celtic in cross-border competition, to be honest, and are becoming increasing rare. Indeed, the last such success was all of three years ago, in the Europa League. That took the form of Neil Lennon’s side thrillingly edging out Lazio 2-1 in Rome. To not only snare the club a first competitive win on Italian soil but secure the top spot in a continental group as had previously proved beyond them.
Celtic welcoming RB Leipzig to their backyard for Tuesday’s Champions League assignment provides Postecoglou with the opportunity to carve out his own niche in the club’s cross-border jousting. It was put to him that a victory would be of no little significance when Celtic are without a home win at the most exalted level of European competition since a 2-1 success over Ajax all of nine years ago. He mockingly recoiled at being informed of that grim stat, and petitioned that the absence of any such wins since – the Parkhead denizens unable to celebrate defeating a rival in the environment across seven subsequent evenings – couldn’t be laid at his door. Of course, only the encouragement-offering 3-0 loss to current holders Real Madrid last month is in that bracket. A result that gave way to a creditable 1-1 draw against Shakhtar Donetsk and last week’s 3-1 reverse in Leipzig that has left Celtic with one point before they host the Germans and Ukrainians in their next two Group A outings. And at a crossroads in their bid to progress to the latter stages. This would likely be assured were they to claim full points from these home confrontations, while anything less would leave them open to all other possibilities.
A wholly admirable Postecoglou trait is that his pre-match media duties for this week’s pivotal Champions League fixture represented one of the few occasions in his 15-month tenure he shirked any onus in a Celtic context. And he certainly won’t do that should Leipzig prove too strong for his team again. Only with one proviso, though. He was left exasperated by feeling his players became inhibited by thoughts of “self preservation” after drawing level in Germany. And he simply cannot countenance a similar scenario against Marco Rose’s men a second time around.
“It’s human nature, particularly with the group we have,” he said. “They’re still experiencing something new. It’s by trying to show them that they have protection if things go wrong. I’ll take the responsibility for it. Don’t fear. It’s only human nature that, playing away from home in a Champions League game and you’ve equalised, you feel like you are really in the game. You’ll tighten up a little bit and think ‘Jeez, a point in Leipzig would be brilliant, we don’t want to give away this point. Instead of passing forward, maybe I’ll just hit the safe pass. Instead of making a run forward, maybe I’ll just sit here in case we lose the ball.’ So, that’s all the process. It’s just human nature. It’s about trying to show the players and get them to understand that’s not the way we’ve set up to play, it’s not going to help us in our endeavour to be successful. And if it does go wrong in doing what I want them to do then I’ll take responsibility.
“If you want to improve, if you want to get better, you’ve got to get out of that sort of insecurity you have about anything and be bold in your approach. That’s my view, anyway. Others will have a different view. But that’s kind of my view why we play our kind of football. It’s why we take the approach we do. It’s why I sign the players I have and put the team together the way I have because it’s designed to play this kind of football. If I had a different approach and we were set up a bit more defensively structured, I’d have different players in there and we’d play a different way. So, it doesn’t suit us anyway.”
The ‘fortress Celtic Park’ baloney cranked up for such nights – where the home team have failed even to score in eight of their past 11 Champions League games – can be discarded in looking for reasons as to why Postecoglou’s team can get with his programme fully. However, the very dynamics of playing in the hyped-up arena can suit his team’s purposes since they practically ensure the Celtic players won’t go into their shells. The human nature element here is for that not to happen.
“Yes, I think so. Absolutely that’s the case,” he said. “Even the first game against Real, I think if Callum [McGregor]’s strike goes in instead of hitting the post, I don’t think you would’ve seen us going into our shell – even at 1-0 up against Real. I think, with the crowd behind them and being at home, that would’ve encouraged you. But, again, we’ve got to experience all these things. The [Leipzig game] was the first time we’ve been away from home [in the Champions League] and got ourselves back into the game. It was kind of the opposite against Shakhtar, we really went for it at the end and we should’ve got a winner. But we were going for it, we weren’t settling for a point. But again it’s another level up. So for me it’s just part of the journey we’re on, part of the process we’ve got to go through.”