Celtic's Ange Postecoglou on being 'pretty even' with Rangers, getting clocked in Glasgow, and his relationship with 'Gio'
The Celtic manager was left bemused by the rush to draw hard and fast conclusions over the destination of the title owing to the six-point gap that then existed between his side and their bitterest rivals.
As he prepares to guide his team in another instalment of Scottish football’s highest octane, and interest-generating match-up - which will bring Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s team to the east end of Glasgow on Wednesday - he believes the sentiment he expressed back then was misconstrued. Before his first Rangers test, Postecoglou was at pains to stress the requirement to end his club’s winless run in the fixture, which now stretches to seven games, to realise his Celtic ambitions. The 56-year-old maintains he has never failed to appreciate why so much store is placed in the relative performances of the only two genuine challengers for the championship.
"It wasn't so much the obsession about the league table [I was referring to back then], it was the obsession about actually calling the league I was talking about,” he said. “And even at the moment there aren't going to be any trophies handed out at the end of the game [on Wednesday]...unless I'm mistaken or have misread something. I get it if there's a really big gap there and it's almost impossible to change the fortunes, but they were calling the league back in October, that was kind of unusual. I understand the positions of the teams and the points accrued are very important. I get why people are talking about it but I just felt they wanted to call the end result way too early.
“It’s unlikely there will be a massive gap there [as the season reaches a conclusion], but these things can fluctuate and change very quickly. If you look at it so far, we started pretty slowly but if you look, say, after round five [of league games], it's pretty even between us and Rangers. And if you look below us there's a consistency of results there so my gut tells me it will be a tight title race. But the beauty, instead of calling it, is: let's see how it develops.”
The all-consuming - and, sadly, too often hate-fuelled - rivalry between the two clubs, has yet to catch Postecoglou in its net when going about his business on the streets of Glasgow. Instead, he has encountered its more acceptable face. He does, though, admit there have been occasions when his back has stiffened as youthful strangers have clocked him.
"I am not about too much or get exposed to it too much, but the interactions I have had with supporters of other clubs it's all been fairly friendly and plenty of banter,” said the Australian. “You're always wary when the teenage boys are coming up to you because they are the ones that tend to be the bravest but so far it's been good-natured. I understand they are passionate about their football club and that's what I expect them to be. My perspective is I enjoy people who are passionate about football and rarely have I not liked people who are passionate about football or things that I am passionate about.”
In that context, the convivial relations between Postecoglou and van Bronckhorst when bumping into one another in a west end cafe could be said to have set a good example. The Celtic manager considers that is within his brief. Yet, their unplanned chats - one of which proved national news - should hardly be set up as some sort of footballing Yalta conference when they are simply the product of common decency.
"It's just human nature,” he said of their friendly path-crossing. “I am not going to dislike somebody because people want you to dislike them. I'll make my own assessments about people. One thing I do absolutely understand and respect is every other manager - because I know how difficult a job it is, I know what I have to go through on a daily basis and appreciate that. I've bumped into Gio a couple of times and he's a nice guy. He's very passionate about what he wants to do as a manager and wants success for his football club. He knows I am the same but that doesn't mean we somehow change who we are. On a game day we both want our teams to win but if I bump into him afterwards, like every other manager, I'll treat him with respect because that's far more important than anything else. We are in privileged positions and we are there to set an example sometimes. People will look at our behaviour and I want to make sure in my dealings that I represent this football club, more than anything else, in the right manner, and this football club will always be respectful of everybody.”
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