As I’ve disclosed before, I’m a regular lurker on the fan forums of clubs where Australians are playing. Or managing.
When Ange was first announced, there was outrage.
“Ange Who?” was the standard response and the hostility of the Parkhead faithful knew no bounds.
Ange’s (amazing and sustained) record in Australia and Japan counted for nothing with fans who regarded Eddie Howe’s success with Bournemouth (mainly in the lower leagues) as having far more gravitas.
Celtic had a disastrous season last year under Neil Lennon – failing to win their record beating “Nine in a Row” (to the hated Rangers) and have since seen the losing team from last year decimated by departures, while the board took the best part of a hundred days to appoint a new manager.
Mind you, it needs to be understood that the hostility of the Celtic fans is aimed mostly at the board and the outgoing chair (Peter Lawwell).
Ange’s appointment was perceived by a great many as being a symptom of the board’s short-sighted and parsimonious approach to team building.
The “cheap option Yes Man” was how they saw him as a means of continuing the board’s ongoing (alleged) mismanagement and even (according to the more extremely irate) sabotage of the team to keep Rangers competitive – and thus maintain the value of the SPL TV rights.
On one level, this is absolutely bizarre paranoia.
On another level, it makes a scary kind of sense (although I’d be deeply surprised).
The most interesting thing for me has been the gradual change in fan perception of their new manager.
He’s still regarded as the cheap option, but very few are calling him a Yes Man as his interviews continue to be released with his discontent and subtle criticism of the board growing increasingly evident – no matter how carefully he tries to conceal it.
The fans actually love Ange’s frankness and honesty and are really starting to get behind him.
They can see his genuine desire to make an impact on their beloved Hoops. Few fans are as obsessively analytical of their team and club as Celtic fans and the green hordes are starting to see the impact of “Angeball” as he applies his usual methods to build fitness; arrange his attacking and defensive shape; and build his high press all over the pitch.
“Signs bursting out of the team actually being coached in accordance with a plan” was a frequent sentiment over the first few pre-season matches, notwithstanding the lack of first team players available and the glacial progress of transfer activity.
The big test, however, comes tonight.
Celtic are about to play their first Champions’ League qualifier against Danish Midtjylland and it looks like the test is coming too soon. Ange has been in place only a few weeks and the whole process – difficult enough in normal times – is massively affected by the pandemic.
He’s so far been associated with transfers of a couple of Sheffield Wednesday youngsters plus Liel Abada (Israel winger); Carl Starfelt (Swedish CB); and most excitingly, Kyogo Furuhashi (winger/striker par excellence). Few of these are available tonight and there are all sorts of questions over the threadbare squad that remains.
If Ange can pull off any sort of result it will be an absolute miracle.
I truly wish him well but suspect Champions League is a bridge too far this year. Europa League is more to his current measure but, if given time, I have no doubt that Ange will eventually be a success at Celtic.
I believe he will build his squad, and their fitness, and their confidence in his system so that he will regain the league title and be ready to take on Europe in the second year of his tenure.
If the worried faces of my handful of Australian Rangers fans is anything to go by, Ange is going to make waves in Scotland.
Adrian's books can be purchased at any good bookstore or through ebook alchemy. His first sci-fi novel will be published by Hague Publishing in late 2021.