WHEN Ange Postecoglou took Australia to the 2014 World Cup he did so believing he could win it. When the Greek-Australian resigned immediately after the Socceroos claimed a place at the 2018 tournament he did so because the vibe he had was that too many within the association felt that qualification was the pinnacle of their ambition.
It is of little surprise, then, that when Postecoglou looks ahead to this week’s game against Norwegian side Bodo/Glimt in the inaugural Europa Conference League that his plans are not for the short-term.
“I want to go deep in every competition. I’ve never entered anything without thinking about trying to be successful in it,” he said. “I took Australia to a World Cup and thought I could win it. I know people will say I’m being ridiculous but that’s just the way I’m made up.
“You go into something and do your utmost to be successful so that’s what we’ll do in Europe. Why give up that opportunity if it exists? You could think about next year or the year after but that might never come. We’re in the competition and we want success in it. That’s what we’ll try to do.
“A win in Europe is always significant no matter who you play against. They don’t come along that often – you have to fight to earn all of them. So I’m not discounting this competition. I want us to perform well in it and win because it adds to the prestige and story of this football club.”
In another season Celtic’s haul of 9 Europa League points would have been sufficient for a crack at the knockout stages of UEFA’s second tier tournament. The concluding win of the campaign came against Real Betis and while there was a different tension around the game given that Celtic had already been eliminated and the Spaniards were already assured of progression, the youthful side that Postecoglou fielded acquitted themselves well.
In the midst of a demanding run of games as Celtic were hindered by injury issues, the Greek-Australian spoke after that encounter about the lack of depth within the squad. That has since been addressed in the January transfer window and, with Christopher Jullien expected to feature at some point today against Raith Rovers in the Scottish Cup and James Forrest also back, those pressures have eased.
“There’s no doubt that the first part of the season was a massive challenge for us,” he said. “It was a double-edged sword. We had done well in the League Cup so we had a lot of games and wanted to do well in Europe.
“But we were stretched in terms of players and injuries. But at the same time, we were really keen to make sure we were involved in Europe after the new year. Our results against Ferencvaros helped us get to that space. We were all super excited to still be in Europe. 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 prioritise any competition. Because you go along and think to yourself: ‘How many opportunities are we going to have to do special things in Europe’? I think you can take it for granted. We’re probably going to be in Europe every year but if you start to prioritise you can miss opportunities.”
There is another opportunity in front of Celtic this afternoon as they take on a Raith Rovers side still reeling from their off-field scandal around the David Goodwillie affair. Having claimed the first silverware on offer this season, Postecoglou’s side are the only team who can conceivably win a domestic treble. If last season felt far removed from the triumphs that came on the back of a unique quadruple treble, this season already feels like redemption.
“Aside from the last three games, we’ve shown different sides to us this season as a team,” he said. “Against Dundee United recently, we scored in the last minute to win. That’s what I’ve been trying to emphasise to the players – it’s our resilience that has got us to this point, not just the brilliance of our football.”
Postecoglou’s countryman, Tom Rogic, claimed an iconic role in Celtic’s Invincible treble winning season in Brenda Rodgers’ first season at the club. A last minute goal in monsoon Hampden conditions sparked wild celebrations from the generally unruffled midfielder with Postecoglou eager to make his own mark on the tournament.
“I can’t remember where I was in 2017…I still had other things going on in my life!” joked the Celtic manager. “But no, I do remember that goal. Tommy has a magnificent legacy already at this club and he’s scored a lot of iconic goals like that one.
“That’s the beauty of cup finals, it’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. That was one of those games. The Scottish Cup Final and FA Cup Final were always big events down under in terms of people watching those games.
“It’s one of those competitions that even from afar, the Scottish Cup Final is one I’ve watched from the other side of the world. “I’ve always known the significance of that event. So yeah, it’s another competition I want to be successful in. We have to be ready for the challenge today.”