No break for Celtic as Ange Postecoglou reflects on job so far, and turns focus to challenges yet to come

THE end of the year is a chance to reflect on what has gone before, and there can’t be many people who have had a more eventful time of it over the last 12 months than Ange Postecoglou.

Starting the year in Japan, he ended it in Perth, as the whirlwind start to his tenure as Celtic manager finally afforded him a breather after his team’s win over St Johnstone.

That crucial three points kept Celtic in touch with Rangers at the top of the Premiership table, and while Postecoglou would obviously prefer not to be six points adrift of his club’s rivals at this stage of the campaign, there are mitigating factors that made even such a modest prospect seem remote when the season kicked off back in August.

Postecoglou’s mantra may be that there are no excuses, but given the situation he walked into when he was appointed in June and the obstacles he has faced since, it is testament to his impact that not only have Celtic clung onto Rangers’ coattails, but they have already tucked the first trophy of the season into their cabinet by seeing off Hibernian in the League Cup Final.

Second choice to Eddie Howe, the four months that passed between Neil Lennon’s departure and Postecoglou’s arrival hampered his task of rebuilding a Celtic squad that required major surgery.

That job is far from complete, with the January window another key juncture in the Postecoglou rebuild, but between the 12 players who arrived and those that remained at the club – some of whom he has revitalised such as Anthony Ralston and Tom Rogic – he has managed to cobble together a team that has proven more than competitive on the domestic front.

The Champions League exit to Midjtylland was a disappointment, though far from unexpected given the personnel available at the time, and there were some harsh lessons in the Europa League, where Celtic’s defence was exposed by Real Betis and Bayer Leverkusen. But the two wins over Ferencvaros and the victory over Betis in the final group game offered solace that some of those lessons were being taken on board.

With the Premiership still very much in Celtic’s sights, the Scottish Cup to come and the UEFA Conference League play-off match against Bodo/Glimt ahead too, there is much for Celtic supporters to look forward to in the second part of Postecoglou’s maiden season. But how does the man himself reflect on the job he has done to this point?

“It’s been hectic, for sure, from the moment I arrived,” Postecoglou said. “I don’t think there has been any sort of time when we’ve been able to relax.

“We’ve just had different challenges every week. At the beginning, it was throwing guys together, getting players in. We’ve had injuries, we’ve had all sorts.

“The schedule has been really tough. All along, we’ve been consistent and I’ve been consistent about not making excuses or allowances for the players. I’ve just said to them, ‘let’s just show our character through all these things’, and they’ve been great.

“I’ve enjoyed it immensely. It’s been quick, for sure, it’s been a bit of a blur, but I’m loving every minute of it and I’m looking forward to the challenges of the new year.”

Despite the pause for a moment’s introspection, Postecoglou’s focus is quickly turning to preparing his squad to meet those challenges, with the prospect of being able to get some work done on the training ground – where you sense Postecoglou is at his happiest – during the winter break a welcome one.

“It’s been a while to be fair,” he said. “It’s kind of been game-recovery for quite a while now.

“Just to be able to work with the players and work on our game and keep pushing and helping our game, it’s going to be a crucial time for us and for the players.

“No breaks. We keep cracking on. There is plenty to do.”

Between those training sessions, Postecoglou will be looking to press on with his signing plans, with Japanese players Daizen Maeda and Reo Hatate likely to be the first arrival of the window at Lennoxtown.

“We’ve been working on it for a while, knowing that we needed to strengthen the squad during January,” he said. “This gives us a chance, with no games, to push along with that.

“Hopefully we get some good news in the new year and bring some reinforcements in.”

When asked if he will get any time at all to switch off, Postecoglou deployed his trademark Aussie drawl.

“Naaah,” he replied. “I had a nice morning with my family [on Christmas Day].

“I’ve got some young ones who were causing chaos with their gifts from Father Christmas. And that was great. But look, I love what I do. I don’t need to switch off. It’s fine.

“I’ve really enjoyed the first six months, as challenging as it has been. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it and I know there are massive challenges ahead so I’m looking forward to that.

“I’ve got plenty of energy. We’ll have plenty of time to switch off mate when I’m old and grey.”

One more hamstring injury to a Celtic player, and that day may come sooner than he thinks.

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