By Vince Rugari
Ange Postecoglou has taken Spurs by storm.Credit: Marija Ercegovac/Getty
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London: Ange Postecoglou stands near the edge of one of the 16 perfectly manicured fields at Tottenham Hotspur’s sprawling, palatial training base in north London. He is off to the side, by himself. His arms are folded. His players are being put through their paces and his assistants are running the session. It’s a short, sharp one, and everything they do is with the ball, which is not how his predecessors always did things. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves.
He’s just watching.
This is a familiar scenario to those who have seen him run his previous teams, but no less fascinating after all these years. Postecoglou is a delegator, but one who somehow remains in control of everything. Hands-off, yet his fingerprints are everywhere.
Ange Postecoglou acknowledges the Spurs faithful.Credit: Tottenham Hostpur FC
Postecoglou is in his happy place. He is in charge of one of the biggest and richest clubs in the world, and after three months in the job, they are one of only two undefeated teams in the English Premier League.
Among Spurs supporters, he is already an icon. After a dark few years under José Mourinho and Antonio Conte, the mood around the club has entirely changed, and they say it’s all down to him.
The song Angels, originally sung by Robbie Williams but rewritten by Spurs fan and musician James Black, has become Tottenham’s unofficial anthem, an ode to “Big Ange” and how he has helped them dream again.
There were 62,000 ecstatic Spurs fans belting it out last weekend as Postecoglou embraced Mile Jedinak, his former Socceroos captain and now assistant coach, on his way into the tunnel after their contentious 2-1 win over Liverpool.
On the walk back to the White Hart Lane train station, the fans sang it again.
The bootleg merchandise vendors outside Tottenham’s home ground have started selling scarves bearing Postecoglou’s name and image, as well as pins with the club’s logo and the flags of Australia and Greece. They’re flying off the roadside shelves.
The Australian coach is already a Spurs icon.Credit: Vince Rugari
“That’s a cool bit,” he says, as this masthead shows him one of the pins.
Another cool bit? The unsolicited shout-out from actor Henry Winkler.
Postecoglou grew up a huge Liverpool fan, but before that fixture, he told the media he no longer had their posters on his wall. “You grow up, things change,” he said. “I used to love Happy Days. But I don’t have posters of the Fonz on my wall now.”
Somehow this reached Winkler, who recorded a video message for “Big Ange” after the match. “So if I signed a poster for you right now, would you put it back up on your wall?” Winkler asked. “That is the question. Fair dinkum, ay.”
“Of course, you pinch yourself,” he says.
“I’ve got to be careful about who I mention in these press conferences now, because who knows what’s going to come my way. They’re precious memories for me, in terms of my upbringing, my childhood. I’ve been fortunate, I have met Kenny Dalglish, but imagine you meet one of your heroes and he ends up being a dick, and your whole childhood memories are kind of wiped. You can tell [Winkler] is a top bloke. He doesn’t know who Big Ange is. For him to go to that length … it’s a buzz, mate, yeah. Of course it is.”
There are many reasons Postecoglou bounces into work these days. Another is his workplace, Hotspur Way, which is arguably the best facility of its kind in the world. Certainly, no sporting team in Australia can boast anything remotely close. It opened in 2012, but you would not know it’s more than a decade old – like their stunning stadium, roughly 12 kilometres south, it is being constantly updated and renovated at the behest of chairman Daniel Levy, who insists on heading off any signs of depreciation before they are even slightly noticeable.
Words cannot do 311,000 square metres facility justice, but here goes.
If Postecoglou’s famous thousand-yard stare somehow misses something at training, it will be caught by one of the many cameras overlooking each field, which can beam near-live images to an iPad in his grasp, if he so desired. He and his coaching staff have not yet moved into the new wing, which runs parallel to the main pitch; the finishing touches are still being put on it, and the smell of new carpet is almost intoxicating. Every element has been crafted to connect the building to the fields, so when Postecoglou is meeting players in his office, or the coaching staff is running through the game plan in the tactics room, they all remember what this is about.
In the gym and treatment centres – complete with cryotherapy and altitude chambers, and every other bit of medical equipment imaginable – injured players can look through the window and watch teammates who have taken their place in the team. It’s all designed to motivate, to remove excuses for underperformance. And that’s just for the first team – the academy and women’s team have their own dedicated sections. The only thing missing is a self-contained hospital.
Tottenham Hotspur’s training base, Hotspur Way.
Elsewhere, the media department has three high-tech television studios in which to film content. There is a huge kitchen garden, where the fruits, vegetables and herbs that feed the players and staff are sustainably grown. Every nook and cranny in between is immaculately landscaped with hedges, plants and flowers. And then, of course, there’s The Lodge, the luxurious 46-suite hotel where players and staff can stay the night, if they wish. It looks like a resort, because it practically is; put it on an island in the Whitsundays and it’d give qualia a run for its money.
Postecoglou wants for nothing. A far cry from when his Brisbane Roar side used to share creaky old Ballymore with the Queensland Reds.
“It’s an unbelievable football club – the facilities, the support, everything is there,” he says.
“I’m exactly where I want to be. But I’ve felt that way wherever I’ve been, whether that was Celtic or Yokohama, or with the national team, or South Melbourne or Brisbane. All the clubs I’ve spent time at, I’ve felt like that’s where I’ve wanted to be at that point in my life. And this is exactly where I want to be at this point in my life.”
Postecoglou has always wanted to be immersed like this in football culture, to the point where he had to create his own imaginary world growing up in Melbourne, a bubble within which he could convince himself it was the dominant game where he lived, and that it mattered to others as much as it did to him. He doesn’t have to pretend any more. This week, he has been involved in the Premier League’s biggest story – and, by extension, one of the biggest stories in world sport. In the first half of that victory over Liverpool, a goal by Luis Diaz was wrongly disallowed for offside, and then somehow not overturned by the VAR. Following relentless pressure from fans and pundits – some of whom have been baying for blood, others who have indulged in conspiratorial theorising – audio of the exchange between officials in the booth was released on Tuesday. Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp has called for a replay.
Postecoglou has long been suspicious of VAR’s impact on the game, and this episode has solidified his view.
Ange Postecoglou and Jürgen Klopp on the sideline during last weekend’s controversial clash.Credit: Getty
“There’s part of me that’s glad I’m 58, not 38. I don’t know if I like where the game’s heading, on and off the field,” he says, speaking before the audio had emerged and before Klopp’s suggestion of a replay.
“It’s just the way life’s going, I guess. I hope it’s great for my kids, obviously, because I won’t be around. It’s not harking back to the old days or anything like that, I understand life changes, and life does get better – but there’s a lot of things that are coming into the game [and changing things] that I always thought made our game different from the others, special.
“It seems like we’re now heading towards that space of trying to find perfection in a game where the beauty of it is the imperfection. What makes our game different from any other game is that the goal – the actual goal, the scoring of a goal – is that most precious commodity. It’s the flaws in the game that creates goals. Sometimes we think it’s the brilliance – yeah, it is the brilliance, but mostly on the back of somebody’s flaw, either an opposition player or your own teammate or a referee.
“We’re trying to make this perfect game, which the other codes do – but they have to, because goals in their game don’t mean anything, so they try and create this perfect product. And that’s not football. Football is Maradona putting it [in with] his hand. I don’t like it, but that’s the game, and if you want to eliminate that? Yes, OK, but if you’re searching for perfection within football, I just think you take away from what the essence of it is.”
In his own way, with his trademark style of attacking football, Postecoglou is a protector of that essence. Next up, on Saturday, is a trip to Kenilworth Road to face Luton Town. Win that, as they’re heavily favoured to do, and depending on other results, they could head into the October international break on top of the Premier League table.
Spurs fans are excited. Australians are excited. Postecoglou won’t dampen anyone’s excitement, but he gets his kicks in other ways.
“What drives me is the challenge,” he says. “This is a massive challenge. There’s some work to be done that fits my brief. That’s what excites me.”
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