“I’m not that kind of guy, mate. I’m not someone who sits there feeling it. I’m focused on the job at hand.”
Ange Postecoglou has been quick to remind people that he has a mammoth task ahead of him. The personal spotlight and fairy-tale of returning to Australia as head coach of Tottenham Hotspur is not a stunt – it’s one of the first few steps in getting his new players to buy into his philosophy in order to achieve their long-term goals.
Perth and the wider Australian sporting public have been excited to welcome back one of Australia’s greatest sporting success stories. A mural was even commissioned to honour the occasion, and thousands of people attended open training sessions and their friendly against London rivals West Ham United.
Whilst Postecoglou was pleased to be back in Australia, he knows he has a job to do, and he’s already deep into getting on with it. He can’t afford to take time to be sentimental about his achievements, because the world of football never stops.
He is, however, pleased with the response of his players to his ideologies. Despite falling to a 3-2 defeat to the Hammers at Optus Stadium, those familiar with Postecoglou’s tactics could see that the Spurs players were beginning to buy into his philosophy. Guglielmo Vicario may well have shied away from playing out from the back after the former Empoli goalkeeper’s shanked pass led to West Ham scoring their second goal from the resulting corner.
Minutes later though, and the Italian took on a risky pass into the feet of Yves Bissouma despite being harried by Danny Ings. The pass instigated a breakaway that saw the Lilywhites move the ball up the pitch and result in Manor Solomon testing Lukasz Fabianski in the West Ham goal with a curled effort.
“You know there’s consequences if you don’t get that right,” Postecoglou told the media post-match. “But I’m trying to provide a structure and security to the players that encourages them to release that fear and play that type of football.
“Shying away from that will just end up in us playing football that I don’t want to play so we have to be all-in on this. For the most part they were trying to do that.”
Aside from the score, the statistics from the match certainly show that Postecoglou’s team were rewarded for their display. 73% possession of the ball led to 32 shots, 13 of which were on target. But for another inspired display from Fabianski, Spurs could easily have had three or four goals even before half time. Two goals scored from 32 shots may look a tad worrying, with strikers Harry Kane and Richarlison guilty of spurning good chances in either half, but Postecoglou was quick to remind people that it’s still very early days for his team.
“If we keep making those kind of chances they [Kane and Richarlison] will finish them – they’re both quality strikers.
“The outcomes are kind of secondary right now, it’s more about how we play football, the tempo and intensity we play at, and the structures we’re in. There were some positive things; not all positive – but certainly enough there to at least see the boys are willing to change the way we play.”
One player who is particularly enamoured to see the arrival of Postecoglou is Hueng-min Son. Although the South Korean international played no part in the match as he works his way up to fitness following the summer break, he signalled his excitement at the arrival of a manager who can release the shackles of his forwards.
“He’s been fantastic. We met for the first time in 2015 after we [South Korea] lost to Australia (in the Asian Cup Final) so that wasn’t the best time, but even then I could see they played fantastically.
“As soon as he was announced as manager I was really happy about it. I’m looking forward to playing some amazing attacking football and I hope we can achieve something special together this season.”
Anyone who watched the match against West Ham will have also picked up on some of the sloppy defending that has become synonymous with Spurs teams of the recent times. Ings and Divin Mubama were both unmarked to head home the second ball from corners in the first half, whilst the high defensive line Postecoglou employs was beaten all too easily by just one well-timed pass from Pablo Fornals to send Gianluca Scamacca through on goal to score the winner.
“The goals we conceded are partly on me,” Postecoglou admitted. “We haven’t really done a lot on the defensive area and structure around set pieces so I can’t expect the guys to take on board everyone.
“Our pressure was really good but we don’t want to be conceding goals with them producing just a small number of chances.”
The majority of Spurs fans were able to see through the defensive frailties, and are quickly warming to the football Postecoglou demands from his teams. It’s certainly a big change to the style of football played under Antonio Conte, who set up his teams as being hard to beat rather than expressive going forward. On the face of things, it’s a welcome change.
This is just the first match of pre-season, after less than a week of training. It’s really not possible to draw too many conclusions from the match. However, it is a quick temperature check of the players and fans’ attitudes towards Postecoglou.
The playing group are certainly beginning to buy in to the football, and the supporters are enjoying it, which is how Postecoglou says he will measure his success during his tenure.
“I said in my first press conference, my major barometer will be our fans. If our fans are happy I’ll have done a good job.”
Photo by Daniel Carson/Getty Images