Ange Postecoglou and the Price of Dogma

Over the past year, the footballing world has received a taste of Ange Postecoglou to the extent it never had before. He has been around for quite a while as a manager, but honestly, how many of us have actually been paying attention to the Scottish Premiership or the A League?.

This is an era where success on the pitch is governed by heavily-mechanised tactics. These are carried to fruition by players brought in through intricate scouting processes to weed out any and all unknown variables. This is matched by an even duller off-pitch discourse featuring bland-beyond-hope repetitive questions, which then receive the same vapid, sanitised answers. So it is hard to not be enchanted by the avuncular energy of the man from down under, every syllable of whom is a Turkish delight to savour.

In a career that has brought him to the top relatively late, Postecoglou’s success has arrived on the back of some really rigid moral dictums. High-octane movement, ceaseless forays into the enemy territory, and a Spartan vigour to not give up against any outnumbering Persian horde makes for a blend of football that is hard to look away from, orchestrated by a man who cannot be ignored, operating at an institution that, for the better part of the season, has been looked at with envy.

Artwork by Charbak Dipta

The human mind yearns to cheer for zeal in the face of logical step-backs, for flawed, limited Davids against inevitable, omnipotent Goliaths. There are two kinds of people: those who like romance, and those who lie. There are also those who get into social media player debates comparing trophy cabinets, but they don’t warrant being taken too seriously.

With morals so fiercely unwavering, how can one not root for Uncle Ange—often without realising—regardless of the limits?

Limits. Limits dictated by boring, everyday reality. Reality that begs you to think before diving headfirst. Reality that reminds you that what enchants the heart won’t always succeed. But what succeeds is always not capable of enchanting. After all, there is a reason we still remember the Netherlands side of 1974 that almost went all the way and not nearly as much as the one of 1988 that actually did.

Regardless of however many romantic yarns we weave, Postecoglou will be judged based on whether he manages to finally bring some silverware to Spurs’ spacious trophy cabinet. Despite this being his first season at Spurs and not having a full arsenal of players of his preference, his ideals did come in the way of his side making the Champions League for next season.

Now, one could rightly point out that those ideals were what took Spurs as far as they did in the first place. And they wouldn’t be wrong. But no strong-headed ideologies come without their disadvantages, and when you refuse to have contingencies in place, things can spectacularly fall apart—such is the price of dogma.

Signs of Postecoglou’s football coming undone were seen earlier in the season. In November, case in point, when Spurs maintained their high line against Chelsea despite going down to nine men and conceded a late Nicolas Jackson in the process. Their grit was praiseworthy; it was also undeniably lacking in guile.

Spurs’ style of football undeniably played a role in them running out of steam towards the back end of the season, to the point that, had they employed a bit more pragmatism, they could have overtaken Aston Villa for the fourth spot, the Villains having won only three of their last ten Premier League games to finish just two points ahead of Spurs.

Once again, Postecoglou and his supporters would say, “we would rather stick to our ideals and finish a bit further off than adopt lesser means.” Is this, after all, not the better way of doing things?

Well, not for the institution he is employed at. Not at the level he now finds himself operating at. And this is where the boring reality comes back to frustrate us.

The financial realities of the Champions League and the Europa League are realms apart. For a club like Spurs, any and all chance they can get to make the top four significantly bolsters their ability to build stronger for the years ahead. This is an institution that has always taken pride in the exciting brand of football its teams have become famous for in recent years, but does the modern reality of competitive football not dictate to be reasonable about one’s playing ideals and know when to work with logic in tandem with their core set of beliefs?

Make no mistake: Postecoglou’s first year at Spurs has been a resounding success, especially when you take into account the experiential whiplash it must have given the Spurs fans immediately after the Mourinho and Conte years. But, with just a bit of pragmatism, it could have been so much better.

The 58-year-old is unlikely to budge from his morals as he observes Spurs needing a mentality overhaul both “inside and outside”, and we love him for it. It’s enchanting. 

The club, however, need to acknowledge that it is not always prudent, and the higher they aim to reach, the higher and sturdier do the hurdles of reality become to hinder the steed of their manager’s dogma. 

At some point, the two are going to need to meet each other halfway, but if the gaffer chooses not to budge from his stance, how long before the club take one of their own?