Thursday’s announcement of Ange Postecoglou’s appointment as Celtic’s new manager will calm many nerves at the famed Scottish club after its disappointing 2020-21 season.
But his departure will leave a yawning chasm at the top of a Yokohama F. Marinos organization that has undergone a complete rebirth under the Australian’s leadership in the last 3½ years.
“I came here with a vision of what we wanted to create,” Postecoglou said in his final news conference on Friday morning before departing for Glasgow. “We’ve built a really good foundation of a club that’s now seen as one that has had success but also plays football that’s enjoyable for everyone to watch.
“People who watch Marinos know what to expect and that we won’t change our approach, and that we believe in something as a football club.”
When the 55-year-old arrived in Yokohama, there were no mysteries as to what he was bringing to the table: The same eye-pleasing, attacking soccer that had brought him two A-League championships with Brisbane Roar as well as the 2015 Asian Cup and qualification for the 2018 World Cup with Australia’s Socceroos.
While the 2018 season was full of ups and downs — an 8-2 win followed days later by a 5-2 defeat among the more notable examples — it was consistently entertaining. Postecoglou’s belief in his philosophy was contagious, spreading to the locker room, the boardroom and the stands at Nissan Stadium.
But he was always the eye of the hurricane, and by telling players and fans to simply call him “Boss,” Postecoglou sought to ensure that he would be the first to step up when results failed to meet expectations.
Few received more protection than his goalkeepers, who took an active role in the team’s offensive build-up and were punished with long-distance goals on more than one occasion.
👔 It’s been a beautiful journey! ⚓️
🇦🇺🔵⚪️🔴 Ange Postecoglou says goodbye to Yokohama F･Marinos and #JLEAGUE but does so having made memories to last a lifetime in Japan. 🎉🏆🇯🇵
Good luck on your next adventure, Ange! 👋
© J.LEAGUE – All Rights Reserved pic.twitter.com/eyMN4EVwPF
— J.LEAGUE Official EN (@J_League_En) June 10, 2021
“It hasn’t been easy for the players. I’ve challenged them to play a certain way which is very difficult,” Postecoglou said. “Sometimes it exposes them, and every day training is very demanding.
“But every one of them, not just this year’s crop but the whole time I’ve been here … players wanted to learn, wanted to improve and were prepared to take risks, knowing that if mistakes were made I would take responsibility.
“I’ve thanked them for believing in what we were trying to achieve and by extension believing in me.”
Postecoglou’s unwavering commitment to his style — with “Plan B” usually summed up as “Plan A, but better” — quickly earned him respect from Japan’s soccer community. His long pregame embrace on Sunday with Consadole Sapporo manager Mihailo Petrovic — one of the few coaches to consistently carry the banner for attacking soccer in the J. League over the last 15 years — fueled speculation that the Boss was preparing to say farewell.
“I’ve worked in Japan for a long time, and Postecoglou has followed my career since before he arrived and praised my work, and there’s a lot of respect between us as managers and people,” Petrovic said on Sunday. “I think he’s achieved great things in Japan, and I can’t offer enough praise for the attacking soccer that he’s created at Marinos.
“I told him that if (his move to Celtic) comes to pass I’ll be cheering for him from my heart.”
On Friday, Postecoglou expressed regret that he had only claimed one trophy for Marinos — the 2019 J. League championship, which ended a 15-year wait for the club’s loyal supporters. But the legacy he leaves in Japan will be his unapologetic style of attacking, which he hopes will embolden J. League coaches and inspire players to step up their game.
“For clubs here, there’s a safe approach you can take where everyone plays a similar type of football, and I think it just needs people to maybe be a bit more brave in a way they approach playing the game,” Postecoglou said. “Not because there’s a right or wrong way, but if there’s more different styles of football within the J. League, that makes everyone improve, that challenges everyone.
“The first year I was here, one or two clubs were trying to play a little more aggressive attacking football, but the rest were playing in a similar manner. (Now) some clubs are taking a different approach and I think that’s great.”
What comes next for Marinos, currently third in the J1 and still with plenty to play for, is uncertain. Academy director Hideki Matsunaga, announced Thursday as the team’s interim manager, is expected to hold the reins until the league breaks for the Tokyo Olympics in mid-July.
Meanwhile, Postecoglou’s successor is expected — as he was, himself — to be recruited from overseas through City Football Group, which owns a nearly 20% stake in Marinos. When they will be able to enter Japan in light of the country’s strict border controls is another question entirely.
Yet as difficult a decision as it may have been for Marinos to part ways midseason with Postecoglou — whose win rate of 49.2% at the club eclipsed even that of two-time league champion Takeshi Okada’s 46% according to sports analytics firm Opta — their decision to do so underlined the respect they have for him and his ambitions.
“In the last 3½ years, Postecoglou has turned us into an incredibly entertaining club while respecting our history and our culture,” Ryoji Kurosawa, Marinos president, said in a statement on Thursday. “To lose our manager in the middle of the season when we’re aiming for a title is very painful, but to let him join one of Europe’s most famous clubs is the greatest respect we can offer.
“Postecoglou challenged us, and we will continue on with the ‘attacking football’ he has left us with and keep aiming to bring hope, emotion and smiles to our fans.”
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