If Kyogo Furuhashi is any indication, Celtic should be looking to Japan for more players, right?

Former Yokohama F.Marinos boss Ange Postecoglou used his J1 League insight to lure the previously unheralded Kyogo to Parkhead and what a signing it has proven to be – the Japan international has taken Glasgow by storm with 14 goals in all competitions.

Now, Celtic manager Postecoglou is reportedly preparing another raid on Japan's top flight, including his former club, to help bolster his title-chasing side in the January transfer window.

F.Marinos star and joint Golden Boot winner Daizen Maeda, Kawasaki Frontale utility Reo Hatate and Gamba Osaka's Yosuke Ideguchi are believed to be all closing in on moves to Celtic as the Bhoys' Japanese contingent grows.

With speculation mounting, Stats Perform looks at the numbers behind the trio, using Opta data.

 

Daizen Maeda, Yokohama F.Marinos

Postecoglou leaned on his experiences as a rival coach to prise Kyogo from Andres Iniesta's Vissel Kobe at the start of the season, but it is a completely different matter regarding Maeda, who was signed by the Australian coach, initially on loan in 2020.

Following a difficult loan spell in Portugal via Maritimo, Postecoglou turned to Maeda after leading F.Marinos to their drought-ending J1 League title the season prior. The 24-year-old has not looked back, taking his game to a new level with the runners-up in 2021.

The two-time Japan international shared the Golden Boot with Frontale talisman Leandro Damiao after the pair both scored 23 goals, while he was named in the league's Best XI.

With pace to burn and the ability to play on the flank or through the middle, Maeda fits Postecoglou's high-octane brand of football and pressing philosophy to a tee – he tallied the most sprints across the league (1,457), well ahead of Consadole Sapporo's Tsuyoshi Ogashiwa (869).

Maeda, who likes to cut inside from the left, also led J1 League in shots on target (51), shooting accuracy (63 per cent), big chance total (33), big chance scored (18), expected goals (21.3) and touches in the opposition box (190). He was second for total shots (92) and shot conversion rate (23.9).

 

"I never imagined I would end the season as top scorer in the league. I feel I have been able to prove I was a good signing here," Maeda, who could provide another dynamic to Celtic's attack having scored a joint-league-high six headed goals, said at the end of the season. "As always it was great to score, but I would have liked to have ended the season with a win.

"I've had a great season although I am disappointed we never managed to win the title, but on a personal level, I am very proud I was able to finish as top scorer. I always want more goals. You can never score enough.

"I believe this team can go on and have a great season next year too. Whatever happens, Marinos are a great club. I've never hidden my ambition to play in Europe. When I tried before in Portugal, Covid ruined it for me. This season has changed everything for me. Goals and a call-up for my country. For me, it's just the start."

 

Reo Hatate, Kawasaki Frontale

If Celtic want a man that can cover a number of positions, Hatate is their guy.

A defender, midfielder or forward, Hatate is coming off his second successive top-flight crown with the league's dominant force Frontale, who have won the title in four of the last five years.

Hatate has played a key role in helping maintain Frontale's dominance since making his debut in 2018.

The versatile 24-year-old – who has not played abroad, unlike Maeda or Ideguchi – is fresh off a stellar season that saw him named in J1 League's Best XI.

Like 2020, Hatate scored five goals in 30 appearances, while he supplied two assists in the league as he often played in the middle of the pitch, though he can also be deployed at left-back.

Comfortable on the ball and secure in possession, Hatate boasted a passing accuracy of 82.1 per cent in 2021. As for his creativity, he created 33 chances, highlighting his vision. He ranked in the top five for shots on target (third, 22), total shots (fourth, 59) and passes in opposition half (five, 1,297) among all defenders and midfielders.

Covering plenty of ground, Hatate also demonstrated his defensively capabilities throughout the campaign with 45 interceptions and 159 duels won, with a 53.4 success rate.

 

 

Yosuke Ideguchi, Gamba Osaka

Of the three players targeted by Celtic, the 25-year-old is somewhat the most surprising.

Labelled "wonderful" previously by former Manchester United playmaker Shinji Kagawa, Ideguchi endured a forgettable time in Europe – he joined then-Championship outfit Leeds United on a four-and-a-half-year contract in 2018 but never made an appearance for the club.

Ideguchi then bounced around on loan at Cultural Leonesa in Spain and Greuther Furth in Germany before returning to boyhood club Gamba Osaka, where he has excelled across two spells.

A player with a lot of potential upside, Ideguchi is more of a holding midfielder and is capable of finding the back of the net.

Ideguchi – part of the Gamba team that tasted domestic success via the J1 League (2014), Emperor's Cup (2014 and 2015), J.League Cup (2014) and Japanese Super Cup (2015) prior to his Leeds departure – is coming off a 29-game season, his most since the 2017 campaign.

While he did not score or register an assist, unlike the season prior when he scored four times and teed up three goals, Ideguchi's work rate and tenacity was invaluable for Gamba.

In 2021, the 15-time Japan international won 55.5 per cent of his tackles with 36 interceptions and 78 duels won. Since 2019, Ideguchi is a top-10 midfielder in tackles (fifth, 145), tackles won (fifth, 85) and interceptions (10th, 109).

 

When it comes to reputations, once you have one, they are hard to shake.

Kevin Muscat knows that better than most, having earned a reputation as a hardman throughout his playing career in Australia and the UK, where he was the ultimate villain, but despite his combative approach, there was more to his game.

Muscat, who retired from professional football in 2011, was always comfortable with the ball at his feet, preferring to play out from the back. His teams mirror that view, as he now finds himself following in the footsteps of Aussie trailblazer Ange Postecoglou once again in Japan.

The captain of Melbourne Victory in their first A-League Men season in 2005, Muscat replaced Postecoglou as head coach at AAMI Park in 2013 after the now Celtic manager took charge of the Australian national team, having served as his assistant.

Muscat delivered two A-League championships and the FFA Cup, playing an attacking brand of football, before opting to call time on his 14-year association with Victory in 2019.

"Subconsciously, I was doing a form of coaching when I was playing. Albeit, it wasn't organising tactics or deciding the style of play, but I was driving that on the park. That's just who I was," Muscat told Stats Perform as he discussed his transition from captain to coach.

"For example, the first year at Victory, we get to the end of the season, we had [goalkeeper Eugene] Galekovic and [Michael] Theo – they used to play two games each. They weren't too happy with that. I said to them 'when we get a goal-kick, why wouldn't you drop it to me or give me the ball?', 'Oh we were told not to give you the ball because you'd play out from the back and we were to kick it forward'. Then it started, well okay, that's why I like to do.

"A lot of people spend a lot of time creating a perception of themselves instead of being themselves and let a perception be created by being themselves. I've done the latter and just been myself. I actually enjoyed passing the ball and thought I was a very good passer of the ball. I wanted to keep possession of the ball. That's how it started to form, building up my own ideas and style.

"Having an opportunity to work with Ange and try to fit in so much during the 14-15 months together. Fitting in so much knowledge. That's when it dawned on me – I knew I wanted to be a coach but then I was like, wow, this is what it takes.

"Ange took me out of comfort zone. It's not really a test because Ange is focused on winning the game and everything needs to be right, but I found myself tested and out of my comfort zone. I had spoken to Victory two or three times prior to that about when opportunities were available to take over and I didn't even entertain it.

"When Ange went to the national team, I had a conversation with him and that gave me a lot of belief in my own thoughts and coupled with how Ange goes about his style of play. I knew I was ready then. Fortunately enough, Ange was fairly influential in speaking to the club. The rest is history.

"Perception is sometimes not the reality. I'd like to think the five seasons I was coaching Victory, we played some really good football, some exciting football."

 

The 48-year-old won 87 A-League matches – the fourth most of any coach in the history of the men's competition, after Ernie Merrick, Graham Arnold and Tony Popovic, with the ex-Socceroos skipper one of seven coaches in the history of the league with a win percentage of 50 per cent or greater (51).

Muscat departed Victory with his teams averaging 1.7 goals per game; among managers who have coached at least 30 matches, only current Australia boss Arnold (1.8) has seen more goals scored per game.

Once Postecoglou was lured to Glasgow by Scottish powerhouses Celtic at the start of 2021-22 after guiding F.Marinos to their first J1 League title in 15 years in 2019, the Japanese club turned to Muscat. Just like he did at Victory, albeit in different circumstances, the latter stepped into fill the void left by compatriot Postecoglou in July.

"Whatever we do, it comes down to perception and narrative," Muscat, whose playing career featured stints at Crystal Palace, Wolves and Celtic's bitter rivals Rangers, while captaining Millwall to the 2004 FA Cup final against Manchester United, said as he recalled his move to F.Marinos. "More times than not, the people holding the pen or keyboard, dictate the narrative.

"There was so much stuff that I presented from my time at Victory and the way we played because we did for many years played an attractive brand of football, in my opinion. We scored many, many goals and entertaining goals. But maybe that's not the perception in Australia because it depends on the narrative.

"I'm not one to push the narrative and agenda but ultimately the perception is, in a percentage wise, what is mostly believed. But when it came to the crunch and I had to present, I was fortunate enough to fall back on some stuff in relation to that, where perception was eliminated and it was fact and visual."

F.Marinos were crowned Japanese champions two years ago, playing a high-octane and entertaining style of football under Postecoglou, who completely transformed the club that are part of the City Football Group (CFG). His legacy lives on in Yokohama.

Muscat, though, is building on Postecoglou's work, with F.Marinos second in the table this season, behind runaway leaders Kawasaki Frontale through 33 rounds.

"It was clear and evident from those discussions and hence the way it influenced my presentation, they truly believe here at F.Marinos to continue the legacy of Ange and the legacy of the football club, which the club and fans truly believe in – the way they think the game should be played," Musctat said.

"Everyone wants to win but there's high level of belief in the process and style of football. From my perspective, that's what appealed to me.

"I was under no illusion because there'd be people, and rightly so, who'd say he took over a club that was well versed in terms of playing style and where it's at. On the flip side, it had some real challenges because normally you get a job, most times, because something isn't going well and someone has been dismissed.

"This was very unique and presented its own set of circumstances because you're actually stepping into the shoes of a great manager and someone who has done so much previously and for F.Marinos.

"Throw into the fact there was quarantine and I came out a day before seven games in August. It's been everything I expected, it's been thrilling. To be able to continue on in F.Marinos fashion and style of football but also try to improve the team. We had an unbelievable little run where we started to apply some pressure and Kawasaki have pulled away again in recent weeks. We'll keep fighting with our last breaths."

As Muscat said, it is not so straightforward taking on a role where not too much was going wrong – Postecoglou was handpicked to oversee a rebuild at Celtic, who were dethroned by Steven Gerrard's Rangers last term.

But Muscat is trying to put his own stamp on F.Marinos, who have won eight of his first 13 matches in charge with an expected goals (xG) value of 2.01 and 26.14 in total, having scored 31 times in that period.

Maintaining a high-pressing philosophy under Muscat, F.Marinos – spearheaded by forward stars Leo Ceara and reported Celtic target Daizen Maeda – have won possession in the final third on average 5.77 times per game since his arrival.

When comparing F.Marinos to the league leaders or second team over the entire 2021 campaign so far, they rank first in xG (64.81), total shots (505), shots on target (188), passing accuracy (85.8 per cent), possession (65 per cent), passes in opposition half (12,145), open crosses (581), big chance total (91) and total fast breaks (12).

"There were some challenges stepping in and following Ange because the perception is everything is set up ready to go and the reality is, it was and I'm comfortable admitting that," Muscat said. "Then it was finding a way to continue that on and improve.

"What we looked at was where we were getting a lot of passes. We were very comfortable building up and drawing teams onto us then utilising the space. Whether it was in front of a back four, five or six or behind them, if they were really aggressive in their endeavours, trying to force us to play long and we'd persist and play through that, knowing there's space the other side.

"As time started to go on, we were scoring freely, you could sense teams weren't as aggressive pressing us. We worked hard on trying to increase the amount of time in our opponents half, the amount of passes in our opponents half.

"What it did do, teams are actually sitting so deep, the consequence is not a lot of space and opportunity to get behind them. Now we're in a position where, if we do get an opportunity go get forward and use space behind, where we can do that early, we still have to take that chance. But, now it's a matter of breaking teams down when they're a lot deeper.

"We had a lot of joy with the front players and they were scoring freely. Opponents have adapted. Now we have to shift and adapt. Another thing to factor in is the time of the year – teams above the relegation zone fighting for their lives, there's a lot of self-defence, teams are going into that mode.

"That's the side of the game that interests me a lot – finding and trying to identify trends prior to them happening. Then identifying trends while they're happening and try to find solutions."

Like Postecoglou, Muscat is getting his message cross through a translator.

"There's one thing that is constant in football: you're dealing with people. Fortunately, I find myself working with a translator, Yuchi; he is a wonderful guy," the 46-time Australia international said. "He actually cares, he is invested, he wants the team to play well. He is in all the meetings, he is riding the wave just as much as me and possibly even more emotional than me.

"From that side, you miss that element of directness and the emotion of having a connection with somebody. The next best thing is to have someone like Yuchi. We do a lot of video. We all learn in different ways.

"I think the one thing this pandemic has taught us – before this I didn't have an idea what Zoom or Teams was. If you want to survive, you'll find a way like we have these past couple of years."

 

Muscat's journey to Japan came after a short spell in Belgium with top-flight outfit Sint-Truiden.

Trying to break down barriers like Postecoglou amid a stigma against Australian coaches in Europe, Muscat's AFC Pro license was not recognised initially, leading to him being named technical director. All in all, his tenure did not go according to plan following a promising start.

Despite the setback, Muscat remained steadfast in his desire to succeed outside of Australia amid interest from his homeland and beyond as he continues to build his growing coaching reputation.

"We arrived in the summer and ultimately I was the coach at the time but because of the AFC Pro License – I lasted more than the 14 games reported," he said.

"We made some progress. The reason I was there because the club and owners had a vision to change the way they were playing. We went in during the winter break, we were in Spain. All of a sudden it was flipped 180 degrees to what they were doing prior. We had immediate success in terms of results. Then you could see the rewards paying off in terms of performance.

"That season finished and the pandemic hit. We didn't recruit anywhere near, that window was the first window we had to affect the playing squad in terms of personnel. To maintain where we were and progress, we needed to bring in players.

"It was very challenging for most clubs. We struggled in the market. We lost our captain and influential attacking midfielder and another striker. The list went on. I hear this question, 'well if you haven't got the players, why do you persist in playing a certain way?' The answer is quite simple because that's what I believe in and enjoy. If we don't have the players, well we're going to make this group better.

"We started season okay. Then you could sense one or two people around you at board level and even at the club, not having the same belief as you. The reality is, the three or four games leading up to my last game, we were playing some great stuff as crazy as it sounds. I could see us making progress. I could sense that we were going to get it right, the players were strong in their beliefs and resilient in persisting.

"Unfortunately, when your first instinct is to analyse results, you're missing the path that we agreed that's why I was coming there for.

"It was an unbelievable experience for me. I could've sat comfortably in Melbourne, walked out to my coffee shop in Albert Park, read the paper every day, but I wanted to take myself out of my comfort zone and learn, go on a journey and learn. So far, when I've made those decisions, they've been rewarding."

Muscat added: "I was determined that I wasn't finished. There were three-four opportunities – some in Australia and some in Europe. This opportunity come up to interview. The persistence and the will and want, now I find myself here. I couldn't be happier."

Ange Postecoglou changed the landscape of Australian football and now the trailblazer is tasked with leading an embattled Celtic back to the Scottish summit, having been dethroned by bitter rivals Rangers.

Postecoglou – cut from the same cloth as Pep Guardiola and Maurizio Sarri – was appointed by Celtic last month amid some backlash in Scotland, but Bhoys fans are slowly starting to get an idea of why the former Australia manager is so highly rated.

With an emphasis on a high-octane style of attacking football and unrelenting belief in his philosophy, Postecoglou is the most decorated coach in Australian football history.

From South Melbourne to Australia and Japan, Postecoglou has won it all – a pair of National Soccer League championships, back-to-back A-League titles, a record 36-match unbeaten streak at Brisbane Roar, plus a ground-breaking 2015 Asian Cup triumph with the Socceroos and a J1 League crown with Yokohama F.Marinos - while silencing his doubters.

With fellow Australian Arthur Papas by his side in Yokohama, Postecoglou ended F.Marinos' 15-year wait for league glory in 2019.

As Postecoglou embarks on the biggest job an Australian coach has held in football, former assistant Papas – now in charge of A-League side Newcastle Jets – told Stats Perform: "It's a great achievement to be given a position of such stature.

"I'm ecstatic for Ange because the path to success is never a straight line. That is for everyone. The main thing is he's been consistent. Consistent in who he is as a person, how he approaches his work and what he believes in - and he believes in himself a lot.

"He is incredibly humble and hardworking, and full of self-belief. But he knows it's a big job, a difficult job. Celtic are another team who have fallen away in recent times and the pressure is immense, but I do think that's when he is at his best. He thrives under those conditions. It's a challenge after being so successful in Japan."

Postecoglou left F.Marinos with the highest winning percentage (49.2 – 58 victories in 118 games) in the history of the club. Since joining the Yokohama outfit, only two managers have a better winning percentage than Postecoglou from a minimum of 10 games: Toru Oniki (65) and Go Oiwa (50).

Despite the language barrier, F.Marinos bought into the Postecoglou way. Since 2018, the team ranked first for passing accuracy (86.5 per cent) and possession (63.2 per cent), while they were second for goals per game (1.9), expected goals per game (1.8), shots per game (15.2), shots on target per game (5.3), shot conversion rate (12.6), shooting accuracy (47.2), chances created per game (11.4), passes per game (619.4), passing accuracy in opposition half (82.4), big chance total per game (2.4), big chances created per game (1.8) and big chances scored per game (1.1).

Papas, who spent two seasons with Postecoglou at F.Marinos, added: "It's been well-documented the success in Japan but not really understood how difficult it is. People have asked me, for example, how will I deal with the pressure of being an A-League coach? I feel like saying, being in a country where not one player or staff speaks English and still getting a football message across and seeing it come to life so quickly, has more difficulty than maybe coming back here.

"Every job will have its challenge in the end. The main thing is [Celtic] have got themselves a world-class manager. A manager with a very clear philosophy and someone given the time, like every manager needs. Some use that time extremely well and you see progression, and others unfortunately – because the path isn't so clear, doesn't go that way. But given the time, he will be successful there for sure. He will be successful in his own unique way.

"Then, there will be another step after that because that's just Ange. He doesn't settle for that place and get comfortable. When he has had a bit of success, he wants more. That's why he is special at what he does."

Postecoglou, like Manchester City's Guardiola and former Chelsea and Juventus boss Sarri, pushes the boundaries. Firmly set in his belief of how football should be played, Postecoglou's approach never waivers and success follows the 55-year-old in his pursuit of excellence.

Asked about some of the initial negativity after Postecoglou's arrival at Celtic, Papas said: "Australian coaches, unfortunately, don't get start-up respect regardless, so there's always going to be someone that doubts you. What is important, is what you believe in about yourself.

"The thing is, he is so supremely confident in himself that it won't phase him. He knows it's just part of the challenge of where we are from and where we're going. He is a firm believer of it, we as Australian coaches probably get underestimated because of our passport not because of our competency. Having experiences across Asia, you see things and you're like wow.

"The passport unfortunately doesn't carry a lot of weight and definitely carries a lot of criticism at times, but he believes in himself.

 

"He will go there, it will take some time to engrain his ideas but there's no doubt they have a world-class manager that will turn that place upside down and get them on the right path."

During F.Marinos' triumphant season in 2019, Postecoglou's men covered the greatest distance in the J1 League (116.48km), ahead of Oita Trinita (114.79km). They also tallied the most total sprints with 191, more than FC Tokyo (174).

"Ange is the type that scours through every bit of information. If you're a staff member there, you need to be on top of everything because you'll get questioned at times about 'what was the data on this?', 'what were the statistics on this player?' He is obsessed with his work," Papas added.

"It doesn't matter how time progresses; he is just as obsessed as he's ever been in terms of details. There's a lot of work to get that engine going in the background to run that program in a way that he feels befits a world-class program."

Postecoglou oversaw a rebuild at the Roar and after asking to be judged a year from the time he replaced ex-Socceroos boss Frank Farina, his project culminated in the development of arguably the greatest footballing side the country had ever seen.

Playing an entertaining and possession-based brand of football, the Roar won the championship in 2010-11 and successfully defended their trophy the following season amid a 36-game unbeaten streak – an all-time Australian football code record for the longest undefeated run, surpassing rugby league outfit Eastern Suburbs' record set 74 years prior.

Postecoglou also coached Melbourne Victory before his Australia appointment in 2013. In the A-League, his teams scored 1.7 goals per game; only one head coach (minimum 30 games) has a higher average in the competition's history (Graham Arnold - 1.8).

The Greece-born boss left Australia's domestic competition with a 51 per cent win percentage as head coach – the joint-fifth best of any manager in the competition's history.

Named Australia boss in 2013, Postecoglou led Australia at the 2014 World Cup, conquered the Asian Cup the following year and also secured their position at Russia 2018 before stepping down. The Socceroos scored 86 goals in A-Internationals under Postecoglou – the second most they have scored under any manager since the beginning of 1965 (Frank Farina - 197).

Australia won 22 games during his tenure; only two managers have won more since the beginning of 1965 (Frank Farina - 34 and Holger Osieck - 23).

"I don't believe there is a certain timeline and it clicks," Papas said. "The process starts from day one and it's more about what is around you to implement that. Certain positions, you can go in and have the ability to make certain changes early on, which might fast track that progression. The only thing is that it's something that always grows and gets better. Because it's such a clear way of working and style of play that you're constantly working on everyday getting better at doing that.

"It's not, this week we're going to change it and sit back, these messages are so consistent that it just becomes something you get stronger at over time but that's why it takes a bit of time also. It's not a situational philosophy, it's a very clearly-defined progressive philosophy that has clarity and certain principles/frameworks that get reinforced on a daily basis."

"The biggest trouble with Celtic is trying to keep hold of Ange. In three or four years, you're going to have the same situation. He has won multiple titles and he will be trying to get a move to England or one of the big leagues. That is his pathway."

Ange Postecoglou is cut from the same cloth as Pep Guardiola and Maurizio Sarri – an emphasis on a high-octane style of attacking football, with an unrelenting belief in their philosophy.

But his appointment as Celtic manager has caused a stir in Scotland. Fans have questioned his ability and credibility to make the step from Asian to European football.

Postecoglou has been tasked with leading an embattled Celtic back to the Scottish summit after the Bhoys were dethroned by bitter rivals Rangers in 2020-21.

There are some parallels to legendary manager Arsene Wenger. Like Postecoglou, the Frenchman had history in Japan, having spent a year with Nagoya Grampus before being brought to the UK by Arsenal in 1996.

Social media was not around at the time of Wenger's Gunners arrival, though it would be safe to assume he would have been subjected to similar criticism from a supporter base desperate to wrestle the trophy back to Celtic Park.

Those questioning Postecoglou's pedigree should look no further than his CV – the most decorated coach in Australian football history, having also transcended and changed the landscape of the sport Down Under.

From South Melbourne to Australia and Japan, Postecoglou has won it all – a pair of National Soccer League championships, back-to-back A-League titles, a record 36-match unbeaten streak at Brisbane Roar, plus a ground-breaking 2015 Asian Cup triumph with the Socceroos and a J1 League crown with Yokohama F.Marinos, while silencing his doubters.

A former Australia international, Postecoglou – who delivered two NSL trophies within three years of his tenure in charge of boyhood club South Melbourne – truly announced himself at the helm of 'Roarcelona'.

After a brief and unsuccessful stint in Greece in 2008, followed by a short spell in the semi-professional state league in Victoria which resulted in relegation, Postecoglou landed in Brisbane the following year.

Postecoglou oversaw a rebuild and after asking to be judged a year from the time he replaced ex-Socceroos boss Frank Farina, his project culminated in the development of arguably the greatest footballing side in the history of Australian football.

Playing an entertaining and possession-based brand of football, the Roar won the championship in 2010-11 and successfully defended their trophy the following season amid a 36-game unbeaten streak – an all-time Australian football code record for the longest undefeated run, surpassing rugby league outfit Eastern Suburbs' record set 74 years prior.

Postecoglou also coached Melbourne Victory before his Australia appointment in 2013. In the A-League, his teams scored 1.7 goals per game; only one head coach (minimum 30 games) has a higher average in the competition's history (Graham Arnold - 1.8).

The Greek-born boss left Australia's domestic competition with a 51 per cent win percentage as head coach – the joint-fifth best of any manager in the competition's history.

Erik Paartalu was one of Postecoglou's first signings as Roar coach and the ex-Australia international told Stats Perform: "He will be absolutely buzzing. He isn't the type to take a job on lightly. He would've researched beforehand. I'm sure he's probably been offered jobs of this calibre before but wasn't ready.

"Ange has always been ambitious. This guy just doesn't stop. Any other Australian coach that would've won the J.League would've just stopped there and chilled out in Asia. The guy is in his mid-50s. He would've researched this whole situation at Celtic, who is leaving and who is coming, who can I get in? I know he's already thought about his next step from here."

"With Ange, it was the tactical side of it where he explained and broke things down so easily on the pitch, whether that be playing 11-v-seven, so you would have a huge overload and confidence in possession. Or if it was in a video session, always pointing out the good things about people," said Paartalu as he reflected on his Roar days. "He always pumped up the smaller details of the team. His way to getting us to feel, you just felt so confident."

Postecoglou, like Manchester City's Guardiola and former Chelsea and Juventus boss Sarri, pushes the boundaries. Firmly set in his belief of how football should be played, Postecoglou's approach never waivers and success follows the 55-year-old in his pursuit of excellence.

"That's what we loved about him," Postecoglou said. "We went on that unbeaten streak and then lost five in a row. Never even mentioned getting close to the record. It was just like 'if we play the way we play, we'll wipe this team off the park'.

"In the first grand final [2011 against Central Coast Mariners], the goal I scored in the last couple of seconds [of extra time, 120th minute to force penalties after 2-2 draw], it was the build-up before that showed everything that we're about. [Michael] Theo had the ball and could've gone long, but he throws it to [Massimo] Murdocca and we build up from the back and get a corner. That was so typical of the way he wanted us to play. Even in training, it was like, 'don't put the ball above waist height or in the air'. If you did that, you had to give the ball to the other team. So we were drilled into knowing short passes, through lines, everyone in the right position, movement off the ball, entry points on the edge of the box, guys overlapping, 4-3-3 and don't cross the ball in if you're not sure. That was his blueprint. We were going to play his way all the way to the death. When we lost five in a row, he never got angry. He was so clear, saying keep doing it, be confident, keeping passing the ball.

"He definitely improves players' game intelligence when they work under him. You feel 10-feet tall and just know your job inside and out because of the way he prepares you."

Handpicked to introduce style and substance to the Socceroos in 2013, Postecoglou led Australia at the 2014 World Cup. Undaunted by the 'Group of Death', Australia left Brazil emptyhanded, but took it to Chile, the Netherlands and holders Spain in stunning fashion.

Postecoglou delivered a first Asian Cup to Australia in 2015, while he secured qualification for the 2018 World Cup before stepping down prior to the Russian showpiece.

The Socceroos scored 86 goals in A-Internationals under Postecoglou – the second most they have scored under any manager since the beginning of 1965 (Frank Farina - 197). Australia won 22 games during his tenure; only two managers have won more since the beginning of 1965 (Frank Farina - 34 and Holger Osieck - 23).

Postecoglou eventually landed at F.Marinos – part of the City Football Group – in 2018.

Physical performance coach Gregory King was part of the team Postecoglou put together to accompany him on his journey in Japan, where he ended F.Marinos' 15-year wait for league glory in 2019.

Postecoglou left F.Marinos with the highest winning percentage (49.2 – 58 victories in 118 games) in the history of the club. Since joining the Yokohama club, only two managers have a better winning percentage than Postecoglou; Toru Oniki (65) and Go Oiwa (50) from a minimum of 10 games.

Despite the language barrier, F.Marinos bought into the Postecoglou way. Since 2018, the team ranked first for passing accuracy (86.5) and possession (63.2), while they were second for goals per game (1.9), expected goals per game (1.8), shots per game (15.2), shots on target per game (5.3), shot conversion rate (12.6), shooting accuracy (47.2), chances created per game (11.4), passes per game (619.4), passing accuracy in opposition half (82.4), big chance total per game (2.4), big chance created per game (1.8) and big chance scored per game (1.1).

"He definitely has a really good understanding from conditioning, strength and sport-science point of view," King told Stats Perform. "His attention to detail is optimal. You know you can't pull the wool over his eyes. He knows everything going on within his team but he lets you run your own department. He gives you a license to achieve the objectives of the team in your own way."

During F.Marinos' triumphant season in 2019, Postecoglou's men covered the greatest distance in the J1 League (116.48), ahead of Oita Trinita (114.79km). They also tallied the most total sprints with 191, more than FC Tokyo (174).

As Postecoglou prepares to take pre-season training with Celtic, King said: "They're definitely in for a lot of hard work. Really quality football sessions based around the principles of how he wants to play. But, there's no holding back in terms of intensity.

"I think they will enjoy the sessions, however they will be pushed physically. The football we played in Yokohama was extremely high intensity. The physical qualities have to be at their peak. We expected our best players to play regularly, so to be able to do that, the players have to have a lot of good hard work behind them and to be able to cope with it."

"I'd be very surprised if he wasn't looking closely at injury history, how many games they've been able to play over the past seasons in terms of durability. Speed is obviously a massive factor from the forwards and also the centre-backs being able to play really aggressive and a high line. You can only do so much when you have them. We feel we can improve them all physically but from a conditioning point of view, you have to recruit players strong in those areas already to be able to play the way we did."

Kylian Mbappe's future continues to dominate headlines.

The Paris Saint-Germain star is a long-term target of Real Madrid.

With speculation over Cristiano Ronaldo's future, the two players could impact each other.

 

TOP STORY – MBAPPE OUT, RONALDO IN AT PSG?

Kylian Mbappe potentially joining Real Madrid could see Cristiano Ronaldo swap Juventus for Paris Saint-Germain, according to Gazzetta dello Sport.

Mbappe has long been linked with LaLiga giants Madrid and a blockbuster move could impact Juve superstar Ronaldo.

If Ronaldo – also linked with Madrid and Manchester United – joins Ligue 1 powerhouse PSG, it could see Mauro Icardi leave Paris and land at Juve.

 

ROUND-UP

- Former Inter and Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte is in talks with Tottenham over a move to London, reports Gazzetta dello Sport and other media outlets. Conte is available after leaving Inter following their Serie A-winning season. Spurs have been linked with ex-coach and current PSG boss Mauricio Pochettino, but they appear keen on Conte. Tottenham are also reportedly close to appointing former Juve sporting director Fabio Paratici.

- The Telegraph claims Manchester City are willing to sell Bernardo Silva. It comes as City look to raise funds to bolster their attack after Sergio Aguero's exit amid strong links with Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland and Tottenham forward Harry Kane. Eintracht Frankfurt's Andre Silva has also emerged as a target, though Atletico Madrid and United have also been linked.

- Miralem Pjanic could return to Italy via former club Juve or Inter, says Sport. Pjanic has struggled for game time under Ronald Koeman at Barca.

United remain interested in signing Atletico and England right-back Kieran Trippier, according to the Daily Mail. The Red Devils are also working on a deal for Madrid defender Raphael Varane and are still targeting Jadon Sancho of Dortmund.

- Football Insider claims Celtic have finalised a deal for Yokohama F.Marinos boss Ange Postecoglou to take charge of the Scottish giants.

There are similarities between Yokohama F.Marinos manager Ange Postecoglou and Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp.

Pressing is a vital feature of Postecoglou and Klopp's teams, with both managers enforcing a high-octane brand of attacking football.

Postecoglou and Klopp were also coming off drought-ending title triumphs as the coronavirus pandemic set in.

In 2019, F.Marinos boss Postecoglou guided the Japanese club to their first J.League title since 2004, while Klopp ended Liverpool's 30-year league drought in the Premier League last season.

But F.Marinos were unable to back it up, finishing ninth and 36 points adrift of champions Kawasaki Frontale last year. Klopp has already publicly conceded Liverpool's title defence is over – the Reds are sixth and 19 points behind runaway leaders Manchester City with 13 matches remaining in 2020-21.

The struggles are no coincidence amid demanding schedules and mounting injury lists as a result of COVID-19.

"Absolutely," Postecoglou told Stats Perform News when asked if he could relate to Klopp as he prepares for Friday's season opener against Kawasaki. "Not so much on the success bit, but you look at their football, it's high intensity and it's just not sustainable when you have such a congested fixture list.

"It's not just them. Any team around the world who play that play that high intensity, particularly with the pressing aspect not so much in possession, have found it very difficult. Liverpool are a classic example of that. Even like a club like Southampton, who pride themselves on that pressing aspect have struggled this season.

"The way you struggle, it's not just about the results, but you lose players to injuries, trying to maintain that kind of intensity. Rotation of players affects the fluency of how you play. What I found last year especially, you can kind of rotate the front half of your team and still sort of get some stability and consistency in results but if you have to change centre-backs and defenders regularly, you're going to struggle. That's definitely where we struggled last year. I don't think there was more than half-a-dozen games where we had the same centre-back pairing and goalkeeper in a row because of the injuries we had. We conceded a lot of goals.

"You look at Liverpool and most of their injury problems have been at the back. The converse of that, I look at Kawasaki who were so dominant in our league. They were really stable in terms of their back four and didn't really make changes. Had more depth in the front third where they could rotate players. Their game was based around keeping the ball, they weren’t as aggressive in the process. I think data wise they were the lowest-running team in the league. That was definitely the way to go last year. They had the quality to do it also, it's not an easy way to play.

"Even reading about Pep Guardiola's comments that his trying to get his team to run less through this period and they've been more effective. There's definitely a correlation there with the amount of running you need to do to play your style of game. The more it is, the more effective it is during this period."

Having changed the landscape of Australian football following back-to-back A-League titles and a record 36-match unbeaten streak at Brisbane Roar, plus a ground-breaking 2015 Asian Cup triumph with the Socceroos, Postecoglou took Japan and Asia by storm in 2019.

Cut from the same cloth as Guardiola and Maurizio Sarri – an emphasis on attacking football, with an unrelenting belief in their philosophy – Postecoglou's F.Marinos dazzled their way to J.League glory in 2019, ahead of FC Tokyo.

However, F.Marinos – who are part of the City Football Group – were unable to go back-to-back after, as Postecoglou says, the J.League "congested a season into really five months" while the club also juggled Asian Champions League commitments.

F.Marinos made a red-hot start to the season before the 2020 campaign was initially suspended due to coronavirus. Their title defence quickly turned pear-shaped.

While their attacking and possession numbers were around the same mark from 2019 to 2020 – only champions Kawasaki scored more goals – the same could not be said in terms of F.Marinos' defence.

F.Marinos conceded 59 goals last season, having only shipped 38 as they ended their 15-year wait for J.League silverware. Outside the box, 11 goals were conceded – up from three the year prior, while they allowed 47 shots from outside the box (21 in 2019).

There were also big differences in saves to shots ratio (69.1 per cent to 61.9 per cent), saves to shots ratio inside box (65.6 per cent to 55.0 per cent) and saves to shots ratio outside box (85.7 per cent to 76.6 per cent).

"We all had to deal with something that was unique," Postecoglou said when discussing the impact of COVID-19 on football. "None of us in our lifetime had gone through something like that or remotely like that. At the beginning, it was kind of surreal because you thought it would pass but then it kept being part of almost your existence where you have these restrictions placed upon you. To be fair here in Japan, they dealt with it pretty well. We didn't really have any major lockdown. Life, for the most part, was fairly normal. It definitely affected our football season.

"It took a heavy toll on players and staff, not just us but all clubs. We had the added challenge of being in the ACL [Asian Champions League], which affected our schedule even further. Playing without fans and empty stadiums, there was a surreal feeling about. The predominant feeling was lets just get through it the best way we can and make the most of it. We were still able to do what we love, work in a normal sense."

The absence of fans due to the coronavirus crisis also cannot be understated. While a limited amount of supporters returned for J.League matches at the backend of the 2020 season after fixtures were initially staged behind closed doors, Postecoglou said: "It actually affects football games. Supporters, they don't just provide the theatre and atmosphere, they have an effect on the players and coaches.

"Anyone who knows and has played in a stadium away from home with a passionate support, it can be intimidating, it can affect your game. If you're chasing the game, having the support in the stadium can lift you or make your opposition nervous. It definitely affects. In the beginning, it felt like every game was a friendly game – it had that sort of lack of cutting edge and little bit of intensity that you feel in real games. Eventually, I think players and coaches got used to it and games sort of turned back to a normal mode."

While 2020 did not go according to plan, Postecoglou is not dwelling on the past season.

"It was such an outlier of a season," the former Australia boss added. "Are those kind of circumstances ever going to happen again? If they ever do, there is certain things you'd probably do differently – the way we trained and played games. If you try to make a major shift from what happened last year, even though this year is looking like a very affected year for all of us, we kind of expect things to get back to some kind of normal in the near future.

"If you just react to what happened last year and change in any meaningful way what you do, I'm not entirely convinced that's a good sample to sort of say we can do things better purely focusing on what happened last year. In a footballing sense, if we are in that situation of playing so many games, we probably would've played differently and tried to play with less intensity because having so many games made it difficult for our players."

Postecoglou, like Manchester City manager Guardiola and ex-Chelsea and Juventus boss Sarri, pushes the boundaries. His approach never waivers and success follows the highly rated 55-year-old in his pursuit of excellence.

All eyes will be once again on his free-flowing F.Marinos team, with Postecoglou steadfast in his beliefs as he attempts to establish the historic Yokohama-based club – the longest-serving team in the Japanese top flight along with Kashima Antlers, having played in the J.League every year since its inception in 1992 – among Japan's elite.

"To me, it's just about 'can we play our football?' To be fair, we did even last year. It's a super competitive league. We had some fantastic success, but we aren't one of the big clubs yet. For us to be a big club, we need to have a certain level of performance year in, year out," said Postecoglou.

"Last year I thought our performances were quite good and stuck true to the football we wanted to play but the results weren't. We were inconsistent. This year is about maintaining our football and just getting more consistent with our results. If we are going to become one of the big clubs in Japan, we need to finish in those top spots regularly and win silverware. That's our target. It all begins and ends with me with our football. What I do know, when our football is good and we are stable, the results tend to follow."

Postecoglou heads into 2021 on the back of a contract extension following F.Marinos' run to the Champions League last 16, having topped their group.

F.Marinos finished 12th in his first season in 2018 – narrowly avoiding relegation but only being outscored by champions Kawasaki – while they also reached the J.League Cup final as Postecoglou turned the club on their head, leaving a pragmatic approach behind in favour of his entertaining football.

Three years on in his Japan journey, what does the future hold for the ambitious Australian – who has been tipped to make the move to Europe following a brief spell in Greece in 2008?

"Just keep doing what I have been – looking at challenging things and what excite me," he said. "I've been coaching for a while now and I've been pretty fortunate that the clubs I've worked at, we've had some sort of success. I like to think I've left my mark at those clubs. That's what I'm looking for future. Hopefully I have 10-15 years of coaching left in me, whatever the next project is and wherever it is, it's something that will excite me.

"For me, the passion lies in the football. That was the whole challenge of coming to Japan – could I adopt to a different culture, language, the difficulty of the competition, could my ideas work here? It's been hugely satisfying to see that it works, both on a personal basis but for the club because they enjoy the success. Whatever the next move is, it will be a similar scenario."

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.