Ange Postecoglou wants to transform Tottenham, not his philosophy

In the early part of the season, an Ange Postecoglou press conference zinger was a weekly occurrence. Whether it was discussing a podcast he had listened to, a long-running American sitcom he had watched growing up, or a more serious topic like mental health, Postecoglou always had something to say that would make you laugh or think, or both.

Eventually, things settled down a bit and, like his team, Postecoglou holding court became less appointment viewing.

On Friday, though, Postecoglou offered a reminder of how adept he is at setting the agenda and communicating a given message. Postecoglou could have given his pre-Liverpool press conference on Thursday night straight after the Chelsea defeat, but he opted to do it the following morning. He was back on home turf, with greater distance from the game, and with more time to get into the issues — of which there are quite a few at Spurs right now.

It was a smart call, as Postecoglou addressed some of the negativity that has begun to swirl around his Tottenham project and outlined how desperately the club needs to keep changing in the summer if his time at the club is to be successful.

Before Sunday’s game, Postecoglou was asked whether, as Jurgen Klopp had done in his early years at Liverpool, he would have to let go of those players who he didn’t think were cut out for his way of playing.

Postecoglou is not an easy person to get the answer you’re looking for in a question. He can instantly spot where someone is trying to lead him, and is suspicious of any attempts to oversimplify a situation or second-guess him.

But on this occasion, Postecoglou praised the line of inquiry and was ready to go straight away — like someone who had been bottling up their frustrations but had just been asked by a friend: “Is everything OK?”

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Postecoglou rages during Spurs’ defeat at Chelsea (Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Postecoglou unloaded and his message was clear: “We need change. Change has to happen. You can’t want to alter your course, and quite dramatically for this club because we went down a certain direction and now we’re pivoting to a whole different direction, and expect the same people are going to be on that… it’s just not going to happen, so… we’ve had two windows and we’ve had some development of players but when I say we’ve still got a long way to go, that’s what I’m talking about.

“We can’t be there yet because it’s impossible to say you’re going to have drastic change and yet expect everyone to be on that journey. It’s not for the want of trying… it’s just that we’re going to play a certain way, we’re going to train a certain way and we’re going to have a certain mindset, and that’s not for everyone. And the same way, whether it’s Liverpool or Arsenal, if you look at the beginning of their journeys, by the time they win the competition or have success, the team’s almost unrecognisable. That’s the reality, if you change. If you’re staying on the same course, of course, or a similar course… but we’ve done a major pivot here, so that definitely is the case, yeah.”

There’s quite a bit to unpack here, but it feels like we’re getting to the point where after a season of assessing everything at the club, Postecoglou has learnt almost all he needs to about the players he has inherited. He has never been critical of the squad, but it was clear from his press conference after the Arsenal defeat and during the Chelsea game how furious he was with some of them. On Sunday following the north London derby defeat, Postecoglou said of the outstanding Cristian Romero: “I’ve just got to get some of what’s in him into some of the others.” Praise for his vice-captain but also, potentially, a dig at the rest of the group.

During the first half at Stamford Bridge, Postecoglou was as visibly angry as he had been all season during a game. At one point, the Sky cameras picked up on him saying, “Stop passing it f***ing backwards!” After the game, Postecoglou was critical of himself rather than the players, but he is aware — and insists it’s not for want of trying — that his approach is not for everyone in this Spurs squad.

Postecoglou continued with his explanation of the situation by saying that sometimes even if a player or staff member hasn’t done anything wrong, when you’re trying to effect change you need to make alterations to keep things fresh.

“We’ve already made tough decisions, we let some experienced players leave the club at the beginning of the year, some by choice,” Postecoglou said — and it’s worth remembering how many senior players have left the group already since he took over. Of the four members of last season’s leadership group, three (Harry Kane, Hugo Lloris and Eric Dier) lasted six months or fewer, while the other (Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg) has been peripheral.

“If we’re really going to change, that means change,” Postecoglou continued. “You have to make decisions. Some of those decisions aren’t that tough because whether it’s a player or a staff member, they realise it themselves and say, ‘You know what, I’ve got a better path somewhere else and you’ve got a better path here’.

“But some of those decisions, you have to make just because of change, not necessarily because they don’t fit in the picture but you still have to change. I’ve got to change this squad, I have to. I’ve got to build a squad I think can play our football. For that to happen, there have to be exits. I can’t just keep everyone here and keep bringing in players. So sometimes you let people go who you think, ‘He’s a good player’ but how am I going to change if I don’t do that?”

In many ways, what Postecoglou said wasn’t that different from what his predecessors had said about the need to shake up the squad. The main difference here was that Postecoglou delivered it in a way that felt more productive than petulant.

And with Spurs travelling to Anfield on Sunday, thoughts went to Klopp, who had to oversee a similarly transitional first year before turning Liverpool into Premier League and Champions League winners. Postecoglou told a story of taking his oldest son to see Liverpool beat Stoke City in December 2016 in Klopp’s first full season. Postecoglou remembered a team who hadn’t achieved much at that point — though they had reached two finals the previous campaign at the start of Klopp’s reign — but that there was already a buzz around the club.

Spurs had something similar at the start of the season, which has dimmed a bit in recent weeks, but which Postecoglou needs to harness as he attempts his version of Klopp’s rebuild. As The Athletic looked at in March, Postecoglou is doing very well in his first Premier League season compared to Klopp and Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta — though Klopp had those Carabao Cup and Europa League finals and Arteta won the FA Cup.

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Postecoglou will hope the trajectory of his Premier League career mirrors that of Klopp (Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

The extent to which you have faith in Postecoglou depends on several factors. It makes a monumental difference when a new manager can upgrade unwanted players with ones he thinks will suit his way of playing. Liverpool and Arsenal had plenty of rocky moments early on, but as the squads began to contain fewer relics, such as Christian Benteke and Alexandre Lacazette, from previous eras and add players Klopp and Arteta wanted, such as Sadio Mane and Martin Odegaard, they looked better.

Postecoglou didn’t name names when talking about the need for change in his squad, but there are plenty of players who in years to come, we’ll ask: ‘Did they really play for Postecoglou?’

And encouragingly Spurs have a transfer operation that should allow them to make the kind of signings that Postecoglou wants. A lot of those early Liverpool signings — Georginio Wijnaldum (£23million; $28.9m), Andy Robertson (£10m) etc — weren’t for big money, they were just players Klopp felt would be perfect for his approach. In the earlier examples, Mane only cost marginally more than Benteke, and Lacazette was more expensive than Odegaard.

Spurs and Postecoglou need a few more windows like Klopp and Arteta had early on, starting this summer.

It’s worth saying that not every ‘project’ manager deserves time, and you may feel like this latest salvo from the Spurs head coach is simply hot air — smart words from a very good communicator. But it clearly isn’t just fancy rhetoric — more change is coming, even if the club hope they will finally have some stability in the dugout. This is surely welcome given that this will be the first season since the 2018-19 campaign that Spurs started and finished with the same manager.

Postecoglou is in no doubt about how invested the club are in him. “I have all the support I need,” he said. “The club has bought into the vision I have and it’s up to me to maintain that.”

We always knew when Postecoglou took over that there would be games like the last few — even if most thought they would happen more towards the start rather than the end of his first season. But it feels like Postecoglou deserves a decent chunk of time to try to bring about the proper “change” he so desperately wants to see.

(Top photo: Visionhaus/Getty Images)

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