The rage of Ange Postecoglou – what was he angry about and how have Spurs reacted?


After losing 2-0 to Manchester City on Tuesday night, Tottenham Hotspur head coach Ange Postecoglou said that the foundations of what he is trying to build had been revealed to be “fairly fragile” — but not necessarily by events on the pitch.

It was a strange night, with tempers fraying and many Spurs supporters actively wanting the team to lose and dent the title hopes of local rivals Arsenal.

Postecoglou was clearly furious after the game but would not elaborate on what he meant by those “fairly fragile” comments and what it was that had irritated him.

Here, The Athletic explains what riled Postecoglou in the lead-up to the game, and the possible implications of what he said.

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What was it that upset Postecoglou?

It was clear from Postecoglou’s comments on Tuesday night that the previous 48 hours had been his most challenging spell at Spurs. He did not want to be drawn on specifics but the head coach said those two days had “revealed a fair bit” to him about issues outside and inside the club. Almost all of this comes back to the theme of the last few days about whether Spurs should want to beat Manchester City on Tuesday if it meant Arsenal winning the league.

Normally, Postecoglou is an expert at shutting out the external noise and focusing on his job but this time, the narrative became unavoidable, even inside the club.

He made his views clear in Monday’s press conference that he has no interest in “bragging rights”. After the game, he could not hide his frustration at the subdued atmosphere. He was even caught on camera angrily shouting at a fan behind the dugout whom he had heard using abusive language. Contrary to suggestions that the fan in question had told Postecoglou to throw the game, one witness told The Athletic the fan had asked Postecoglou why he had not shown the same animation earlier in the season rather than just against City. The fan was then ejected from the stadium.

Most aggravating of all to Postecoglou was the sense that a few club staff — many of whom are Spurs fans — had been relaxed about losing because of the title context. While the majority of club staff had been focusing on their work as normal, the prospect of losing to City had been a theme of jokes among a minority of staff for the last week. When one member of the support staff joked to Postecoglou that he should play a youth team against City, the manager was furious.

Postecoglou’s mood had deteriorated in recent weeks given the bad results, but this dynamic lit the fuse in him. The whole notion of being happy to lose a game had shocked him.

Jack Pitt-Brooke

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Postecoglou cut an animated figure against City (Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

Was this planned?

Postecoglou had already given multiple interviewers to broadcasters before giving his press conferences and, though his mood had been awful in them, he had not mentioned anything about “fragile foundations”. 

That he used this line when answering a positive question about how well his team had played suggests this was something he wanted to get off his chest, rather than him being backed into a corner. The warning signs had been there in the previous couple of weeks. On May 4, the day after the Chelsea defeat and before the 4-2 loss at Liverpool, Postecoglou explained how much change was required at the club. In that context, his words on Wednesday night make a lot more sense. 

Whether Postecoglou meant to go as far as he did is open to debate. He would not elaborate on what he meant, suggesting he was worried he overstepped the mark, but Postecoglou is a very experienced manager and an excellent communicator. This would not have all happened by accident. 

Charlie Eccleshare

What is he trying to change at Spurs?

Er, just about everything. Two weeks ago, he said: “If we’re really going to change, that means change. 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.’”

Postecoglou mentioning staff there felt significant — this is about more than just a squad overhaul. Postecoglou wants to completely change the culture of the group, and that includes staff as well as players. Spurs have already made big changes to their recruitment operation — they let five of their scouts go at the end of March and appointed Johan Lange as technical director last year. 

In the first half of the season, Postecoglou frequently expressed how strange it was to conduct a summer transfer window without a director of football, and was very welcoming of Lange’s appointment.

The level of the players coming through the Spurs academy is another area Postecoglou has questioned publicly and wants to improve. 

Charlie Eccleshare

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Johan Lange arrived as technical director last year (Jan Christensen/Getty Images)

How have the fans reacted?

Postecoglou has generally been pitch-perfect when discussing fan issues this season but in his two press conferences this week, his view has been at odds with many supporters. 

After the City game, part of Postecoglou’s ire was clearly directed at the fans and the muted atmosphere at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. “Of course it (affects the players),” he said. “It is what it is. I can’t dictate what people do. They’re allowed to express themselves any way they want. But yeah, when we’ve got late winners in games, it’s because the crowd’s helped us.”

He added that the “fragile foundations” were “outside, inside, everywhere”. 

Some supporters have sympathy with Postecoglou’s view that not fully supporting the team was self-defeating — but many have taken issue with what appears to them as a failure to understand the rivalry with Arsenal and the depth of feeling therein. On Monday, Postecoglou said that he “would never understand” fans not wanting their team to win a game. 

In response, the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters’ Trust (THST) have told The Athletic that they would be happy to set up a meeting with Postecoglou to explain the context around the rivalry with Arsenal and why the feelings run so deep. 

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Martin Buhagiar, the THST chair, has explained why Postecoglou’s comments on Tuesday night have not gone down well with sections of the fanbase. “When Ange talks about things ‘outside’ the club not pleasing him, that can only be the supporters — and a lot of fans are rightly a bit offended by that,” Buhagiar says. 

“He has come to a club that’s underachieved for years, and won next to nothing in the last 30-odd years. We’ve heard a lot about new eras and new mentalities from his predecessors in his time and it’s not gone anywhere so forgive us for jumping the gun and thinking everything has been solved, because we’ve seen this before. 

“It showed a misunderstanding of the turmoil of Spurs fans on a regular basis. Unless you’ve lived the life of a Spurs fan, you’re in no position to comment.”

Buhagiar added that many fans also feel frustrated that Postecoglou, who was so active on the touchline on Tuesday, had been so passive against Arsenal. This might seem like a minor gripe but this is what happens when a group feels like they are being unfairly attacked. Many also feel that Postecoglou isn’t in such a strong position to point fingers given the team has lost five of its last six games — some of which they feel are down to his team selections. 

The bigger picture is that a season, largely defined by the synergy between the head coach and fans, has ended with obvious dividing lines. 

Charlie Eccleshare

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Spurs fans arrive for Tuesday’s match against Man City (Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

What about the players?

During Postecoglou’s press conference, he was very careful to avoid criticising the players in public. Postecoglou insisted he was happy with his players’ efforts when asked — “We matched it with the best team in the land for the last four years” — and challenged any suggestion that he might not have been. However, there is often a difference between what a manager will say about his players in public and what they say in private, and there is no question that Postecoglou has been frustrated with his players’ sloppiness in recent weeks.

Postecoglou has been very clear in the last few weeks that there has to be a clear-out this summer, part of the necessary process of change, allowing him to bring in the players who can deliver his style next season and beyond. Listening to Postecoglou on Tuesday night saying how determined he is to “build a winning team”, he sounded even more committed to a squad refresh this summer.

Jack Pitt-Brooke

What happens next?

Tottenham’s players had a day off on Wednesday meaning there was no chance for any air-clearing talks at the training ground. The players will return on Thursday to prepare for their last game of the season at Sheffield United on Sunday. On Friday, Postecoglou will face the press and will be asked to expand or reflect upon these comments. He will be given the opportunity to rebuild bridges with the fans and it will be fascinating to see whether he chooses to do so.

After Bramall Lane, Spurs will fly off for their post-season trip to Melbourne before the players get a few weeks of rest (at least for those not playing in the European Championship or Copa America). 

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So maybe it is for the best that Postecoglou made these comments just before everyone breaks up for the summer, so they will not leave too much of a lingering bad taste. By the time the players return for pre-season, this will likely all be forgotten. It was not uncommon for Mauricio Pochettino to finish a season with a strop that would not preclude a fresh start in July.

Maybe it is better this way rather than Postecoglou making his feelings known in the middle of the season, with his comments then hanging over the daily life of the club for the next few months. No one fully knows yet what the legacy of these comments will be.

Jack Pitt-Brooke

 

(Top photo: Richard Pelham/Getty Images)



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