football

Man City vs Spurs: The story behind Ange Postecoglou's philosophy and why compromise is not an option

As a beaming Nick Dimitrakis sits down for this interview, the faces of Ange Postecoglou and Pep Guardiola poke out either side of him. ā€œIā€™m hiding Johan Cruyff,ā€ he chuckles, before moving to reveal the prescient mural he commissioned seven years ago.

The artwork is a tribute to the transformational work Postecoglou did for the youth programme at Dimitrakis' Nunawading City, a semi-professional community club in the suburbs of Melbourne, at perhaps the lowest moment of his career in 2008.

Dimitrakis saw something others didn't in Postecoglou, who was yet to find success outside Australia at the time. "We were ridiculed a lot on social media so it's good now to see our prediction becoming reality," Dimitrakis, head of football operations, tells Sky Sports.

"When Pep and Ange meet each other this weekend the mural becomes alive. It's a proud moment for us here."

Postecoglou's Tottenham playing Guardiola's City in the Premier League on Sunday - live on Sky Sports - vindicates Dimitrakis and marks an incredible journey for Angeball. The Australian wouldn't have got here without unrelenting faith in his attacking approach.

"Ange, Cruyff and Pep all have a philosophical alignment in football," says Dimitrakis. They sit alongside one another on the wall of a clubhouse in Melbourne's Forest Hill suburb because their mission in football is about more than winning.

"They love attacking football and they love to control the game," he adds. "More importantly they love to entertain the crowd." This has certainly been the case at Spurs. The nascent days of Angeball have been a hit but Postecoglou has met a bump in the road.

Spurs were unbeaten after 10 games and top of the league, enjoying Postecoglou's high-risk, high-reward football. Although now he's in the midst of an injury crisis and on a three-game losing run, the enthusiasm for his uncompromising approach is waning slightly.

"It's always going to stay like this," says Dimitrakis, smiling again. "Spurs fans better get used to it. There'll be good times and tough times. The data suggests there'll be more good times. Ange believes in what he does wholeheartedly. It's his way or the highway."

For those hoping Postecoglou exercises just a modicum of restraint when injury-hit Spurs head to the Etihad, the consensus seems to be that there's no chance of that.

The only other time Postecoglou has faced Guardiola was in 2019 for a pre-season friendly. His Yokohama F Marinos had nearly 60 per cent possession against a full strength City side in a 3-1 defeat.

In fact, the only game Spurs haven't had most of the ball in this season was the loss to Chelsea when they were down to nine. Even then, Angeball was in full effect with an extraordinarily high line.

"Not once in the two years I played under Ange did he change his approach," Matt Smith, his captain at Brisbane Roar, tells Sky Sports. "It was relentless. It's high intensity, high mobility football and very ruthless in the sense of the team performing how he wants."

That side in Brisbane became known as 'Roarcelona' at a time when Guardiola had assembled arguably the greatest club side ever. "He wanted to change the way people worldwide - especially Australian people - perceived Australian football," says Smith.

"Ange praised performances when we'd done everything right but didn't get the result. But he'd criticise us when we'd won games but hadn't played the way he wanted us to play. It was about something bigger than winning."

There was no shortage of success for Postecoglou in Brisbane though. He won two A-League Championships and a Premiership after going a record 36 games unbeaten. "He refers to the end result as the by product of our processes," says Smith.

Postecoglou may joke that he's simply copying Pep but his true inspiration lies closer to home. "It comes from his father," says Dimitrakis. "He was passionate about playing football on the ground. There was a huge bond between father and son. Football was probably the only quality time they spent together."

A young Postecoglou would stay up late to watch Match of the Day with his father, Jim, an avid Leeds supporter. "I quickly made the connection that football would be the conduit to getting close to my hero," Postecoglou wrote for Athletes Voice in 2018.

His father's mantra - 'keep the ball down' - has been Postecoglou's guiding light on an often uncertain journey. It can now be seen every week when Spurs play. That was true for South Melbourne, Brisbane Roar, Melbourne Victory, Australia, Yokohama and Celtic too.

There was a moment along the way though when Postecoglou lost sight of that. It brings us to the story of how he met Nunawading City and one of his most difficult chapters as a coach.

Postecoglou was let go by Football Australia in 2007 after failing to qualify for the U20 World Cup. Seven years of hard work with the U17s and U20s quickly became remembered for one unfortunate TV appearance a week before his dismissal.

He was ripped apart in a brutal interview with Craig Foster, a former Australia international, and told to resign. The tense back and forth, lasting nearly eight minutes, makes for uncomfortable viewing. An uneasy Postecoglou is hardly recognisable now.

For those that haven't seen the clip before, it's worth a watch to fully appreciate the moment many thought would end Postecoglou's career. "Not in Ange's mind, but for a lot of others," says Dimitrakis.

A jobless Postecoglou was sidelined from elite football in Australia with executives unwilling to go near him after his public humiliation. There was a brief - and chaotic - spell in the Greek third division and he dabbled in punditry before meeting Dimitrakis when he was working with Football Federation Victoria.

"I went to see a session for five minutes and I thought 'ah gee this is it'," he says. "He was doing drills back then that coaches are only beginning to introduce now. He really opened my eyes."

Postecoglou's philosophy has endured at Nunawading. "If Ange walked in tomorrow he'd see exactly what he saw 16 years ago," says Dimitrakis. The programme has produced three Australia U17s, including Jake Brimmer, who was signed by Liverpool.

The time in exile taught Postecoglou something valuable. "It was probably the only time in my life when I thought too much about job preservation,'' he said of his spell with the Young Socceroos after winning the A-League Premiership in 2011.

"The lesson I learned was that I could never be successful if I compromised my beliefs. If I want to say something, I'll say it. Basically, I don't give a s*** about what people think of me anymore.''

Postecoglou is not unique in having a philosophy, though what sets him apart is his devotion to those principles and his ability to bring others with him on the journey. "He was very good at creating a legacy within the club," says Smith.

"I remember one team talk he said, 'Everyone thinks Australian players aren't good enough to play possession football'. He said it is our job to prove everybody wrong."

So far, Postecoglou has done that everywhere he's been. His success has almost always followed scepticism. The message from those that know him is clear. "Don't judge Ange now, judge him at the end of the season."

Watch Man City vs Tottenham live on Sky Sports' Super Sunday this weekend, kick-off 4.30pm. The game can also be streamed using a NOW TV pass.