"It helped me because I took a distance from the pressure in Europe and came back with a different viewpoint. I can take more distance from decisions now than I could before."
The Frenchman appreciated the more long-term view that the Japanese have on football. I was at his first-ever game in England in 1996 and I still remember the Arsenal fans angry about the appointment of a coach from Nagoya Grampus. They soon changed their mind.
Until Friday, Celtic fans were expecting Eddie Howe to be their next boss but was talks with the Englishman have reportedly broken down, former Australia boss Ange Postecoglou has been installed as the strong favourite to take the Parkhead hot seat and to leave Yokohama F.Marinos after three and a half years in Japan.
Like Wenger, Japan has affected Postecoglou too. He arrived at Yokohama F. Marinos not long after taking the Socceroos through qualification for the 2018 World Cup. His three full seasons have been a real roller-coaster. There was a relegation flirtation in 2018, a thrilling championship in 2019, a ninth-placed finish last season and a potential title challenge in this campaign.
The first campaign saw Postecoglou changing the way the team, that had last won a title in 2005, played. Embedding his pro-active, aggressive style with players always wanting the ball took time.
Only champions Kawasaki Frontale scored more (and just one goal more) and only two teams conceded more. The next season, Yokohama needed a bit of time to get going but in the later stages, they were sublime, winning the title by six points.
Last season saw a disappointing ninth but it was, to say the least, an unusual campaign and the schedule was harder on the Marinos than most as they had to jet off to play in the AFC Champions League (one they were more than good enough to win) while the action was still going on in Japan.
But despite the success and how he has changed Japanese football (and he has with more and more teams following Yokohama’s play and other teams taking on his assistants), his time in Japan is not much of a preparation for taking over Celtic in the short-term at least. You would struggle to find two different football environments.
As Wenger said, Japanese clubs are relatively forgiving of short-term hiccups in a way that is not the case in much of Europe. Wenger’s situation was easier as he took the Arsenal job. There was no pressure to win the title in his first season and he already had a reputation in Europe after his time in charge of Monaco. Also, he was French.
Postecolgou has said his nationality is not a plus point when it comes to getting European jobs. Fans there are dismissive of Australian football and the reaction we have seen on social media already was always going to happen especially to the first one in line for a big European job. Fortunately, he’s the best and has a chance to help change perceptions.
Postecoglou’s achievements in Japan are more impressive than Wenger’s but not being French makes it even harder for those to be recognised. What the 55-year-old has learned about different cultures and the challenges of instilling a new style of play will help in Scotland in the long term. In the short term though, there will be a steep learning curve.
Just as fans in Europe can be dismissive of Australian football, fans in Australia often don’t appreciate just how big a club Celtic is. It is not about whether the J.League is better than Scotland’s top flight or vice-versa -this will be like nothing Postecoglou has experienced before. Results and success are everything. There may be no coming back from a bad start. His first job is to get fans onside and win some games.
It is not just about what happens on the pitch either. His every word and action will be scrutinised in a way that just does not happen in Asia. The football media environment in Australia and Japan is incredibly gentle. If Postecoglou grew tired of the media when in charge of the Socceroos, he may be in for a shock in Scotland.
But this is why you take such a job --for the challenge. If he goes, Postecoglou will be living in one of the most intense football cities in the world. In his first few months, Yokohama and Brisbane will feel a world away but if he can adapt to the environment then Ange-ball may yet make an appearance in Europe and that would be something to see.