For many Tottenham fans, after the passive, reactive, sometimes dire and often ineffective football they watched their team play under José Mourinho, (briefly) Nuno Espiríto Santo and Antonio Conte, the most important aspect of the next appointment is entertainment.

Last season was a difficult watch: Spurs slumped to their lowest league finish in 14 years while across north London, Arsenal very nearly won the title. With Manchester City so dominant and so many other teams improving around them while Spurs have regressed, the dream of ending a trophy drought that stretches back to 2008 seems a long way away.

So, if the destination isn’t quite what you’d like, at least enjoy the journey, right?

That’s where new manager Ange Postecoglou comes in. He won it all at Celtic, but trophies weren’t all he thought about.

“As much as we get defined by success – winning trophies and winning games – the most pleasing thing for me is the number of goals we’ve scored,” Postecoglou said towards the end of last season with his Celtic side chasing a club record for goals scored in a season. “I still think that’s the best part of football, it goes beyond winning. Sometimes you can win and not really enjoy a game, but never do you not enjoy a goal. Even the most scrambling, ugliest of goals still gets celebrated. I love the joy goals bring.”

Postecoglou came in at Celtic after they’d had a disappointing 2020-21. The club had just failed to win the Scottish Premiership for the first time in 10 years, after finishing 25 points behind Steven Gerrard’s runaway winners. They lost to Rangers in the fourth round of the Scottish Cup and were knocked out of the Scottish League Cup in the second round by Ross County. For the first time since 2009-10 they ended a season trophyless.

Celtic hadn’t exactly fallen far, but there was talk at the time as to whether that season – and the scale of Rangers’ domination – signalled the start of a power shift at the top of the Scottish game.

In came Postecoglou in the summer of 2021 to cheer the Celtic fans up. But it didn’t start well.

The Australian is incredibly principled when it comes to the football he wants his teams to play. He wants to entertain, and he wants his players to play out from the back and continue to do so regardless of any failures. He prefers players who are brave in possession and who will keep on trying to play out under pressure. He wants his team to play a positional game and to learn to play through the thirds by making mistakes.

That might be at least part of the reason that Celtic got off to a terrible start under their new manager. They won only three and lost three of their opening seven league games – including defeats to Hearts and Livingston – while also losing a two-legged Champions League qualifier to FC Midtjylland. He had also overseen poor starts at both Brisbane Roar and Yokohama F. Marinos in previous jobs. Perhaps it is a good thing, then, that Spurs have one of the easiest opening schedules of any Premier League side next season.

But once his players have grasped his ideas, things have come together wherever he’s gone. Brisbane won successive titles, Yokohama won the J-League and Celtic won five out of six domestic trophies in his two years in Glasgow. The below table shows how Celtic’s statistics changed under him.

Celtic's stats, 2020-21 to 2022-23 to highlight the impact Postecoglou had

Their average possession increased to 69.6% and then 72.5% season on season, with those two figures the highest by any Premiership team in any season between 2020-21 and 2022-23. Their high-regain numbers went from the third highest in the Premiership in 2020-21 (277) behind Rangers and Livingston, to second in 2021-22 (298) and first in 2022-23 (342).

The number of goals they scored increased dramatically, from 78 before he arrived to 92 in his first title-winning season and then 114 in 2022-23. That total was only two behind Celtic’s all-time record of 116, set in 1915-16. Postecoglou is fine with losing some defensive solidity in search of goals, with Celtic conceding 34 goals in his final season – up from 29 in the season before he arrived.

Interestingly, the number of dribbles his players attempted dropped significantly, from 769 in 2020-21 – the highest by any team in any of these three seasons – to 698, which was second to Rangers in 2021-22, and then down again to 660, which was the third-highest total in the Scottish Premiership in 2022-23. The team was becoming more of a collective under his leadership.

A domestic double was followed by a treble before his departure for Spurs this summer. Only an extra-time defeat to Rangers in the Scottish Cup semi-final in his first season at the club denied Postecoglou back-to-back trebles.

There are plenty of people who believe winning trophies in countries like Scotland – particularly with Celtic – and Japan doesn’t prove that Postecoglou is a good manager.

“Yeah, but I could win the treble with Celtic,” is a common line (a friend said these exact words to me last weekend when we were discussing the new Spurs manager’s chances of success), and there is some reason behind that way of thinking. Celtic only really face a few domestic games each season which they aren’t expected to win and win easily. So, Europe might seem like a fairer place to judge Postecoglou, where the challenge may replicate that of the Premier League with Tottenham more accurately.

His record in European competition with Celtic wasn’t great at all, and their results have been, for many, a stick to beat him with. In his first season, Celtic were knocked out of the Champions League in the qualifiers, then failed to get out of their Europa League group, before being beaten by Bodø/Glimt in a Europa Conference League knockout playoff. The following season, they made it to the Champions League group stage but picked up only two points from their six games. There were promising performances but only four goals scored and 15 conceded.

The commonly held view was that Postecoglou stuck too steadfastly to his philosophy, even when it appeared not to be working. That was a big frustration for many Spurs fans with Conte, who would almost never deviate from his 3-4-3 formation, and hoped like-for-like substitutions would sort things out. It turns out, bringing Ben Davies on for Clément Lenglet at left centre-back – or vice-versa – was never the solution.

This, it seemed, was also Postecoglou’s biggest blind spot. He tried to play the same football against Real Madrid on a Wednesday as he did against Dundee United on the Saturday. There were some positive signs against the reigning European champions, but they lost 3-0 at home and 5-1 away. (They scored 15 in three games against Dundee United, by the way.) Postecoglou’s side were incredibly bold against the best teams in Europe, but it didn’t pay off.

Only seven teams recorded more high turnovers than Celtic (60) in the Champions League group stage this season. Five of those seven teams qualified for the knockout rounds, and the other two only just missed out, having gone into the final round of fixtures in with a chance of qualifying. Celtic, of course, finished bottom of Group F, 10 points off RB Leipzig in second place.

Only Benfica (14), Barcelona, Napoli and Manchester City (each 13) had more shots following a high regain than Celtic (12) in the Champions League group stage. But Celtic didn’t score from a single one of those shots, while all of those other teams did.

Celtic stats, Premiership vs Champions League, 2022-23

They also ranked 11th out of 32 teams in the whole Champions League in 2022-23 for the number of open-play sequences they had that contained 10+ passes and ended in a shot or a touch in the box, with 23, despite the fact they only played six games and didn’t make it out of the group. Again, not one of those sequences brought a goal. Every other team who built as many such sequences scored from at least one of them.

There’s more. Celtic had the eighth-highest defensive line in the group stage, with their attacks starting an average of 44.3m from their own goal, putting them ahead of the likes of Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and PSG. Inter, meanwhile, this year’s beaten finalists, had the fourth lowest starting distance of their moves from their own goal in the group stages, at 37.8m. Manager Simone Inzaghi was rightly and roundly lauded for his pragmatic approach in Europe, which was completely different to how his Inter team played domestically. He recognised his team wasn’t going to be able to play its usual game, and they were a lot less proactive in Champions League games. They very nearly won the whole thing.

Celtic’s approach was pretty much universally viewed as suicidal. It’s difficult to disagree given how poor their results were. They went for it wherever they went and were picked off by better opponents. God loves a trier, eh?

But in fact, there was more to the numbers behind their European adventure than first meets the eye. Celtic underperformed their expected goals at both ends of the pitch to a great extent.

Their four goals came from 9.26 xG; their underperformance in attack of 5.26 was the second-biggest in the group stage behind Bayer Leverkusen (5.28), who also crashed out at that stage of the competition. According to our xG model, Celtic created better chances than 19 of the 32 teams in the group stage. They scored more goals than just two of them.

Meanwhile, Postecoglou’s side had the fifth-worst defensive record in the group stages, conceding 15 goals. Yet they only conceded chances worth 11.7 xG – a difference of 3.3, which was also one of the biggest discrepancies of all teams involved.

In the Champions League, you come up against Champions League-quality goalkeepers, and world-class finishers, so underperformance might be expected for a team that is used to facing Ross County and St Mirren (no offence intended to those teams).

Scottish Premiership power rankings on 15 June 2023
According to our Power Rankings, the Scottish Premiership contained teams ranked as low as 2157th in the world in 2022-23

But equally, if Celtic had – or if Postecoglou was managing – a player up front like, I don’t know, Harry Kane or Son Heung-min, for example, you could expect those chances to have been finished at a better rate. Equally, if a player deemed not good enough to be Tottenham’s reserve goalkeeper such as Joe Hart wasn’t in goal, then maybe a few more of the shots they faced would have been kept out.

It may be these numbers that convinced Tottenham that Postecoglou is the man for the job when his European record has probably been the biggest concern around his appointment for many of the fans.

He is going in with Tottenham at their lowest point in a long time, so there’s a vast amount of room for improvement, but many of the issues will take a long time to fix.

He will almost certainly want to play a version of the 4-3-3 he has used in most of his previous jobs, and he has a squad bloated with defenders brought in to play in a back three or at wing-back in a 3-4-3. He has some good options in central midfield but arguably needs another player to fill a slot as one of his free 8s, who get forward regularly and break the last line with runs from deep.

There is the fact that Postecoglou likes his full-backs to invert to add another body in central midfield when his team has the ball, as this map of Celtic left-back Greg Taylor’s touches last season shows.

Greg Taylor's touches for Celtic, 2022-23

It’s not entirely obvious that Tottenham have the players to play this role adequately.

Postecoglou also needs a goalkeeper who is better with the ball at his feet than the soon-to-depart Hugo Lloris. Then there is the Harry Kane situation, which could drag on all summer, and even if he stays, he might only do so until his contract expires in 2024, which could mean an even bigger summer of upheaval a year down the line.

The jump from Conte’s football to what they will be playing is a big one, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Tottenham’s players take even longer to get used to Postecoglou’s game than those at his previous clubs.

But if he is given time, it’s very likely indeed that he’ll create an entertaining team. Trophies might continue to elude Tottenham, but if success is judged on how many goals they score under him, Postecoglou could prove a shrewd appointment.

Enjoy this? Subscribe to our newsletter to receive five stories each Friday. It’s free. Also, follow us on Twitter.