Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Holger Osieck: Who?

The Socceroos have a new coach in German Holger Osieck. He comes with experience, having managed both internationally and at club level and armed with a remit to develop youth throughout the country to encourage growth in the sport and replenish the ageing top-line talent in the Socceroo lineup.

In Austtralia not much is known about him and it certainly seems at first glance a bit of a step down considering the names bandied about as potential Australia managers; names like Ruud Gullit, Dick Advocaat and Leo Beehakker recently several of the high-profile coaches linked in the past. But on closer inspection, Osieck's background is impressive in itself – spells as Fenerbahce and Bochum boss in Europe intermingled with spells in charge of Canada and most notably as the guy at Japan's Urawa Red Diamonds and as assistant to Franz Beckenbauer during Germany's 1990 World Cup triumph. That he took a – and let's be fair – footballing backwater like Canada to a major trophy (the 2000 CONCAAF Gold Cup) is a significant achievement in itself.

It certainly appears as if the FFA has made several statements with their selection. The criteria laid down by the board were straighforward enough: the new man had to have experience at rebuilding, come with Asian experience, while being supportive to any move by players to depart the fledgling A-League into larger and better football competitions, be they European, Asian or American. In itself, these criteria ruled out perhaps the more high-profile choices but this may well be for the best. The FFA has practically announced their priorities for the next half decade, which is youth, youth and the potential World Cup hosting role in 2022. With an Asian Cup campaign in the offing and a roster chock-full of thirtysomethings, one can be quite confident that a Frank Rijkaard-type isn't the best fit for the position in which Australia finds itself. After billionaire property-developer Frank Lowy bankrolled the Guus Hiddink era and the treading water that defined Pim Verbeek's reign, that the FFA has decided to firmly place down what they are looking for in a manager rather than trying to eke out one last major tournament from the careers of Cahill, Moore and Chipperfield is a major positive.

All this is really encouraging for the grassroots supporter of Australian football and potentially a big win for the nation as a FIFA decision on the 2022 World Cup host looms. Hopefully the key performance indicators in Osieck's job for the next two years aren't results-based, but about having Australian talent in the most appropriate bigger leagues for that talent. Rather than finding Aussies in one of two locations – Britain or the A-League – Socceroo hopefuls have recently found more success and money in lesser-publicised leagues like the K-and-J Leagues in Asia, the highly-paid Emirati leagues in the Middle East and second-tier Euroleagues such as Turkey and Holland. The best example of this could come from any of Carl Valeri, Matthew Spiranovic or Joshua Kennedy: sitting on the bench at Inter, Nurnberg or Karlsruhe is no good for a player's club or international prospects, so a step sideways to Sassuolo. Suwon or Nagoya is a great step to secure regular, high-level first-team action. Growth in player pathways is the next big step in developing the nation as an Asian footballing power and the extent of that power will be measured as the 2011 Asian Cup warm-up campaign begins. Osieck's first matches in charge is against stiff opposition – Sweden, Poland and Paraguay – and will give the local football cognoscenti a chance to examine and hopefully embrace the players sliding into key roles within the team. A mass exodus of the old guard would be foolhardy and Osieck's first squad selections has confirmed he feels likewise, but with a gradual feeding in of youth and the start of a new regime, optimism and excitement should be the order of the day for the Green and Gold army.

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