Holger Osieck ended his association with Australian soccer an unpopular coach whose side capitulated 6-0 twice in succession. If anything is liable to have a manager fired, it is a pitiful loss against reasonable opposition and the German was dismissed in the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s match against France.
According to the normal chain of events, speculation is gathering as to the identity of his successor with the most high-profile names being Socceroo Swami Guus Hiddink, ex-Chile and Athletic Bilbao boss Marcelo Bielsa and – for some unknown reason – Roberto Di Matteo. Were Australia focusing solely on the World and Asian Cups of 2014 and 15, an “impact signing” excelling at tournament football – and hopefully at pulling strings at European clubs – would seem a wise investment.
However, none of the three “names” above would be inclined to hang around to create a platform for future development; to an ambitious non-Aussie, the most appealing aspect of the Australia job is almost certainly its potential for a quick profit.
Australia has lacked footballing identity since the 2010 World Cup. Until that time, the boys in Gold were a lineup of predictably loveable maulers: their backline boasted Craig Moore, Lucas Neill and Scott Chipperfield while the midfield was manned by uncompromising sorts Brett Emerton and Vince Grella. The team’s only lightweight, Harry Kewell, flitted about behind man-mountain Mark Viduka and his unsettlingly-physical Boy Wonder, Tim Cahill.
With the Green and Gold army clamouring for generational change and the press conferences of some of the Socceroo elite seemingly endorsing such claims, Football Federation of Australia Chairman and all-around-Daddy-Warbucks-figure Frank Lowy has narrowed the association’s focus and suggested the biggest hire in Australian soccer is likely to be from the FFA’s back room, the A-League.
The Australian national team needs to be the pinnacle for any Australian footballer. While the A-League has strengthened, the player pathways that produced the Golden Generation that peaked in 2006 have become overgrown. A strong Socceroo side with structures based around player development both at home and abroad is an absolute necessity for football to become more deeply rooted in the antipodean sporting consciousness. The coach best able to implement such a program must be employed.
For the first time in a generation, an Australian is almost certainly the best person for the position.
Lowy has effectively narrowed the field to three candidates – Tony Popovic of nascent Western Sydney Wanderers; former interim Socceroo manager Graham Arnold, now of the Central Coast Mariners; and Melbourne Victory kingpin Ange Postecoglou.
All the candidates present convincing resumés despite high-profile failures. Of the three, Arnold probably comes with the most baggage due to his underwhelming Asian Cup leadership of 2007; however, he has developed a consistently good Mariners outfit despite a tight budget even by A-League standards. His appointment may be seen as a reward to a company man. Popovic has a jaw-dropping level of natural talent for management and served an impressive apprenticeship before taking a journeyman bunch of Wanderers into the league finals in their first season. Questions remain, however, as to his experience.
Even with these negative aspects, were Arnold or Popovic to earn the position, Australia could feel confident about the Socceroos’ future.
However, the most compelling choice is Ange Postecoglou. After turning the Brisbane Roar from also-rans into dominant Premiers, he is currently re-shaping the A-League’s biggest club into a younger, more vital side; his modus operandi is to turn young footballers into disciplined and productive units.
This is based in part about his coaching philosophy: his teams hold the ball and use it rather than Osieck’s haphazard, “needs-must” approach. In an age where Australian youngsters have struggled to claim positions for the National side, pragmatism has few uses even focusing solely upon next year’s Cup. If a player – especially a youngster – knows ahead of time what is expected of a Socceroo, he is in far better position to prepare.
Despite the short lead-in to the World Cup, the FFA is in an enviable position. They can finally choose a manager to mould a team with the future in mind rather than employing someone they hope is able to bring about short-term results. The Round of Sixteen would of course be nice, but the Socceroos can no longer afford to focus on the twilights Schwarzer, Neill and Cahill. The outlook must now be on the retirements of James Holland, Tom Rogic and Matthew Spiranovic.