Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Verbeek: the new Dutch for "Let's not go there again"

Written 27/6/2010

So what does Pim Verbeek leave behind after his three years as Australia manager? A squad in urgent need of refreshment, a published history of disdain for the A-League and dismissal from a crucial World Cup at the Group Stage. Isn't every World Cup crucial? True. This Cup was especially important because the 2006 World Cup began a revolution in football in Australia, begetting momentum the roundball game had never seen in our country. As next year's Asian Cup campaign gears up, what is most pressing is that the FFA makes a quick managerial appointment, allowing smooth transition rather than repeating the Advocaat debacle that occurred prior to Verbeek being given the keys.

There is an argument that Verbeek has left Australia with no legacy, which may be true. ( After the Serbia match the Chairman of the FFA admitted as much, stating publicly that Verbeek had pretty much left Australian football in the same state he found it. There certainly is evidence supporting this case, but it can also be said that Verbeek's legacy is to sketh a much clearer picture as to what Australian soccer it isn't looking for in a mentor.

Australia's best-ever manager was Guus Hiddink, who navigated a team of unknowns through qualifying and into the second round of Germany 2006. On arriving in Germany, he was quoted “Our goal is the second round. Why not?”. Hiddink's blueprint – at South Korea, PSV Eindhoven, Australia, Chelsea and a lesser extent Russia - encouragement to both players and their fans. He has cottoned on that it's not necessarily the team made up of the best players that wins, it is simply the best team that wins. His modus operandi is to encourage and then empower the playing staff and the results follow. Management and players on the same page produces the best results. With this empowerment comes player buy-in and following that, discipline. And it's no coincidence the best sides at this World Cup have been the endowed with this discipline.

As tacticians, neither Hiddink (or Verbeek) will ever be mistaken for Mourinho, and that's fine. Developing soccer nations don't really need tacticians, they need organisation and belief.

The greatest criticism of Pim's reign will be in his man-management. He was brought in as an autocratic leader after the failed Graeme Arnold my-coach-is-my-friend approach, but may have misread the situation and was heavy-handed with criticism at the wrong times. Case in point: Archie Thompson. Where in 2006 Hiddink brought him in to PSV Eindhoven on loan before the tournament, Verbeek called him “Absolutely hopeless”; Luke Wilkshire and John Aloisi have similar stories to tell. Where Hiddink cajoled, Verbeek railed. A coach who worries about uncontrollable elements tends to engender a playing staff with an all-encompassing attitude of constantly being wronged.

After the Germany fiasco, Pim stated in press conferences that the spirit of Australia was to fight. That's only partially true. The Aussie way is to make the best of poor situations, which may mean having to fight forces beyond your control. We Skippies call this “Toughing it out”; not just shutting up shop and hoping that circumstances change, but admitting the situation and actively going about changing those circumstances you can control.

Certainly the A-League is not of the utmost standard, but for a five-year old league it is a much more effective top-flight than the old NSL. The next coach must prepared to work with the A-League rather than disregard it as a pain in the butt. Australia has world-class players. and the manager must have authority in himself, as well as to empower the players and the nation as a whole. Absolutely the talent-pool of Australian footballers is scattered over the globe. However, this is a consequence of our location, and the reason why we have such a can-do attitude. Our next coach must embrace Australia – and Australian football - for what it is, rather than for what it is not.

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