After four years at the helm of the Socceroos Ange Postecoglou has confirmed that he is stepping down from the role.
The reaction of fans and the media to the news has been mixed.
Yet does this announcement really come as a huge surprise?
Ange was announced as the Socceroos coach on October 24th 2013. He came into the role with the Socceroos having qualified for the World Cup in Brazil in 2014 after German coach Holger Osieck was sacked after the team was defeated 6-0 by Brazil and France.
On his appointment, Postecoglou, on the back of outstanding success with Brisbane Roar, who played a superb brand of football, the new coach stated that “The Socceroos belong to the people of this nation, it’s my job to make sure we represent all that’s good in Australian football. We need to strive for greatness, to play with spirit and have an unwavering belief in our mission.”
On the back of his success at Brisbane the coach had the courage to put his faith in young players with some experienced campaigners around them. Only ten players in the squad had reached double figures in terms of caps. Only six players from South Africa 2010 were selected in the final squad of 23.
Not surprisingly Australia played with a freedom rarely seen at World Cup Finals. The style of play won them plaudits, but they still were on the plane home at the end of the group stage having lost all three matches and conceded three goals in every game they played! Only Cameroon of the 32 teams also conceded nine goals in their three group games.
Yet more worrying was Australia’s lack of ability to score goals. In what was to prove a sign of things to come in the qualifying campaign for 2018, only Tim Cahill (2 Goals) and Mile Jedinak (1 goal) scored for the Socceroos; Jedinak’s goal a penalty.
Despite the results the positive was that the team had played with the spirit and the belief the coach wanted, but the truth was they were still found wanting.
It therefore came as little surprise that those players who had bought into the new coach’s vision were retained when Australia hosted the Asian Cup at the start of 2014. Sixteen players from the squad of 23 that went to Brazil were retained for the Asian Cup.
The Socceroos had made the final in 2011 losing in extra time to Japan. In 2015 there were just seven players from that squad in Postecoglou’s that played four years later. Only four played a part both finals, Cahill, Jedinak playing the whole match both times. Matt McKay played the whole game in 2011 but came on as a sub in 2015 for Robbie Kruse who had come on as a substitute in 2011.
Australia were expected to make the final, which they did. On the way they lost one game to their opponents in the final, South Korea, in their group matches. In a tense final that saw South Korea equalise at the end of normal time, Australia managed to find a second goal in extra-time and hang on for a famous victory. However many were caught up in the euphoria of the victory, rather than looking at how it was achieved and the quality of the opposition. It was however a great achievement that saw the Socceroos match the Matildas achievement from 2010. Once again Tim Cahill was the top scorer with three goals. James Troisi and Massimo Luongo who both scored in the final, both notched two goals in the tournament.
With that win came expectations from many armchair fans and part-time football correspondents. Based on that victory Australia was expected to breeze through the World Cup qualifiers, and was virtually assured a place in Russia 2018. Of course as we all know it was far from easy.
There is no doubt the 2-2 draw with Thailand in November 2016 was a major speed bump in the qualifying campaign. However there were other distractions. For example the players pay dispute with the FFA. Postecoglou famously came out in support of his players, as any coach would, but was forced to make a public apology by the Football Federation of Australia. This was gross mis-management by the FFA, and from the outside it certainly appeared as if the relationship between coach and employer was never the same after that day. (Who’s The Boss?)
Ange’s tactics have also come into question, but it is important that we remember his vision when he was appointed. “We need to strive for greatness, to play with spirit and have an unwavering belief in our mission.” Yet as the campaign wore on it appeared that unlike when he started the players he picked did no longer shared his vision. The team frequently played with fear, a fear of failing, a fear of losing. Something never seen in a team coached by Postecoglou.
Two years on from that Asian Cup victory only six players from the starting line up in that final started against Honduras. Only eleven players in the squad of 23 for the crucial World Cup Qualifier were part of the squad when the team lifted the Asian Cup. That is a large turnover in a very short space of time. Sure, injuries played a part in that turnover of players, but was Postecoglou also searching for those players who shared his vision and had the same beliefs?
Based on the team’s performance in the qualifiers they are going to struggle in Russia. Postecoglou is no fool. He has ambitions to test his coaching prowess in some of the best leagues in the world. A bad performance at the World Cup finals would damage his reputation rather than enhance it. So to leave now is shrewd.
A bad performance will see the top football nations dismiss the Asian Confederation; which many already doafter all four teams went home after the group stage in Brazil. Postecoglou, as mentioned impressed in a short space of time in Brazil, but does he have the players to play in the style he would like, to play with that same spirit and belief as he did four years ago?
Having been a National coach carries a great deal of weight, to have coached at a World Cup is another plus on a coach’s resume. To have coached a team that won the Asian Cup, is another plus. If Australia do struggle in Russia, no matter who comes in as coach, Postecoglou’s stock will rise simply by having ensured qualification with a squad limited on talent.
Postecoglou has done an outstanding job with the Socceroos, and has given us all memories that will last a lifetime. In time his achievements will be put in context. The game should wish him well in his future endeavours and remember all that he achieved.
Most of all we should remember what he tried to achieve, to have a team striving for greatness, playing with spirit and having an unwavering belief in their mission. No doubt he will find this easier to achieve with a club side training week-in week-out. Here you can hand-pick the players in your squad. At international level you still choose who is in your squad, but the pool of talent is greatly diminished.
Rest assured he will be successful again as he has shown he has what it takes to be a good coach.