It is interesting to read on the Football Federation of Australia website an article where they are promoting the fact that the current coach of the Socceroos is criticising his predecessors, for not regenerating the national team, and accusing them of lacking the courage to do so.
On face value this may seem a fair criticism; it does seem the wrong place for it to aired. How many former employers publicly come out and criticise their former employees? Employees who fulfilled their objective of qualifying for the World Cup.
This is a point that has been conveniently forgotten in many of the articles written about Ange Postecoglou’s rein as national coach, the expectations have changed. Yet no one is prepared to admit that.
The fact is Pim Verbeek’s sole task was to get the Socceroos to the World Cup. He did that, and the team did not lose a single game in qualifying. Australia only failed to move out of the group stage on goal difference. It was a courageous effort with what everyone concedes was an ageing team. HIs biggest mistake was speaking honestly about what he thought of the standard of the A-League.
When Holger Osieck was appointed it was announced that he had been “charged with rebuilding the Australian team with a view to competing strongly at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and bringing through the next generation of local footballers.”
Osieck has been a gentleman since he was unceremoniously dumped by the FFA and has not spoken publicly about his time at the FFA, but let us surmise that at some point he realised that if he was to focus on the regeneration of the team he was unlikely to qualify for the World Cup. An objective that is crucial to the running of football in Australia in terms of sponsorship dollars, public perception and of course the windfall the Federation receives for qualifying for the finals. The chances are Osieck was then told to focus his energy on qualification.
It is interesting to go back and visit a quote made by Osieck when he was appointed head coach. He said ”One of the criteria that made the FFA hire me was that I could give some advice or pass on my experience in coaching to developing [local] coaches, of course, if it’s required, I would … contribute to the development of youth matters.” How often did we hear of Holger Osieck being asked to help develop coaches? How often did we hear of him becoming involved in “youth matters.” Maybe he gave his advice, maybe he told the FFA some home truths that many close to the game have been making for a number of years, that the development was not good enough. Only he and those at the FFA know the truth about those conversations.
It is unfair of Ange Postecoglou to accuse his predecessors of lacking the courage to blood young players, as he does not know what their job remit was. It would appear it was very different from his.
It is interesting to hear Postecoglou talk, and note how often he refers to “the whole organisation,” when he talks of the way forward. This is a man one feels, who is already saying I am not taking sole responsibility for the current state of the game and lack of talent, the organisation is as well; as they should do.
The truth is a national coach should never be in the position that Osieck and Postecoglou have found themselves in, if the development side of the game is strong. The FFA tinkered dramatically with a system that was successful, when hindsight will tell you they shouldn’t have. They have disrupted the development paths that existed and replaced it with a new pathway that builds up hope, but delivers little in terms of quality.
Ironically, in 2006 when Postecoglou was coach of the first Australian Under 20 team to fail to qualify for the Youth World Cup, John Boultbee, who was the head of high performance at the FFA said to the Sydney Morning Herald that qualification was vital. HIs reasoning was “This is a group said by a lot of experts to be a very talented group, but that’s only good if you achieve what you’re capable of. So it’s pretty important for the future. As Graham Arnold has pointed out, we have a lot of retirements coming up with the Socceroos, so we need people from the Olyroos squad and the Young Socceroos to move forward more quickly than they normally would. The confidence which will come from qualifying, the learning experience of the [under-20] championships, will be very important for them. We’ve not had the greatest success with our under-17s and under-20s in the last few years.” The failure of those youth teams to succeed has not improved in the eight years since this statement was made. Eight years in which young players failed to step up, eight years in which the FFA failed to develop our elite players to an adequate standard.
For the record this is the squad that Postecoglou had in Sri Lanka. It is worth noting how few are now playing professional football and how few are still playing in Australia. (Clubs in brackets are their clubs at the time) The squad was: Tando Velaphi, Michael Marrone, Peter Eleftherakis, Matthew Spiranovic, Shaun Ontong, Jimmy Downey, Troy Hearfield, Greg King, Chris Grossman, Dario Vidosic, Foad Comandari, Evan Berger, Alex Vrteski, Stephen O’dor, Bruce Djite (all AIS), Kaz Patafta (Benfica, Portugal), David Williams (Queensland Roar), Tarek Elrich (Newcastle Jets), Wade Oostendorp (Sydney FC), Mitchell Langerak (GK) (Across the Waves, Bundaberg) Stand-by players: Noel Bahnsen, Christopher Nunes, Joel Allwright (all AIS), Matthew Smith (Sutherland Sharks, NSW), Nick Crossley (GK) (Richmond, Victoria), Goran Popovski (Sydney Olympic).
No wonder Postecoglou’s task at the moment is proving difficult. One has to admire his continued belief, and passion, but one feels that even he is realising, at least privately, the enormity of the task he has taken on. It is therefore interesting to listen to Postecoglou’s appearance on Fox Sports posted on the FFA website. Here a man who espouses possession football explains the long ball tactics, for which many a coach has been slammed in Australia, and which his team employed against Japan, as an “evolution of my coaching.”
He then came out with the baffling admission ” I am not a good coach in friendly games.” He explained that this was because the extra substitutions “create an artificial environment.” No argument there, and this is why these games should not be classed as full internationals. However who states that the Socceroos have to make more than three substitutions? Who says that the coach can’t treat these games and play them under the same conditions as a normal full international? Surely if he could instil that focus and mental fortitude in such games he would be taking the team down the right path.
Postecoglou may achieve what appears the unlikely, qualification for the 2018 World Cup, if he does he deserves all of the plaudits that come his way. If he doesn’t, he definitely doesn’t deserve some of the vitriol that his predecessors have had to endure, as hopefully people will realise that it is the development system that is letting down the national coach, and unless that is changed everyone who follows will struggle to succeed. Once again it should never be the role of a national coach to develop players. He should simply decide when a player is ready for the international arena and then moulds them into his team. He does not develop them.