Is A Foreign Coach The Best Option In The Long Term?

The Socceroos coach for the World Cup is due to be announced in the next few weeks, and it is almost certain that it will be a foreign high profile coach that will be appointed.

Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold withdrew from the race yesterday but has made it clear that if the FFA opt to appoint someone purely for the World Cup and then revert to an Australian coach for the Asia Cup in January 2019 he would be available.

Some sources close to the FFA claim that he has already been offered the position post the World Cup and that the deal has been done.

There are some who question Arnold being given a second chance, after he led the team disappointingly only to the quarter finals of the 2007 Asia Cup and a final standing of seventh. This was six months after they had been eliminated in the last 16 of the 2006 World Cup. Arnold’s record was 14 games in charge, 5 wins, 4 draws and 5 losses.

However, since that time he has shown that he has learned a great deal from working with Guus Hiddink and Pim Verbeek. In 2010 he took over the reins at the Central Coast Mariners and in his second season he led the side to the A-League Premiership. In 2012/2013 he led the side to their fourth A-League Grand Final where they finally broke the hoodoo and lifted the famous “toilet-seat” trophy.

Then followed a short spell to Japan where his side Vegalta Sendai went winless in eight games and the two parted ways. Next stop was Sydney FC. This was a job he had turned down in 2011/12; This was a genuine job offer rather than the numerous agent-generated rumours of offers from overseas. In his first season they finished runners up to Melbourne Victory after losing the Grand Final. However after a disappointing second season he led the team the premiership in his third season in charge, and in emphatic style. In addition to winning the premiership, the team recored the most points in a single season, – breaking Brisbane Roar’s 2010-11 season of 65 points in 3 fewer games, – and became the only top-flight football team in Australia to stay top of the table throughout the whole season. They also won the Grand Final in a penalty shoot-out.

The team has continued its winning ways in 2017/18, although they have had many fans raising their eyebrows as to how they have managed to recruit the squad they have within the salary cap.

Arnold has had plenty of support from sections of the Australian media. On paper in recent years his record speaks for itself, and with Tony Popovic’s short spell in management in Europe coming to an abrupt end he is the leading choice. The question is how would or will he cope with the squad of players currently at his disposal for Australia? Only time will tell.

These are obviously issues for the future as in the short term and it looks as if the FFA are going to splash out on a foreign coach, although the word is that their $1.5million budget is proving a major stumbling block.

In addition to the salary issues the fact that the FFA only wish to employ the foreign coach in the lead up to the World Cup and then hand it over to a local coach is also a problem. This may in fact reduce the field considerably, to just those big name coaches who are currently unemployed. A Coach who may look at the World Cup as being an opportunity to put them back in the shop window for a more lucrative position with a top club, or a higher paying national team.

So of those names being bandied about Slaven Bilic could well be the ideal man to step into the breach. The former West Ham and Croatia manager is respected as a former player. His Croatian background will gel well with many of the Socceroos squad who come from a similar background, but most of all he is a player’s coach. He encourages his players to express themselves on the pitch. Following the reign of Ange Postecoglou he may be just what this group of players need to realise that they can play at International level and that they personally, in the main, deserve to be there.

The quandary the FFA could find themselves in is if a coach such as Bilic, van Gaal, Sven Goran Erickson or Jurgen Klinsmann manages to have the team perform well and defy all odds by progressing out of the group stage, do they let that man go or do they opt to keep them?

Certain sections of the media and some fans may be up in arms if they did as they want to see an Australian coach the national team. Yet sport is about results, and if that coach has connected with the players and the performances have improved, the fans will no doubt be demanding that he stay. There is an argument that it may well be worth sticking with the appointed coach and seeing how much they can develop the playing squad over the next World Cup cycle.

There is of course a third school of thought, that if the Football Federation of Australia is serious about this being a team ‘made in Australia’ and representative of Australia, they may look at a short term solution using a team of Australian coaches. For example Ernie Merrick who has proved his worth and Melbourne Victory, and is now showing his ability again as a coach at a resurgent Newcastle Jets, could take the helm and have alongside him the likes of Kevin Muscat – who he worked with at Victory – John Aloisi or Paul Okon. He could even have Alen Stajic the Matildas coach sit alongside him.

For those who say Ernie Merrick is not Australian, the former Victorian Institute of Sport Coach who is now 65 years old moved to Australia when he was in his early 20’s in the late 1970’s and has even received the Order of Australia. So one would think he is more than qualified as an Australian!

If the FFA are serious about having an Australian coach lead the team in the future, and if they are serious about developing the coaches we have in Australia this is not as foolish an idea as it may appear. Stajic may benefit greatly from the experience and it could well be an experience that helps him steer the Matildas to World Cup Glory a year later, or Olympic Gold in two years time.

John Aloisi has played at a World Cup Finals and in the top division of three leagues in Europe. Paul Okon played internationally and also gained years of experience playing in Italy, Belgium and England. Kevin Muscat played regularly for Australia and took part in three Confederations Cups as well as played in Scotland and England. These guys have experience, but need to take it to the next level.

Why should Merrick be the man to head up such a team? The answer is because he is not only the older statesman of the group, but he has a wealth of knowledge in developing players having coached at the VIS, in the NSL, and the A-League. He can help develop these younger guys and take the players and the coaches to another level.

What would happen to their A-League clubs and preparation for the next A-League season? Most of them have more than capable assistant coaches and Football Managers who can act on their behalf while they are away representing Australia. With the communication options available to people today they could easily set aside a time slot each day to link up with those key staff and discuss A-League club issues.

There were many doubters who said that Ange Postecoglou would struggle at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil pitting his wits against some of the best coaches in the world. He didn’t. Australia played some good football and were competitive, despite losing their games and flying home after the group stage. So why couldn’t such a team from Australia replicate that in 2018?

Have the FFA been forced into a corner when it comes to finding a coach to replace Ange Postecoglou? Do they have to go down the path of appointing an extremely high paid foreigner? What will be the long term benefits from such an appointment? Would they be better served trying to boost their own coaching stocks?

No doubt these questions have all been raised and answered around the boardroom table. Now the rest of us have to wait and see what they have decided, and which high profile name they opt for. The lingering question will be how much it will cost Australian football financially, and possibly in the long term?

Is A Foreign Coach The Best Option In The Long Term?
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