Time to Look at the Grass-Root of the Problem

While most of the attention is on the flagship of Australian football, the Socceroos and fans come to grips with the appointment of new coach Ange Postecoglou, questions need to be asked for the good of the game as a whole.

The Chairman of the FFA Frank Lowy has stated that Postecoglou’s appointment was ‘right at this point in our development.’ Was it really? There is no doubt he is a very astute and talented coach, but is he ready for International football? Time will no doubt tell. It is an incredibly bold move.

Postecoglou has only had nine months coaching outside of Australia when in 2008 he was coach of Greek side Panachaiki. He was also the national under 20’s coach from 2000-2007, but youth international football is a far cry from senior international football.

The A-League is still a very young league and one that is on the improve, but it is still a very long way off being close to the top league competitions in Europe; maybe that is why ageing stars from these leagues are able to come and still shine in the twilight of their careers.  Some will say that this comment is harsh, but look at the performances of A-League teams in the Asian Champions League, and that gives a clear indication that the League is not even one of the dominant leagues in Asia. Therefore appointing an A-League coach to the national position could be compared to England giving their national job to a coach from League one or two, in terms of experience and readiness.

The problem in Australian football however is not at the top it is at the bottom. The production of players for future Socceroos. The game is not in a good place. At the beginning of this month Paul Okon’s Young Socceroos were beaten 5-1 by Vietnam at the AFC U-19 Championship 2014 Qualifiers in Kuala Lumpur. With all due respect to Vietnam, this is a team that Australia should beat. Fourteen of the players in the 23 man squad are already linked to A-League clubs, seven are with European clubs, so one would have thought they are being exposed to a high level of coaching, but this result more than any should sound a warning.

At the Under 20 Youth World Cup Australia was bottom of its group, and failed to win a game. In 2005, 2009 and 2011 they finished in the same position also failing to win a game, and in 2007 they failed to qualify. The last time Australia won a game at the under 20 World Championships was in 2003, ten years ago when they topped their group and went out in the round of 16, and Ange Postecoglou was the coach. Of that side only MIle Jedinak and Matt McKay are the only regulars in the Socceroos.

Something has gone horribly wrong with our development of players in this country, whether we like it or not the fact is the decline coincides with the creation of the FFA, which happened in 2003. A statement that it would appear their Technical Han Berger agrees with.

“We have had a great generation of players, but currently, we don’t have those players anymore and we hardly have any players playing in the top leagues around Europe. And, that’s not something Holger [Osieck] is to blame for. Apparently, something has gone wrong, but that has happened ten or fifteen years ago and that is the reason we don’t have those generations of players anymore.” The National Technical Director said at a coaching seminar in Tasmania just last month. If we look at the under 20’s team from 2003 most of them are now 28-31 years old. The national team should have 25-26 year olds banging down the door for selection but these are the players we are missing, and those coming up behind them.

Berger also said “One of the things that happens a lot in Australia is that we have an unrealistic view of where we are in the big scheme of world football. I think Australia has punched above their weight for a long time and that may be also a cause of unrealistic expectations, but at the moment, we have been around number 20 in the FIFA rankings for some time, but meanwhile we dropped to 46 and that maybe is a more realistic standing at this moment. But, we still strive to create a situation where we can be competitive with the best in the world. But, at this moment, I think it’s a great achievement that we qualified for the World Cup, but we should have realistic expectations of how we will go next year in Brazil.”

He is absolutely right in everything he says, that is why we have to have more honesty when it comes to the standard of play around the country. Everyone wants to see the game played well, but saying a game is great when it clearly isn’t, or a player is world class when he isn’t, does not help in tempering expectations.

That said is the system that Berger has overseen as the Technical Director working? According to Berger, “At a national level, we have so-called succession plans for players, we look at the most talented players and bring them into the national system. It’s the same with coaches. We identify a talented coach to bring them into the national system.”

The trouble is the system is not working as the success-rate with those players who have been ‘cherry-picked’ to be a part of the succession plan have not progressed. Many of the best up and coming players in Australia have actually come through local clubs and have backed themselves rather than been a part of these development programs. As we stated last month in Nine Months to GIve Berth to a New Generation .

Berger states ‘Better coaches, better football’ but many of the ‘golden generation’ were developed by clubs and coaches with a passion for the game, many who never took a dollar for their work, their reward was seeing the players succeed. Now with the cost to become a qualified coach and the doors have closed on many of these people because if you don’t have your badges can’t coach; never forget that Frans Beckenbauer won the world cup as coach with no coaching qualifications! Qualified coaches are not always the best coaches. Qualified coaches often want paying, and many will now be forced to demand payment to cover the costs of their courses. Sadly coaching has now become an alternative income for many, it is about the money as much as being involved in the game, and that is sad.

Change is good if it improves things. In football, like most sports success is judged by performances on the pitch. Australia’s performances at every level have been declining but no one seems to be questioning why. If Ange Postecoglou is to succeed over the next five years more people have to start questioning the path that was taken by the FFA in terms of player development back in 2003, and urge for a rethink. If we continue down this current path, and ten years is a good period in which to make a fair assessment, as much as the A-League booms the national team will continue to struggle.

Having worked in that system hopefully Postecoglou will be allowed to make changes that allow him to do the job he has been given, if he is not one has to feel he will ace an up-hill battle.

Time to Look at the Grass-Root of the Problem
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