Socceroos: Available Not Always Best

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The best man available is not necessarily the best man for the job, so the theory goes.  So it was that the FFA (Football Federation Australia), instead of casting about for an out-of-work coach with international credentials, poached the new Socceroos manager from the A-League’s biggest club, as Ian Kerr of Thin White Line writes.

A-League powerhouse Melbourne Victory wasn’t happy to let its manager go, reportedly asking the FFA for $1.5m in compensation.  Ange Postecoglou is a man in demand, whose coaching career has seen highs and lows.

Postecoglou is a Greek-born Australian who played for the Greek-aligned South Melbourne in the now-defunct Australian National Soccer League.  There he won two NSL championships (the second as captain under the guidance of coach Ferenc Puskás).

His coaching career was almost over before it started – Postecoglou was nearly given the elbow early on in his first season coaching South Melbourne.  After a rotten start to the season, the club’s committee resolved to bin Postecoglou, and the club president was to deliver the news.  But the president was ill that night, and the committee couldn’t pull the trigger.  Postecoglou survived, South won that weekend and went on to reach the preliminary final.

tim cahillSouth Melbourne won back-to-back NSL titles under Postecoglou, the second of which led to the team playing at the inaugural World Club Championship in 2000.  A decade later he won back-to-back A-League titles with Brisbane Roar.

When Postecoglou took over at the Roar, he gave some senior and under-performing players the boot and brought in young, hungry replacements.  The team went on a 36-game unbeaten streak and played in a style built around passing and movement.  After winning a second A-League title with Brisbane in 2011/12, he was tempted south to Melbourne Victory

Success while playing attractive football and identifying young talent also won him favour in the FFA’s eyes.  There was a feeling when the FFA sacked Socceroo coach Holger Osieck after a couple of ugly losses that the defeats were only an excuse to sack Osieck and that his successor was waiting in the wings.

The media cried for an Australian to be appointed.  Talk that Giovanni Trapattoni might take over as Australian coach was only ever tongue-in-cheek, and the quest for a new coach quickly focused on Postecoglou and two other Australians coaching in the A-League.

Only a few weeks earlier, the Socceroos under Osieck had won a place at the World Cup in Brazil.  He had coached the team to second place in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup (the Asian equivalent of the UEFA European Football Championship) and he knew how to drop the f-bomb.

But a perceived failure to bring in new talent – and those two 6-0 losses – meant that Osieck was largely unloved: another man living in Guus Hiddink’s shadow.  As one commentator put it, Osieck was damned if he selected established players and won World Cup qualification, and he was damned if he selected untried players and failed to win World Cup qualification.

In between his successes with South Melbourne and Brisbane Roar, Postecoglou spent seven years as coach of the Young Socceroos.  He copped severe criticism from retired players and coaches for his team’s performances and was dumped after the team failed to qualify for the 2007 U-20 World Cup.

As penance, Postecoglou spent time as a football pundit.  He then coached Greek third division club Panachaiki for a few months before he fell out with club powerbrokers.  This was followed by a stint managing a relegation-bound team in the Victorian Premier League, before he was appointed coach at Brisbane Roar.

From there, the only way has been up for Postecoglou.  After rebuilding the Melbourne Victory squad over the last 12 months, it was expected that the A-League giants would challenge for the title this season.  Instead, they have lost their coach after a couple of rounds of the new season.

His successor at Victory is former club captain Kevin Muscat, who is remembered for a turbulent career in the English and Scottish leagues.

Postecoglou’s first game in charge of the Socceroos was a 1-0 win against Costa Rica in Sydney this week.  Los Ticos will join Australia at next year’s World Cup finals.

In all the endless analysis of Postecoglou’s career, one significant point has been overlooked: after his failures with the Young Socceroos, his coaching career only came good after he shaved off his dodgy 90s-style goatee.

twl_logo3Ian Kerr is editor of new football culture magazine, Thin White Line.  Visit thinwhitelinemagazine.com for more and for subscriptions. 

Follow on Twitter: @TweetWhiteLine

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