SACK THE coach! It’s the traditional response when things don’t go the way they should in any football code but calls for Socceroo boss Ange Postecoglou’s head are premature, says chief writer RON REED:
ANGE POSTECOGLOU probably sings the Sinatra anthem “My Way” in his sleep. On the morning after the long and disappointing night before, the Socceroos boss was not deviating from his conviction that his strategies will prevail in the long run and Australia will make it through to a fourth successive World Cup. In other words, he regards himself as still the man for the job.
Predictably, not everyone agrees. Knifing the coach is possibly the most time-honoured tradition in all football codes, soccer certainly no exception. So, it didn’t take long for the blowtorch to fire up after the 2-1 win over Thailand in Melbourne, which proved to be insufficient to guarantee a spot in Russia next year.
With Saudi Arabia defeating Japan 1-0 a few hours later to claim the last automatic qualification, Australia must now play Syria at home and away on October 5 and 10 and if they survive that, then a similar scenario awaits against a team from north or central America in November.
The final whistle had barely sounded when the charge was led by outspoken Fox Sports commentator and former international Mark Bosnich, who claimed Postecoglou’s strategies were flawed and confusing to the players, that he was using the national team to experiment, and that his unhappy personal demeanour was counter-productive.
“At the moment, he’s hanging by a thread in my opinion,” Bosnich said. “If we go through the play-off route there should be serious consideration given to the fact we need a different voice because these players, regardless of what they’re saying publicly, aren’t responding like they used to.”
In other words: sack him – now.
Fellow commentator Robbie Slater agreed on TV and followed through with a column in which he wrote: “I’ve seen enough. Ange Postecoglou has had his chance to steer the national team and now it’s time for a change. Holger Osieck and Pim Verbeek (the two previous coaches) didn’t have the luxury of finishing third; by this stage in both their campaigns, we were home. Verbeek had done it with games to spare.
“We keep hearing about the road to Russia – the journey and development process – being more important than the World Cup. Sorry, we’re on a road to nowhere. We have a choice now: to keep turning left, or change course and turn right.” Slater accused the coach of developing a toxic culture that is breeding a siege mentality.
Asked what he made of this, Postecoglou was at first dismissive, which then gave way to defiance.
“I don’t make anything of it,” he said. I won’t waste my time responding to it. I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. I’ll get on with life.
“My position is that I’m the coach of the national team. It’s a great honour and I’ll see it through. I took the role to do it a certain way and I will continue to do that.
“The Australian football industry chewed me up and spat me out 10 years ago so this is nothing new to me.
“I won’t be pushed into the shadows of Australian football history like others. I’ve survived worse than this. If anything, it’s what motivates me to keep going.”
If the powers that be are of the same opinion as the keyboard and on-camera critics, they will need to move fast to find a replacement because of the very short time available to prepare for the next phase.
It seems hugely unlikely given that Postecoglou is, after all, coming off a win, one that all and sundry agree was a dominant display in every respect except for a deeply frustrating inability to convert almost 50 shots at goal – many by very small margins. The team played according to plan and there were no obvious reasons why the goal shortage was the coach’s fault.
“I can’t fault their performances,” he said. “Unfortunately, sometimes football is a game of inches and for us it was last night.” He said the players would grow from the challenge ahead. “This won’t affect the belief of the group. They want to see this through. We have done this before. We have to give ourselves a chance and get the job done.”
History suggests nothing can be taken for granted. Postecoglou got the job in the first place almost exactly four years ago when Osieck was sacked despite having already qualified the team for the World Cup. But that was after successive, embarrassing 6-0 defeats in friendly matches against Brazil and France.
Postecoglou, 52, came into the job with plenty of goodwill because although he was born in Greece he grew up in Melbourne and has always been as Australian as they come, barracking for Carlton in the AFL and a keen fan of the Australian cricket team.
After two Dutch coaches and a German, the “one of us” factor was seen to work in his favour among hard-to-please fans – but of course they’ll be harder still to please if the Cup qualification that has come to be taken for granted over the past decade does not materialise this time.
Postecoglou is well aware of that. He said on the eve of the Thailand match, “If it doesn’t work out, I pay the price anyway. It’s not like I’m not going to take responsibility for it. The players will go on, I’ll be the one who loses my job.
“But I won’t because I know we’ll be successful and I know we’ll be successful in the long run.”
If the worst comes to the worst, nobody will have to sack Postecoglou. He made it clear some time back that he has ambitions to coach overseas while he is still in the prime of life, and that he will not seek reappointment to the Socceroos.
So, his departure is a matter of when, not if. But it would be disappointing if it happened prematurely.
He has always had an intelligent, articulate perspective on where the game has been and where it should be going in this country. Before he was appointed, when he was briefly in charge at Melbourne Victory, he wrote an excellent newspaper column in which he pleaded for the game to take pride in itself, embrace responsibility and accountability and eschew excuses.
I wrote at the time that the column resonated powerfully and stood as an impressive reference point as he embarked on the Socceroos job, a mission that had been beckoning all his working life. There is no reason to believe now that his philosophies have changed. Nor has he yet failed in the mission. And, very typically, he is not making excuses.
Author: Ron Reed
RON REED has spent more than 50 years as a sportswriter or sports editor, mainly at The Herald and Herald Sun. He has covered just about every sport at local, national and international level, including multiple assignments at the Olympic and Commonwealth games, cricket tours, the Tour de France, America’s Cup yachting, tennis and golf majors and world title fights.