Ange the culprit? The identity crisis of the Socceroos

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By Aaron, Aaron is a Roar Rookie New author!

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    Ange Postecoglou is at the crossroads of his Socceroos coaching tenure. After failing to obtain direct qualification to the 2018 Qatar FIFA World Cup, he has been singled-out by many as the major culprit.

    However, is such critical analysis warranted?

    The current criticisms pointed toward Postecoglou generally fall under the following accusations.

    1) Persistent in deploying a formation with three in the back despite the ongoing struggle;
    2) Inability to get the right result when it matters

    Simply, these two accusations are irrefutable.

    When the team needed a win in Japan (or a draw as a bare minimum), they failed to do so. The attack during rare sustained period of possession was cumbersome. Players tended to take one too many unnecessary touches before releasing it.

    Support in counterattack was non-existent despite knowing that these opportunities present the best chance to score. The defence was riddled with turnover, and Matt Ryan’s erratic distribution didn’t add any confident to the backline.

    The end result against Thailand was part unlucky and part naivety. The unlucky was the number of times the Socceroos hit the woodwork. However, luck, or the lack of, is never an excuse. In football, players make their own luck.

    No one in a gold shirt attempted to create their own luck with sufficient frequency on Tuesday night. More importantly, the team’s reckless wastefulness in the final third wasn’t due to the lack of luck.

    The accusation of naivety rests on Socceroos’ tactical approach. Despite the clear height advantage compared to the Thai defenders, it was surprising to see such a limited supply of long balls into the box. Even when there were long balls, they were often too late (so that the defenders were able to settle and crowd out the box) and lacking in quality.

    Cahill’s deep positioning was equally baffling. Rather than leading the line and utilising his great leap as a scoring threat, his heat map in the first half told a story of playmaking in deeper positions.

    Since the Asian Cup triumph in 2015, this team has been marred by an inability to get a result when it matters. Every team goes through a cycle, and Australia is currently in the midst of an identity crisis.

    Postecoglou’s intention is clear. He wants to implement a more expensive approach in the Socceroos – playing out from the back, crisp short passing accompanied by constant player movement. The concept of normative right or wrong doesn’t exist in football. If the team is winning, then the approach is right. Unfortunately for Postecoglou, the Socceroos is struggling.

    Ange Postecoglou oversees a Melbourne Victory training session.

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    By abandoning the gritty and pragmatic version of the Socceroos, the team has been left with a system that many of the players are still uncomfortable with. Rather than allowing the backline to send a simple long ball to the number nine up the field, the defensive unit were instructed to play the ball out and in this process become their own worst enemy.

    Matt Ryan and some of the central defenders are not natural passers. They lack the temperament, technique, and mutual understanding needed to advance the ball in such a high risk high reward method. And in fairness to the defensive unit, all three qualities are sorely absent in all areas of the pitch.

    The predictability of our playing style, resulting from Postecoglou’s stubbornness over style, is exposing the team. The current style has benefitted neither the offence nor the defence.

    In all of the recent good performances, the Socceroos abandoned their expensive mentality and reverted back to a more pragmatic approach. The match against Chile in the 2017 Intercontinental Cup was a prime example. The players were physically combative, played by their instinct, and pragmatic in offence.

    Although the result wasn’t ideal, the performance was brave and honourable. In a game where most expected thrashing, the Socceroos gave the South American champion a real test.

    The point is that all successful teams in the world have an identity. They are successful because they are the best at executing a particular set of skills and tactics. At the moment, the system doesn’t cater to the strength of the players at Postecoglou’s disposal. The team is sure of who they are and who they want to be.

    Postecoglou’s vision for the team is noble. However, his vision is incompatible with too many players. Whether it be personality or technical ability reason, the under-performance of many players indicate that the current system is stifling rather than realising the true potential of these players.

    There is no shame to be that bash-and-grab team in Asia and in the World Cup. Not all teams in the world have to play like Brazil or Barcelona. Just as nobody is going to discounts Leicester City’s premiership win because of their direct, counter-attack football, no one in Australia will show any less respect to a combative, pragmatic, never-say-die Socceroos.

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    The Crowd Says (45)

    • September 10th 2017 @ 3:01am
      Boban Fett said | September 10th 2017 @ 3:01am | ! Report

      Australia played with three at the back when Guus was coaching, except the defenders that Guus picked (Neill, Moore & Popovic) were far better than what’s on offer now. Sainsbury’s done very well considering his lack of game time at club level, but of the other options for CB Dylan McGowan is probably the only one up to scratch.

      Mark Milligan is probably the best choice for the role of sweeper, but he’s also the first choice holding midfielder. So if we continue to use the current system we need another option at no. 6 so Milligan can be sweeper (Brandon O’Neill/Rostyn Griffiths?)

      • September 10th 2017 @ 7:34am
        Fadida said | September 10th 2017 @ 7:34am | ! Report

        Dylan McGowan ? Griffiths? God help us if it ever comes to that.

      • September 10th 2017 @ 8:55am
        j,binnie said | September 10th 2017 @ 8:55am | ! Report

        Boban- In the last Socceroo game of the 2006 WC, against Italy, the Socceroos lined up with 4 across the back,Moore and Neill at centre back and Wiltshire and Chipperfield in the wingback / fullback positions. Popovic took no part in the game.he was a sub on the bench. Cheers jb.

    • September 10th 2017 @ 6:57am
      Bernie said | September 10th 2017 @ 6:57am | ! Report

      After failing to obtain direct qualification to the 2018 Qatar FIFA World Cup, he has been singled-out by many as the major culprit.

      Ummm, the 2018 World Cup is in Russia I think you’ll find.

      • September 10th 2017 @ 8:55am
        chris said | September 10th 2017 @ 8:55am | ! Report

        Bernie would you like a job as a proof reader/editor at the Roar? The current one is asleep at the wheel

        • September 10th 2017 @ 7:41pm
          damo said | September 10th 2017 @ 7:41pm | ! Report

          He’s probably quite ‘expensive’

    • September 10th 2017 @ 7:36am
      Fadida said | September 10th 2017 @ 7:36am | ! Report

      Ryan is excellent with his feet. Forcing him to chip it short has made him predictable though and put unnecessary pressure on him

    • September 10th 2017 @ 7:52am
      Fadida said | September 10th 2017 @ 7:52am | ! Report

      Ange’s philosophy is great and I’ve always supported it; bow to no one,press high, be positive, aggressive, aim for the sky.

      This is a philosophy.

      His implementation is another thing. We won the Asian cup with a variation of a 433. It suited our players, a natural fit. Passing was from the back , short, combinations, players interchanging.

      It all fell apart in the home game v Japan. The width went. We played twin, and fairly immobile strikers. We had Japan letting Jedinak (another issue) get on the ball and they picked off his pass. Easy when the team was so narrow. Any team with Ryan McGowan as the only wide option on the right is going to be easy to stop. He got narrow at the Roar too, and they struggled.

      This brings up his other flaw, awful team selections;Jedinak, Smith, Kruse playing regardless of form and fitness.
      Rather than identify and rectify the problem, “doing plan A better” he then changed plan A to the dreaded 3 at the back, throwing away what looked like an assured qualification, again making poor selections (Kruse wingback? striker?). Even starting Cahill v Thais was foolish. He was clearly going to be more effective coming on in the last 30, when the Thais fatigue would compensate for his pretty obvious physical decline.

      The discourse he wanted around tactics (when we were winning) is no longer allowed, “garbage” he calls it. This despite the garbage on display that prompted the comments.

      Worse still, he still doesn’t think he had done anything but a great job. Results and performances are all trending down, clear evidence that he isn’t.

      • September 10th 2017 @ 9:07am
        j,binnie said | September 10th 2017 @ 9:07am | ! Report

        Fadida – A well structured comment that could be added to by shrewd observers of this present Socceroo team. In watching most, if not all, the qualifying games it has been noticeable that Leckie has been among the leading goal scorers,many of whom have been scored, with head and foot, from what would be best described as the “old” inside left position ,and yet it would appear the coaching staff are hell bent in making this player a “modern” wingback, one has to think it is because of his pace and fitness.
        Is a qualifying tournament for the WC finals the time and place for such experimentation? Cheers jb.

      • September 10th 2017 @ 10:25am
        punter said | September 10th 2017 @ 10:25am | ! Report

        Agree with JB, very well constructed comment there Fadida. I think you have nailed it.

        Not a big fan of just straight out negative comments on Ange. He is the national coach & he has earnt our respect, but critique like this is exactly what this country needs.

    • September 10th 2017 @ 8:38am
      j,binnie said | September 10th 2017 @ 8:38am | ! Report

      This is an extremely well put together article neither slandering nor criticising in such a way as to be offensive.
      The debate will be is the writer right or wrong in what he says and to my mind he has hit the Socceroo problem right on the bull’s eye.
      The various points he makes he goes on to debate in an orderly manner and in the main he is never far away from striking where he sees a potential performance area for both the coach and the players of this Socceroo team, nor are his comments very far from the truth.
      Thank you Aaron,I look forward to more “knowledge” from your pen. Cheers jb..

    • September 10th 2017 @ 8:56am
      Nemesis said | September 10th 2017 @ 8:56am | ! Report

      The more I read blogs like this, the prouder I am that we have a man with the vision of Ange Postecoglou leading our National Team.

      Who knows, the next National Team coach may be one of the bloggers who has all the answers. But, until then, I will enjoy having a leader with vision leading our National Team.

      • September 10th 2017 @ 9:23am
        j,binnie said | September 10th 2017 @ 9:23am | ! Report

        Nemesis I know you to be a man of some education.
        Let me digress for a moment and cite an example to you taken from the aviation industry.
        In 1943 Britain asked ally USA to come up with a fighter that could operate at the same height as the bombers and a new company, North American, was set up to produce the same ,a plane that was called the Mustang Mark 1.
        When the first of these planes were delivered to the RAF it was found the plane’s performance dropped off drastically at 15,000 feet, (the bombers flew at 30,000 feet).!!!
        What to do? Some bright spark suggested replacing the American built Allison engine with a supercharged Merlin engine, straight out of the Spitfire.
        Result- the outstanding fighter plane of the Second World War ,the Mustang P51D came to pass..
        The moral of the story? No matter how well you plan you have to fit the best available “parts” to your overall plan. This is the area in which Ange is being questioned,not for his philosophy, but for his application in trying to get his is ideas to bear fruit. Cheers jb.

        • September 10th 2017 @ 12:27pm
          Nemesis said | September 10th 2017 @ 12:27pm | ! Report

          “This is the area in which Ange is being questioned,not for his philosophy, but for his application in trying to get his is ideas to bear fruit. Cheers jb.”

          To use your analogy, can I ask if “the bright spark” who found a solution to the problem was an unqualified person, or someone with experience in aeronautical engineering?

          If the person who solved the problem was unqualified then.. we should rethink the whole education system & just give anyone a job, regardless of qualifications & experience.

          • September 10th 2017 @ 2:46pm
            j,binnie said | September 10th 2017 @ 2:46pm | ! Report

            Nemisis- You mIss the point completely
            It doesn’t matter a damn whether the “bright spark” was qualified or not he simply suggested that the best aero engine in the world at that time ,the Rolls Royce Merlin engine,that powered the Lancaster. the Spitfire, the Hurricane and the Mosquito was readily available for trial.
            The trial worked and what could have been a giganticaly expensive “furphy” became the world’s best fighter plane of the time.
            That is the point being made,it is not the idea that is wrong,it is the fitting of the parts into the whole.jb

            • September 10th 2017 @ 3:00pm
              Nemesis said | September 10th 2017 @ 3:00pm | ! Report

              “It doesn’t matter a damn whether the “bright spark” was qualified or not”

              I’m sure it matters a lot to the pilots whose lives were on the line. If the local clown said “put this engine in the plane”, but the aeronautical engineers said: “our calculations say this is a potential disaster” …

              I doubt the RAF would’ve listened to the clowns.

              But, I could be wrong.

              • September 10th 2017 @ 5:22pm
                Lionheart said | September 10th 2017 @ 5:22pm | ! Report

                one thing you can be assured of, the pilots would have trialed it and fine-tuned it in the training airspace over Britain, not on bomber escort missions over Germany.

              • September 10th 2017 @ 7:09pm
                pacman said | September 10th 2017 @ 7:09pm | ! Report

                @Lionheart. Yes!

              • September 10th 2017 @ 7:24pm
                northerner said | September 10th 2017 @ 7:24pm | ! Report

                Nemesis: the point here surely is not whether the “bright spark” had formal engineering qualifications but whether he was right. He wasn’t in fact an aeronautical engineer, but he knew enough about both the Mustang airframe and the Merlin engine, having been a test pilot for both, to see the possibilities of combining the two – a possibility which the aeronautical engineers responsible for the design and production of the Mustang had never considered.

                Classic case of thinking outside the box.

                The “local clown” understood that this new combination of two very good components would make a superb aircraft, better than the one the Americans were producing. And he managed to convince the RAF, the Ministry of War, and ultimately the US Army, that he was correct. From that point, planning and production of the Mustang incorporated the Merlin engine.

                And I believe that’s the point JB is making – that changing key components, whether of a football team or an aircraft, can improve performance.

              • September 10th 2017 @ 7:30pm
                Nemesis said | September 10th 2017 @ 7:30pm | ! Report

                ‘he knew enough about both the Mustang airframe and the Merlin engine, having been a test pilot for both”

                So, he had experience in the field?
                He wasn’t sitting at a desk working in a totally unrelated field?

                Sounds like he was well qualified to advise on this subject matter. Good work.

              • September 10th 2017 @ 7:44pm
                northerner said | September 10th 2017 @ 7:44pm | ! Report

                You’re still missing the point entirely. Ronald Harker saw something the more highly qualified people – ie the designers and builders of the plane – didn’t – and knew there was a better solution. He put a different engine in the same airframe and came up with a superior airplane. That’s the whole point of what JB is saying – that the engineers, planners, coaches, don’t necessarily know everything and don’t always put the best components together. Sometimes, it takes someone on the periphery to see what those close up miss.

              • September 10th 2017 @ 7:55pm
                pacman said | September 10th 2017 @ 7:55pm | ! Report

                You are on the money northener. Saw this on occasions whilst employed in regional Commonwealth Public Service departments. Lack of field experience led to many extraordinary and incorrect decisions by the experts in Head Office. Never an acknowledgement that they got things wrong. Too pig headed I guess. But corrections were quietly made.

              • September 10th 2017 @ 9:46pm
                Nemesis said | September 10th 2017 @ 9:46pm | ! Report

                “Ronald Harker saw something the more highly qualified people – ie the designers and builders of the plane – didn’t – and knew there was a better solution”

                What makes you assume Ronald Harker wasn’t appropriately qualified in this field?

                Nothing I’ve read from anyone on this Forum suggests they’re qualified to do anything at professional coaching level, other than hold Ange’s water bottle.

                So, no matter how much you people on this Forum pretend you would be a better National Coach than Ange, it doesn’t impress me. I find it absolutely ridiculous.

                But, it’s the 21st century and we have people who think shooting guns will stop a Hurricane, so everyone is entitled to an opinion.

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