Tuesdays with Ange

Cousin Claudio Roar Pro

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    Years ago, I remember reading a very moving and inspirational bestselling book by Mitch Albom titled Tuesdays with Morrie.

    It’s a true story about a newspaper sports columnist Mitch Albom and the time spent with his critically ill 78-year-old former sociology professor, Morrie Schwartz.

    Morrie was dying of cancer and Mitch hadn’t seen him since attending his college classes 16 years earlier.

    Schwartz and Albom’s 14 weeks of conversations touch on life, death, acceptance, communication, being oneself, sport, love, values, openness, and happiness.

    Even as tenuous as the links to Albom’s experiences may seem, there are lessons for Ange Postecoglou – himself running out of time, having earlier this year confirmed plans to retire at the end of 2018 – the Socceroos and football in general.

    Let’s face it, despite the efforts of many talented, passionate and dedicated football administrators, officials, players and fans, “old soccer” had left itself wide open to criticism and was once dying a slow and inevitable death.

    The game in Australia was on its last legs.

    But as Morrie says in the book; “accept who you are; and revel in it.”

    “The truth is, once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.”

    The Australian government commissioned David Crawford to do a major review of Australian football.

    Crawford didn’t particularly have an axe to grind either way; we just wanted to know what was going on and why the true potential and growth of the game had once again failed to materialise.

    Crawford’s findings were unflattering and hit hard.

    Sometimes the truth is hard to swallow.

    Criticism wasn’t confined to the national league; there wasn’t a compliment to found anywhere.

    As Crawford wrote: “the current structure of football in Australia is ineffective, does not work and needs changing.” enough said.

    The formation of the Football Federation of Australia and the A-League was the first major step in bringing the game of football back to life and learning from our old mistakes to make the most of the situation.

    Qualification for the FIFA World Cup Finals of 2006 in Germany was also a tremendous boost for the FFA, football in general and the nascent A-League national football competition. The performances of Gus Hiddink and the Socceroos of 2006 were magnificent.

    It should have led to the sleeping giant stamping its authority on Australian sport once and for all.

    Despite the early gains and after an initial expansion of A-League clubs and another qualification for the FIFA World Cup Finals held in South Africa in 2010 and Brazil in 2014, the football cancer seemed to have returned.

    The new franchise club from Townsville, the Northern Fury and the Gold Coast United football club led by Clive Palmer started to bleed internally.

    The Fury collapsed and withdrew from the A-League for financial reasons and with the Gold Coast expelled by the FFA, Palmer threatened legal action against them and would have been content to bring down the A-League and the FFA with it.

    Other A-League club owners like Tinkler and Sage weren’t happy either and started making accusations and demands against the FFA.

    But the recovery by the FFA since then has been to some extent truly inspirational for this football fan.

    Enter the West Sydney Wanderers to the A-League.

    Alessandro Del Piero, Shinji Ono and Emile Heskey and other great footballers. The FFA has also recently unveiled a four-fold increase in the new television rights and media deal that includes free-to-air coverage in prime time on commercial television.

    Maybe another quote from Morrie might be useful here: “It’s very simple. As you grow, you learn more, even in failure.”

    Yet, obviously, the Socceroos’ performances in this last round of qualification for Russia 2018 haven’t instilled any confidence in us die-hard supporters either.

    The game and the result against Japan in Saitama and then the Blue Samurai’s loss to Saudi Arabia has changed that and dented Australia’s optimism. The signs of life aren’t that strong.

    Let’s not fool ourselves, qualifying for Russia 2018 will once again be a tremendous boost.

    Not getting there will be a blow to the FFA and football in Australia, given its very limited financial assets, its ongoing fights with the A-League players, owners and fans and a threatened takeover of Australian football by FIFA, who are tainted with corruption.

    There’s another important “Tuesday with Ange” coming up next week against Syria. It’s the second leg of Australia’s first of two final hurdles to get to Russia 2018.

    They need to clinically remove their next two opponents to qualify and help football and the FFA back to a slow and steady recovery and longer-term financial health.

    Despite my assessment that this is one of the worst Socceroos teams we have ever assembled, I am really looking forward to the game against Syria next week in Sydney.

    We’re hoping, or more correctly praying for a miracle.

    Let’s see what Ange can do for us and for himself. What confidence boost and inspiration can he provide for Australian football to not only get better, but to go on to bigger and better things.