Thank you, Ange – you have transformed football in Australia

apaway Roar Guru

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    “Ange just resigned.” I sent that text out to a lot of people this morning and all were dismayed.

    Although not all were rusted-on football people, they knew who Ange is, knew the magnitude of the news. The Socceroos coaching job has become the most important, highest profile appointment in sport in this country.

    It invites scrutiny worldwide, involves guiding a team into the biggest sporting event on the planet, and comes with a litany of history and a swathe of in-built opinions, agendas and ideologues. None necessarily right or wrong, but all passionate.

    Ange Postecoglou strode into the national team job in 2013 with a reform agenda. He had done much the same at Brisbane Roar and ended up changing the way the game is played domestically by building a side that played thrilling football and won things.

    Doing the same thing at a national team level was always going to be a bigger task but he defined himself early by making some hard decisions about the futures of members of the Golden Generation.

    Handed the most appallingly hard group imaginable at the 2014 World Cup (the previous champions, the previous runners-up and the champions of South America), his side inspired not by results but by style.

    The 3-2 loss against The Netherlands at that World Cup, after the Dutch had destroyed Spain in the previous game, was a watershed. This was how an Ange-coached national team was going to approach the task of matching it with the so-called superpowers of world football. Even Craig Foster loved it.

    It was the ultimate dichotomy that the Socceroos had come out of the 2014 World Cup with the worst record of any Australian side to have made it to the finals, yet with a sense of optimism and respect that the future beckoned more brightly than had been anticipated. It was clear that Ange thought long-term; he had started blooding young inexperienced players, using the cauldron of the World Cup to expose them to the pressures of international football as a certain Asian Cup loomed in early 2015.

    Ange Postecoglou Football Australia Socceroos 2017

    (AAP Image/Matt Roberts)

    For modern football fans, the date November 16th, 2005 represents the most electrifying moment in our recent history. On January 31st, 2015, that night was matched when Australia won the Asian Cup by beating South Korea 2-1 in extra time of a thrill ride of a final, at the same venue as the Uruguay game of 2005, the Olympic Stadium, in front of a jam-packed crowd.

    Ange had ridden the critics who had questioned the number of players he had trialled in the ensuing period, the selection of relatively untested young talent who ended up playing a huge part in the first ever international trophy for our men’s team.

    Watching that game from the nosebleed seats, picking up my fellow Socceroos fan in a large bear hug, it was a moment and game not to be forgotten, as Ange exhorted the crowd to cheer louder. And we did.

    Who knew then that the national team were to embark on a qualification campaign to Russia 2018 that would take in more travel miles and more games than any country has ever embarked on before? The Socceroos road to Russia was an implausible thriller novel where we got both the ardour (but inherently more fair) group stages and then two sudden death play-offs.

    It was almost as if Ange secretly revelled in this. Much was made of his shift from a 4-3-3 to a 3-2-4-1, with howls of discontent from the pay TV punditry.

    Ange Postecoglou and the Socceroos

    (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

    The last group game against Thailand saw the Socceroos amass 43 shots to 5, 24 on target to 1, yet a 2-1 scoreline that should have been quadruple that but for the width of the goal post and lack of a clinical number 9 saw the peanut gallery step up calls for the coach’s head.

    Ange didn’t change the formation, didn’t waver from the vision. You could call it stubborn, but it was ultimately self-belief as well as belief in the players. And in the end, it worked.

    Realistically, the tie against Syria ended up being more difficult than the one against Honduras. The 0-0 draw in Honduras might have been mystifying to Mike Sheahan but it was as important a result as just about any in the Ange era, as the Socceroos effectively swamped the Hondurans while allowing them only one shot on goal in the entire first leg.

    A Mile Jedinak hat-trick four days later had the side reviewing Russian travel plans for summer 2018, even if the architect of it all is now not going to be among the number.

    If there was one clue in the press conference that might have been a pointer to Ange Postecoglou’s decision, it was the comment that the last time he’d departed the national set-up, it was under acrimonious circumstances that took him a long time to recover from.

    This time he leaves on his terms, as disappointing as that may be for those of us who’d love to see him take the national team to Russia. He is a man of strong principles, a football philosopher as much as a coach. It is hard to think of anyone who has been able to transform the game in this country quite like he has.