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Put quite simply, Ange Postecoglou’s Brisbane Roar is hands down the greatest domestic footballing side Australia has ever seen.
In every measurable way the Roar has over the past 18 months achieved a level of excellence that has taken it two or even three levels above every other past or present A-League club.
Whilst we are not privy to what surely must be a quite layered and complex series of coaching principles and methodologies, the results that we are seeing every week out on the park, speak for themselves.
Those qualities that stand Brisbane Roar apart from every other team include the following:-
a) A total commitment to play out from the back. Even under the tightest of pressure keeper Michael Theoklitos never boots the ball long; apart from actual saves, he acts as more of a goalkeeping sweeper always seeking out with accurate throws and passes, defensive players running into space.
And then as we see in almost every facet of Roar’s play, there are almost always multiple passing options for the receiver to then choose to pass onto.
b) An incredibly high level of one and two touch passing skills. This team has been drilled and drilled and drilled to play this way. The two deceptive qualities in Brisbane’s play is they seem to have so much time on the ball and the potential receivers of the next pass appear to have so much space to work in.
Brisbane has achieved something of a football Nirvana where complex strategies are played out using speed of movement, creation of space (and therein options) and precision of passing, each underpinned by supreme fitness. It has already been said by newly signed players that Ange tells them it may take six to twelve months for them to become fully integrated into their style of play, such is the level of understanding and intensity required.
c) Following on from the previous point, there can surely be no fitter team than Brisbane. The longer the game goes on, the better Brisbane gets and this must surely be testament to training that focuses almost entirely (according to Ange) on fitness achieved with the ball.
Whatever that actually means in training terms, the result is a team of players that not only to have incredible lung-busting aerobic capabilities but do so whilst maintaining something like an incredible 92.7% passing accuracy.
d) A ferocious will to win back any lost ball. It is again the level of fitness, combined with strategies drummed into the players that ensures that every turnover is met with almost instantaneous challenges, defending at all times from front to back. Opposition players are typically starved of time and space.
e) Ange has taught his squad of players a system that is greater than its sum player parts; that is, a team that is not reliant on specific individuals.
In virtually every previous A-League champion team, that team was heavily reliant on a few quality individuals. If those individuals were injured or transferred that team would typically lose its competitive advantage. Brisbane has already shown it has the ability to change the names but not its game.
f) An ability to keep re-setting playing and tactical benchmarks. One of Ange Postecoglou’s most fascinating proclamations made during the off-season was (and excuse me if a paraphrase) to take Roar to a new level of playing excellence, to exceed the achievements of the Roar’s Championship year, to in effect, move the goalposts even further away from the chasing opposition.
Everything that we have seen in these opening rounds of the 2011/2012 A-league season should serve to confirm that these proclamations, far from being wishful thinking, were expertly planned and executed realities.
g) A commitment to stay the distance; to set Brisbane Roar up as a dynasty team; one capable of ruling the A-League over time and taking on and beating the best in Asia. Other teams have aspired similarly but Postecoglou, especially through the methods described in all the previous points, seems to have created the ideal process to actually achieve it.
It is these last two points in particular that should serve to both inspire and frighten the chasing pack of teams. For those coaches and teams willing to grasp the nettle and take up the challenge some very hard decisions need to be made.
Quite simply the old A-League methods of hiring a decent local or affordable overseas coach, buying in a couple of star imports, mix in a collection of quality domestic players and hope it all gels (and then if it doesn’t work out, get a new coach and shuffle the player mix for next year), will no longer work.
In 2010 and especially in 2011, when facing Brisbane Roar, too many A-league coaches are being caught bringing a knife to a gun fight.
It was Albert Einstein who said that “problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.” A-League coaches are largely trying to defeat Brisbane Roar using methods that are more strategic than structural.
High pressing is the A-League’s ‘new black’. Several teams have already attempted and failed to stay with the Roar using variations of the high press. The fact is that the Roar utilizes the high press better than anyone because it is one of the building blocks of the team. It isn’t a single strategy but rather just another intrinsic part the Roar’s rich footballing tapestry.
So is Brisbane Roar domestically beatable? Of course. Sooner or later someone is going to be able to pick the Roar’s lock for long enough to break their unbeaten run. It may happen (hopefully) next week but it might not happen for a year.
However whenever this extraordinary unbeaten run comes to an end, the real question to be asked of the winning coach and team is, could they genuinely expect to do it again?
Postecoglou’s Brisbane Roar has given Australian Football an extraordinary opportunity; to learn from what it has done. Ange took over the Brisbane Roar, pulled it to pieces and then re-built it into something completely different; a ground up roots and branches change of philosophy, intent and application. Unlike all other A-League teams the Roar does not adjust itself tactically and strategically to whom it plays. It plays the way it plays and others find themselves having to adjust to it.
Football coaches are stubborn and like to believe they are right. However I would imagine it will not take many thrashings like we saw last Friday night for them to see that they must start thinking (as Ange Postecoglou clearly did) outside the boxes they know so well. Does this mean we want or will get nine other Brisbane Roar clones? I don’t think so.
However what it should mean is that coaches (and the managements that employ them) will start to change their philosophies in how their teams are built, how they play and how higher levels of application can be sustained over time.
It will take time; it may take years but as sure as the sun rises in the morning and Brisbane Roar continues to win games and probably championships, it most assuredly will happen. For those of us who do not support Roar, it may be a slow and painful journey but it is one we are going to bear because the standard of our domestic football will surely improve out of sight.
Brisbane Roar has given us the gift we needed to get.