Following a week of increasingly frenzied speculation since FFA Chairman Frank Lowy declared his intention to appoint an Australian as coach of the Socceroos, and as expected Ange Postecoglou was confirmed as the new Socceroos boss.
For his own part, Postecolgou managed to put his commendable profile in the press to good use in indirectly lobbying for the role, in particular penning a good article in outlining a well articulated vision in relation to the Socceroos.
Since the low-point of his career, following the end of his spell in charge of the national youth teams following a now infamous on-air spat with an agenda-driven Craig Foster, Postecoglpu’s ascension to the senior role has been nothing short of an astounding success.
For his own part, it has been good to see Craig Foster has since matured as well, and instead of blatantly pushing the theory of a pro-Dutch agenda, his experiences of seeing the realities of what Rob Baan and Han Berger actually have (or rather haven’t) brought means he is a little more considered in his opinions.
Even if his enthusiasm for the Barcelona system gets a little excessive at times, his observations of the rather simplistic anti-foreigner discourse that followed the failings of Holger Osieck in Fairfax hit the mark.
What is of concern to this author is that it sounds increasingly like the Australian football fraternity has forgotton the lessons of the Asian Cup in 2007.
What’s even more concerning is the culture of denial that seems to exist as to the steeply declining state of the nation’s talent pool.
The most concerning issue of all, however, is that in their enthusiasm to see the domestic games progress on the park and in the afterglow of the re-invigorating 2012/2013 season, the football fraternity along with the mainstream media seems to have lost all perspective as to how the A-League measures up against the rest of football world.
They seem to think it is in a more advanced state than it actually is.
This has led to a sense of ‘over-excitement’ as they anticipate the impact Ange will bring to the national team and its style of play.
Indeed, the discourse and the current level of excitement reveals just what an excellent populist exercise the appointment of Postecoglou has been on the part of David Gallop and Frank Lowy.
We are instead left to read between the lines of Craig Foster’s cryptic response to Postecoglou’s appointment that once again hits the mark but also hints at why Postecolgou’s appointment isn’t necessarily a good footballing appointment at this time.
Foster skirts around the issues because of his awkward history with Postecoglou, but he is correct in raising the true perspective that in order for an Australian coach to be truly ready for the position they would have to have evolved not just through the ranks of the A-League, but to have gone beyond and carved out an effective coaching career in either greater Asia or in Europe first.
This is without touching on the ’20 year’ reference to fact that the J-League, despite being in a much more advanced state on and off the park than the A-League, has still not produced local coaches generally considered advanced enough to be leading the Japanese national team and closing the gap between AFC nations and the world’s elite.
A proper perspective sees that Postecoglou was able to revolutionise the game within Australia, but his skill had not yet been extended into greater Asia, as evidenced by his all-conquering Roar side failing to make an impact in the AFC Champions League.
Not to mention the fact that Postecoglou’s approach has generally been something of a ‘slow burn’ process that lends itself more towards league-oriented success at club level as opposed to cup or tournament level success which is what international football constitutes.
The lesson of the 2007 Asian Cup was that a head coach who knew the pitfalls of the AFC region was required to make up for the lack of institutional knowledge within the Australian football fraternity.
In the aftermath of the 2007 debacle, Pim Verbeek negotiated Australia through its first Asian oriented World Cup campaign of the modern era exceptionally well. Indeed it seems he did too well because this seems to have lured the football fraternity into a false sense of perspective.
In order to be ready for the job, Postecoglou and any other Australian aspirant would have to, at the very minimum, require extensive experience leading Australian A-League level players though AFC Champions League campaign, learning how to pit such players against AFC level opposition.
In the past, the Socceroos could rely on a strong backbone of highly experienced UEFA-based players to give them the edge over opponents consisting of AFC-based players who are talented (as evidenced by good showings at FIFA youth World Cups), but not quite refined at the top level.
As the last vestiges of the ‘Golden Generation’ retire from international football for the 2018 World Cup campaign and perhaps even beyond, the Socceroos’ qualifying matches will in essence be a matter of a core of AFC level players (with UEFA-based players like Robbie Kruse on the fringes) against opposing AFC level players.
An undercurrent of equalisation between Australia and many other Asian nations has slowly been occurring for several years, and began to break through to the surface in the final group stage of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.
The issue that has been overlooked is that while Postecoglou (and Arnold) have both been proficient at nurturing youngsters into promising A-League level talents who are successful in taking the next step (rather than fail and play in greater Asia or the Middle East instead)
The skill of either of them has not yet reached the level of directly nurturing such players into potent AFC or UEFA level talents and being able to pit them against AFC level teams succesffully.
So while the Australian football fraternity may be rubbing their hands at the thought of Postecoglou nurturing some of the next generation of youngsters, and while he has done well at A-League level, his inexperience at pitting such youngsters against AFC level opponents and learning how to gauge them may mean the going will be quite tough when it comes to qualifying for Russia in 2018.