In 2013, Ange Postecoglou arrived as the Socceroos head coach with a clear mandate. Australia needed to shed it’s rough and tumble nature, upgrading to a slick passing game.
More importantly, it needed an identity, one which could be respected among the world and show Australia as the footballing nation it aspired to be like.
Postecoglou was the man for the job, his steadfast belief in his principles had seen him achieve widespread acclaim in the A-League, the expansive list of titles achieved at Brisbane Roar and the work at Melbourne Victory underline it.
And so far, most would claim the regeneration of the Socceroos featuring this new mentality has been a success.
The Socceroos appearance in the Confederations Cup started in a 3-2 defeat to Germany. This comes on the back of unconvincing games against Brazil and in qualifying.
The Germany team was experimental by any standards, with German coach Joachim Low looking to find the next generation of Germany talent to take with him to the World Cup next year.
Julian Draxler led a youthful line-up which did enough to suggest Germany won’t fade away anytime soon.
Young stars Julian Brandt, Leon Grotezka and Joshua Kimmich will ensure it.
A loss to Germany is hardly an embarrassment, they are the reigning World Cup champions, aspects of the defeat are subject to questioning.
Specifically, the formation of three defenders, two holding midfielders, an offensive quartet and a lone striker (3-2-4-1).
The score-line flattered Australia, their two goals came courtesy of reprehensible goalkeeping by Bernd Leno rather than any endearing play.
The defence was especially troubled in the first half with the back three of Milos Degenek, Bailey Wright and Trent Sainsbury struggled to cope with the Germany onslaught down the flanks led by a magnificent Julian Brandt.
It is here most Socceroos fans will find the point.
Three at the back does not work for Australia and potentially never will. Possession for possession’s is unerringly pointless.
Some of the best teams in the world play three at the back, think Italian powerhouse Juventus for the best example. Defence in Italy is a badge of honour, a clean sheet is revered and defenders are some of Italy’s well-regarded players.
Juventus are helped by having a back three consisting of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chielleni. The BBC as they are affectionately known, are among the best defenders in the world today – if not among the best of all-time.
Bonucci has the ball-playing skills of a classical playmaker, for a central defender to possess his passing range and finesse is staggering. Chielleni is akin to a brick wall, stout and resolute, a throwback to a bygone era where defenders tackled hard and rarely afforded their attacking counterpart room to breathe.
Barzagli has a sharp mind and proves to be an adept reader of the play, he is rarely out of place, his timing is faultless.
Every one of these defenders has the skills to play as part of a formidable back three, they require these physical and technical capabilities to match an increasingly offensive game.
Bailey Wright, Trent Sainsbury and Milos Degenek are capable by Australian standards but are far removed from the BBC, if a case study is needed.
None of the trio look comfortable on the ball which creates problems not withstanding their lack of defensive marking. A system which needs everything to work suddenly has loose foundations.
Aziz Behich was given headaches all night by the Germans, the targeting of his flank left Matthew Leckie to play most of the first half as a fullback. Julian Brandt played a special game and showed his talents but Australia’s left-hand side was pummelled and exposed yet again.
Despite a better showing in the second half, Behich and Leckie proved unable to run two-ways and keep up with Low’s relentless side. It’s hard to see Australia coping better with the speed of a powerful and fast Cameroon side in the next game.
The midfield, Australia’s strong point featuring Aaron Mooy and Tom Rogic, struggled to gain a foothold in the game or provide any offensive spark with their possession. At times the passing was futile and seemed to emphasise that in the game of possession, quality not quantity is king.
Ange Postecoglou is a strong-minded coach and will most likely stay the course with his heavily offensive formation. His mandate is to give Australia its identity which will become its legacy from one generation to the next.
Yet, while the passing philosophy and modern formation are admirable it denies Australia of it’s natural strengths. The physicality and resolute attitude which was synonymous with the Golden Generation.
A more stable foundation featuring a back four does not mean Australia should do away with the identity it is desperate to establish, but would allow for a stable defence.
A concession Ange may not make, but to speak plainly, the defenders at his disposal may not be able to carry out this vision of an in-vogue back three. That is not a slight on the Socceroos, the reality is that only the very best can carry it out and they are in a league of their own.
Additionally, a compromise between possession and becoming more direct utilising Matthew Leckie and Robbie Kruse’s sublime pace would maintain the Socceroos identity and highlight its strengths.
Surely a worthy consideration if the country wants to match it with the best.
The regeneration is on the right track and, exempting 2006, has come on leaps and bounds considering the travesty of the iterations previous.
The Ange Identity just needs a tweak to help Australia match its ambitions.