The danger in re-writing in the ‘Postecoglou legacy’

Lucas Gillard Roar Guru

By Lucas Gillard, Lucas Gillard is a Roar Guru New author!

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    Craig Foster’s crusade against the FFA’s destructive choice of Bert Van Marwijk has exposed more gaps in the quality of media debate about Australian football than our back three had in World Cup qualifying.

    Foster has cast himself as a new patriarch of the Australian football media, but his superficial analysis of the new national team – couched in bizarre high mindedness – underlines exactly what is wrong with football in this country.

    Limiting the debate to the ‘right way to play’ and philosophy, while ignoring the real strengths and weaknesses of the managers in question, has turned his analysis of the situation into absurdity. It risks creating a vacuum of real and informed debate about what is needed in this country to evolve our football.

    Foster and his group of SBS fanboys (and girl) have turned this discussion into a farce, to the point where he actually believes that Kevin Muscat or Tony Popovic would do a better job coaching the Socceroos at the World Cup than a guy who played off in final (Foster recently announced this on the World Game podcast).

    The truly laughable part of this claim is he is basing is perspective of Bert Van Marwijk’s ‘basic’ (in Foster’s terms) game plan and strategy on a sample size of two matches and one week in camp. It is common sense that a new coach would coach the basic (fundamental) parts of his game plan first (i.e. in the first week together) before moving onto the more elaborate tactics. One wouldn’t teach advanced calculus to a prep class before they knew what 1+1 is.

    Bert van Marwijk

    (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

    The result of this existential objection to Van Marwijk is that we are now vastly over-indulging the Postecoglou legacy as an absolute example of the ‘right’ curriculum. Nobody will doubt the importance and achievement in winning the Asian Cup in 2015.

    That is a gold star for the Socceroos and Postecoglou’s CV that cannot be removed. However, by the end of the World Cup qualifying run Postecoglou’s tactics and interpersonal demeanour had become a liability.

    Asian clubs had figured out the game plan and sat back, allowed the Socceroos to hold possession in midfield with lateral passes and waited for inevitable chances on the counter attack.

    Our back block of five or six (including our defensive midfielders) would always offer opponents chances through errant passes that could be picked off to then expose a flat-footed high line of defenders – none of whom are gifted with pace.

    The match-up against the Japanese in Saitama (a 0-2 loss) exposed Postecoglou and his game plan badly. The technically superior Japan – at home – chose to toy with the Socceroos like a cat with an injured mouse, ceding possession (Australia had 66.5 per cent of it) to exploit skill errors in transition.

    By the end of the campaign, even high quality teams were getting nine men behind the ball to choke the inside channel (and Postecoglou’s game plan) and inevitably exploit the team at its weakest. Bert’s Saudis were unlucky not to pinch three points twice, and we relied on a goalkeeper gift to Tomi Juric to not concede points to them at home.

    Ange Postecoglou Football Australia Socceroos 2017

    (AAP Image/Matt Roberts)

    The problems and flaws in Postecoglou game plan emerged in concert with his increasingly bitter, defensive and sometimes childish public persona. The more anxious Postecoglou became the more risk averse this team were.

    The tempo slowed and Aaron Mooy were increasingly moving the ball horizontally into dead ends. Quick, incisive balls into forward areas and short passes on the edge of the box – a hallmark of the Asian Cup campaign – dried up.

    We took fewer risks in possession and allowed opponents to get players back into the areas we wanted to be in. By the end of the campaign we were an upright away from being knocked out by Syria, and then were lucky to face the easiest opponent we’d had in a long time in Honduras – a team who were appalling over two legs.

    Postecoglou’s ‘attacking possession’ style had become a slow, turgid exercise in horizontal movement in the middle third, played by risk averse players who were easy to pick off and counter.

    This underlines the big weakness in Ange the coach. Where was his tactical nous to break down such teams? There seemed to be no Plan B once a team got players in space and allowed Australia to keep low-percentage possession. Postecoglou had no in-game adjustments once the bus was parked in Mooy’s passing lanes.

    The problems inherent in the Postecoglou version of the “curriculum” were observed at junior level as well. The recent Olyroos Asian Cup played out exactly like the senior team’s qualifying rounds.

    Teams camped back (Vietnam had ten players behind the ball), and there was no in-game adjustment to break them down. Our ‘playmaker’ Stefan Mauk was either too slow of mind or didn’t trust his passing skills to penetrate.

    Our strongest efforts in possession only occurred with technically strong players – Daniel DeSilva and Ajdin Hrustic – who are more adept on the half turn, and during overloads could take players on through short passing combinations.

    But this was only really evident in the second half of the final game against South Korea, when we were down and increased the tempo to get back in the game (and Mauk wasn’t in the line-up).

    Like with Ange’s men, teams waited to intercept balls moving from our defensive third to then run at our high line. And, in the game against Vietnam that sunk our progression chances, again Ante Milicic couldn’t devise a way through their ten man block and Australia didn’t really look like scoring.

    Purists could argue that most teams struggle when teams get so many men behind the ball – but the real problem for both the senior and junior teams in the Ange era is they also conceded.

    If teams are getting 9-10 players behind the ball and still beating you, then there is a tactical or technical problem in your game plan that is being exposed by the other coach.

    Another risk we run with talking only about ‘philosophy’ is that we forget the other (arguably more important) aspects of team coaching: motivating, bonding and inspiring a group of players.

    It is no coincidence that the more toxic Ange’s public persona became, the poorer the team played. We are prone to forget that Ange had only (really) worked in Australia with A-League quality players (or youth players).

    Relating to and inspiring elite sportsmen is a unique interpersonal skill but can be developed over time. Putting someone with the experience of inspiring Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben near the cream of Australian talent can only be a blessing.

    Bert van Marwijk

    (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

    A very relatable scenario was recently provided by Uruguayan great Diego Forlan, in an interview aired by The Asian Game podcast (11/3/2018), where he discussed the mentality required for this new club (Hong Kong’s Kitchee) to succeed as underdogs in their Asian Champions League group.

    He likened this mindset required to the ‘Uruguayan mentality’, a part of the national identity of the sport. In a nation of 3.5 million, Uruguay prides itself on its aggression expressed by ferocity at the ball and strict defensive structure.

    In stark contrast to the results achieved by Postecoglou’s Socceroos in the 2014 World Cup, the Uruguayan ‘philosophy’ is to counter with speed, to be extremely frugal at the back and to step-up and never concede. The results of this ‘philosophy’ at the international stage are extraordinary. Craig Foster likes to cite ‘philosophy’ as an essential launch pad for any small nation in building their international credentials.

    What Foster rarely discusses is the merits of one style over another, outside of an oblique allusion to Australia’s fighting culture. Uruguay prove that one can fight, run and frustrate as a unit (and win) without holding possession, because this style suits a team that can’t hold the ball as natively as their big rivals (think Brazil, Argentina etc.) and plays to their strengths of speed, passion and willingness to work. Now who does that sound like?

    Craig Foster and Les Murray

    (AAP Image/Joe Castro)

    Fundamentally the team needs to be managed by a human being, not a philosophy. Foster’s only public commentary about this is that we missed a trick with Marcelo Bielsa. That might have been a great move – but if (even theoretically) he wasn’t available who could lead our philosophic revolution?

    Could we offer the job to Ralf Rangnick and become a step-child in the Red Bull family? I’m sure the FFA could front one of the new A-League expansion spots to Red Bull to get the job done.

    ‘RazenBallsport South Melbourne Hellas’ could be the bridge between old and new that the A-League needs! But if Ralf was too happily employed to consider the Socceroos, what are we left with? How about Kevin Muscat – a coach with mid-tier A-League experience who has never coached elite sportsmen?

    Tony Popovic who has recently conspicuously failed in his first foreign job? And, dare I add, a ‘pragmatist’ in the Arnold (or BvM mould). Could anyone in their right mind really see these coaches as better fits for a World Cup tournament then a man who has coached to a final?

    So is it more valuable to the development and success of the national team(s) (at all levels) to stick to a philosophy lead by poor tacticians who make it easy for opposition teams to break down?

    Who is in charge of helping Postecoglou and Milicic work through the video and game-theory and to wrestle games back in our favour? As the game evolves in this country, is it productive to have a play a system that could be so easily deconstructed and shut-down? What about Ange’s other flaws? Were management consultants or yoga grand masters hired in to help him better deal with media scrutiny?

    This all seeks to highlight the over-simplification of the SBS anti-Bert campaign. All game plans have strengths and weaknesses. Merging the reality of Ange’s gameplay with a philosophic debate about possession football is extremely dangerous and ignores the lessons we can learn from Ange’s weaknesses.

    The most painful example of this appeared in Lucy Zelic’s embarrassing ‘exclusive’ with Bert Van Marwijk, when she challenged him on whether he would continue with Ange’s ‘successful’ back 3. Not only did Ange’s shift to a back three coincide with his worst period as coach, and was verily derided by fans on social media, it exemplified the blurring of philosophy and tactics. Bert’s dismissive response came on behalf of a nation of Socceroos supporters, disillusioned by the quality of the football media.

    SBS have created a vicious cycle of analysis that they are now trapped in. They have ceded real insight into tactical analysis of the national team in favour of conceptual drivel. Craig Foster and his SBS colleagues want to be the vanguard for change in the country – in the footsteps of the grand patriarchs Johnny and Les.

    However, it is tragic that a once bright media hope and patriarch in waiting – Foster – has now become a sad parody of the football evangelist he hopes to be.

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    The Crowd Says (111)

    • Roar Guru

      April 10th 2018 @ 10:04am
      Grobbelaar said | April 10th 2018 @ 10:04am | ! Report

      I have some sympathy with Ange, he tried to change the mindset of Australian football, that we should never fear any other team, that we shouldn’t start a match with the mentality that we are bound to lose it. That’s the way we bravely played in the 2014 WC (and we duly lost all three games with a negative goal difference of 6, conceding three goals in each of our games).

      No problems with that per se. Very admirable, brave even.

      But then we must face the reality, and five decades of international football teaches us that all things being equal, an inferior team (in terms of playing stock) has a much better chance of getting a result by playing to a particular formula (shall we say), and Ange’s game plan didn’t make any allowance whatsoever for that sort of eventuality.

      And now the double whammy.

      Playing predominantly inferior sides in Asia (regardless of what many on here keep saying, 90% of the Asian teams are miles and miles away from being world standard), often with experienced managers, knowing precisely how Australia is going to play (afterall, Ange didn’t make it a secret), made it very, very easy to structure their starting XI accordingly.

      So in the end, one could well argue that Ange’s philosophy was a nice thing to have, but in the hard, cold reality of actually playing internationals, it didn’t really cut the mustard and it would have been another failure this year if he had remained at the helm.

      • April 10th 2018 @ 10:59am
        Geoff Foley said | April 10th 2018 @ 10:59am | ! Report

        Have to disagree there. Ange knew his teams would struggle against well organised 10 man deep defences in qualifying- everyone does. Hence the eventual change to 3 at the back trying to make the most out of his best attacking weapons while acknowledging cheap goals could be conceded by a hoof down to a fast striker. What he was trying to do was to implement a game plan that would succeed against the best teams. His results against the top teams showed this- we were always better against teams that also seek to be proactive and dominate a game than small teams who would park the bus (Malaysia, Syria etc). Even Japan’s coach conceded the need to park the bus against us and played on the counter attack as he felt the Roos would dominate and win id both were trying to play good footy- this was the catalyst to the sacking of their coach as the media and FA could not tolerate such a game plan.

        Can’t see this being the case under Van Marwijk- will be very reactive and submissive football. Not happy.

        • Roar Guru

          April 10th 2018 @ 11:18am
          Grobbelaar said | April 10th 2018 @ 11:18am | ! Report


          Which aspect are you disagreeing with?

          I said that he stuck with the same system against both superior and inferior teams, and as a consequence we only just snuck through the Asian qualifiers.

          WE play a game where to concede one goal can mean giving the three points to an inferior team, so to knowingly play a game plan against an inferior opposition where we increase their odds of scoring said goal is hardly a laudable attribute in an NT manager.

          • April 10th 2018 @ 3:05pm
            Geoff Foley said | April 10th 2018 @ 3:05pm | ! Report

            Disagree that i didn’t cut the mustard. Got us through with players who were still not up to the game plan fully, but getting there. Ange was more about the next generation and instilling this as how Australia should play for the future, rather than always about results now.

    • April 10th 2018 @ 10:10am
      Kris said | April 10th 2018 @ 10:10am | ! Report

      All I will say is that this article makes no allowances whatsoever for talent (or lack of it) available to the national managers.

      It presumes that a tactic, philosophy or playing style is considerably more important than it actually is.

      I post much the same thing on all the versions of this same opinion piece that want to pot the back-3 that Ange was basically compelled to go to …. name a striker, wide players and full backs worthy of a spot in the A-League let alone the national team at a World Cup?

      Ange stacked the team with centre backs and centre midfielders because that is what he had, and then hoped that we scored from midfield (Mini Mas, Jedinak, Mooy). Pragmatic and the best use of the resources he had available to him. That is what management IS … getting the best out of what you have to hand. Not starting with a dream and then trying to pretend that Brad Smith can play or that Matt Leckie has ever been anything less than petrified of the white things at the end of the ground.

      • Roar Guru

        April 10th 2018 @ 10:18am
        Grobbelaar said | April 10th 2018 @ 10:18am | ! Report

        “…or that Matt Leckie has ever been anything less than petrified of the white things at the end of the ground. ”

        Harsh, but fair.

    • Roar Guru

      April 10th 2018 @ 10:31am
      Cousin Claudio said | April 10th 2018 @ 10:31am | ! Report

      Nice article Lucas.
      Agree with what you are saying.

      The “Postecoglou Legacy” is well over-exaggerated and amazingly enough mostly by his former worst enemy, now turned best friend – Professor Craig Foster.

      SBS has become very bitter and self focused since it began its crusade against the FFA.
      I’m not trying to defend the FFA, just lets put the good of the game and Australian football in perspective first.

      What is Ange’s philosophy, let alone credibility, the way he walked out on Australian Football for more dollars.

      Aussie Bert has the same talent at his disposal as Yokohama Ange and the changes in approaches are noteworthy.
      Ange would have gone into this tournament thinking we could “win” the world cup. We’d play some “nice football” and lose 3 games in a row like we did at Brazil 2014, pack our bags and head home before the Ro16.

      Bert is more mature, more pragmatic. His philosphy is to “make the next round”, one step at a time. Get points from the next game, however he can do that with the talent he has.

      That’s how Italy did it in 2006. That’s how he made a WC Final in 2010. That’s how Saudi Arabia qualified for 2018.

      • April 10th 2018 @ 4:28pm
        Midfielder said | April 10th 2018 @ 4:28pm | ! Report


        100% nay 2000% agree

      • April 11th 2018 @ 4:01pm
        SquareBall said | April 11th 2018 @ 4:01pm | ! Report

        Well said – just can’t believe anyone still watches or listens to anything the self-righteous SBS team has to say. I reached my tolerance threshold about a year ago and find my life is much richer without it.

        • Roar Rookie

          April 11th 2018 @ 7:35pm
          Stevo said | April 11th 2018 @ 7:35pm | ! Report

          SBS will be remembered for taking a gamble and covering football when it was absolutely unfashionable to do so, at least by the popular media. A heart big thanks to Les and Johnny is in order.

          Having said that, they dropped the ball when the HAL commenced and became very negative towards the competition – almost counting down the days till it folded. But it hasn’t. Foz appears to have taken up the mantle of His Royal Excellency, the Most Grand Football P00h-Bah, One Who Speaks the Truth and All Shall Knell Before Him. I haven’t watched SBS Worldgame for a few years. I don’t feel like I’ve missed much.

    • April 10th 2018 @ 10:41am
      striker said | April 10th 2018 @ 10:41am | ! Report

      Incredible that Forster can slam a Manager that got to a World Cup Final, Ange is an average coach which he is already showing in Japan with a very good side, he will back back to the A-League in no time soon.

      • Roar Guru

        April 10th 2018 @ 11:19am
        Grobbelaar said | April 10th 2018 @ 11:19am | ! Report


        Not to mention that in the early part of Ange’s coaching career, Foster was absolutely scathing about Ange.

    • April 10th 2018 @ 10:43am
      Caltex & SBS support Australian Football said | April 10th 2018 @ 10:43am | ! Report

      What a poor article this is. So what you want, is a return to the Pim Verbeek days and his boring football philosophy—we can’t play football so let’s just park the bus. BvM has shown us what his tactics will be; Pim Verbeek MKII—defend deep and just limit those goals that are going to be scored against us, to the barest minimum.

      • Roar Guru

        April 10th 2018 @ 10:52am
        Cousin Claudio said | April 10th 2018 @ 10:52am | ! Report

        Yes and Pim Verbeek nearly took us into the Ro16 at South Africa and only missed out on goal difference.
        That was exciting stuff.

        What’s Ange’s record at World Cups, 3 games 3 losses. Even the Footballroos of 1974 did better than that.

        Ange has a worse Qualification record of any WC qualification campaign than Verbeek for points, goals scored and goals conceded.

        • April 10th 2018 @ 11:02am
          Geoff Foley said | April 10th 2018 @ 11:02am | ! Report

          PVB would have had us losing 3-0 at least each match with a barely a shot fired in response. Compare the pair- Germany, Serbia and Ghana against Spain, Netherlands and Chile…

          • Roar Guru

            April 10th 2018 @ 11:21am
            Cousin Claudio said | April 10th 2018 @ 11:21am | ! Report

            Pure speculation.

            When you’re not the best boxer in the ring, sometimes you need to take a more conservative, realistic and pragmatic approach to be able to land the knockout punch.

            • April 10th 2018 @ 12:10pm
              Caltex & SBS support Australian Football said | April 10th 2018 @ 12:10pm | ! Report

              So you would rather go into the ring with a feather duster than a sword in your hand. If we are going to go out earlier in the group stage. I’d rather go out fighting than surrendering to better opposition at the start of the group stage. Look what we nearly did to Chile in the Feds cup.

              • April 10th 2018 @ 12:35pm
                Mark said | April 10th 2018 @ 12:35pm | ! Report

                If a boxer came to the ring with the same game plan every single fight, even an technically average opponent could put them on their back.

              • April 10th 2018 @ 3:05pm
                Caltex & SBS support Australian Football said | April 10th 2018 @ 3:05pm | ! Report

                Yes perhaps Mark, that’s what happened in the game we played against Chile, in the Feds Cup, and what a game that was. On the other side of the coin, we had Pim, playing the same ultra defensive game plan against the minnows of Asia and what a bore fess of a qualification campaign that was and continued through into the WC.

              • Roar Guru

                April 10th 2018 @ 3:55pm
                Cousin Claudio said | April 10th 2018 @ 3:55pm | ! Report

                There’s no evidence that Verbeek played “ultra defensive”. Again pure speculation.

                Verbeek in fact always played with a very attack minded formation in 2010, even against Germany. His footballroos team scored many more goals than Postecoglou’s.

                I think Aussie Bert has a similar pragmatic approach and plays the way he needs to, to get a result.

                How many passes you make does not count towards the final score.

              • April 11th 2018 @ 9:10am
                Caltex & SBS support Australian Football said | April 11th 2018 @ 9:10am | ! Report

                Lol, no evidence of pragmatic football played by the Roo’s under Pim… Laughable comment CC.. Only all of the Aussie football analysis described it as such, and he had most of the golden generation in his squad.

    • Roar Rookie

      April 10th 2018 @ 10:59am
      Waz said | April 10th 2018 @ 10:59am | ! Report

      I think the FFA have got this one right.

      I’m sure their preferred option was Arnie straight away but that would have risked SFCs season, so a pragmatic approach of placing an interim in first and did the WC followed by their long term preference is a sound plan.

      • Roar Guru

        April 10th 2018 @ 1:53pm
        Griffo said | April 10th 2018 @ 1:53pm | ! Report

        I agree that it appeared Arnold was the desired target but Sydney weren’t going to let him go quietly before the season was wrapped up.

        • April 10th 2018 @ 2:03pm
          LuckyEddie said | April 10th 2018 @ 2:03pm | ! Report

          Thank goodness Sydney would not let him go.

          • April 10th 2018 @ 2:25pm
            Fadida said | April 10th 2018 @ 2:25pm | ! Report

            Agree, thank you Sydney

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