Insight: Postecoglou's decision to quit unpacked

22nd November 2017 8:00 PM
Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou (left) announces his resignation as FFA CEO David Gallop watches on. Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou (left) announces his resignation as FFA CEO David Gallop watches on. DAN HIMBRECHTS

FOOTBALL: First things first. Ange Postecoglou deserves to go down in history as the best-yet coach of the Socceroos. Too much? Too emotional? Not in my book.

A four-year spell that produced an entirely regenerated squad, a new playing style (more on that shortly), a major trophy in the shape of the Asian Cup, and ultimately World Cup qualification (however torturous the path was), puts him way ahead of his peers in my opinion.

He also changed the culture in and around the national team.

No Socceroos jersey was owned by right, or by reputation. In this regard, Postecoglou set the tone from day one, leaving Lucas Neill in no doubt that his spot (and his captaincy) was no longer guaranteed. Some, like Mark Schwarzer and Brett Holman, smelt which way the wind was blowing and quit.

Ange did it his way, and the new broom was overdue and in most cases, welcome.

Similarly, a rather toxic relationship that had been allowed to fester between certain members of the national team set-up and the media was exorcised by Postecoglou.

Up until March 2017, the mutual respect between Postecoglou and the press pack was unshakeable. Ange was good with the media, in turn, the media had precious little to complain about.

That began to change ahead of the Iraq game in Tehran, although cracks had already appeared, after FFA issued the national coach with their famous slap down, following Ange's (relatively balanced and uncontroversial) comments on the pay dispute involving FFA and PFA.

 

Socceroos head coach Ange Postecoglou speaks during a press conference to announce his resignation, in Sydney, Wednesday, November 22, 2017. Postecoglou has announced he will resign as Socceroos coach and will not be taking the team to the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts) NO ARCHIVING
Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou front the press to announce his resignation. DAN HIMBRECHTS

That public show of humiliation didn't just irritate Ange, it infuriated him. He felt undermined, and while his oft-repeated mantra about how that sort of thing "wouldn't happen to a foreign coach" contained more than a whiff of paranoia, it was easy to see why he was so riled. FFA got that badly wrong.

But it was the change of playing system in March this year that really put the cat among the pigeons.

Ange took the trouble to attempt to explain his new approach personally to members of the media in Tehran (I was among them), and while the gesture was appreciated, perhaps it was an early sign that he knew there might be teething problems, and that the "three-at-the-back" system was going to be a difficult sell, if it wasn't immediately successful.

So it proved. A succession of scratchy displays and far too many draws saw Australia go from World Cup certainties to play-off possibles. Ange still had support from most in the media (and the majority of public opinion), but the pressure was building.

 

Syria's Omar Alsoma (right) takes a free kick that hit the post during the 2018 World Cup qualifying football match between Australia and Syria at Stadium Australia in Sydney, Tuesday, October 10, 2017.(AAP Image/David Moir) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY
Omar Alsoma (right) takes a free kick for Syria against the Socceroos in their World Cup qualifyier. DAVID MOIR

It's also easy to forget that had Omar Al-Soma's late free-kick glanced in off the post (instead of out) for Syria in the Asian play-off, he would have gone there and then.

Yet Wednesday's announcement still leaves me bemused.

Not least because we still don't know the real reasons behind his decision. Is it a breakdown in relations with FFA? Personal reasons? Media pressure? Does he have a club job to go to? Is he simply exhausted with it all? We simply don't know. And Ange obfuscated when pressed.

What baffles me the most is that Ange insisted all along that he was preparing a team to go to the World Cup, and take on the biggest nations. That, he would tell us repeatedly, was when his methods would be vindicated.

Now, he's going before we even kick a ball in Russia.

So what becomes of his approach? Much will depend upon the identity of his successor.

If it is to be the bookies favourite - Graham Arnold - then the three-at-the-back will almost certainly be discarded. Arnie is a wily coach who values pragmatism as much as possession.

 

Coach Graham Arnold directs during Sydney FC Training at Macquarie University Sports Fields, Macquarie Park, ahead of their match against Liverpool FC. Sydney, Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017. (AAP Image/Craig Golding) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY
Graham Arnold is the early favourite to take over as Socceroos head coach. CRAIG GOLDING

If it is to be an overseas coach, then all that "Australian way of playing" will have to take a back seat. Foreign coaches have little time for romantic trips of patriotic identity.

Other Australian candidates include Tony Popovic, but at the time of writing he is just a few weeks into his new role with Karabukspor in Turkey which effectively rules him out.

My choice would be Kevin Muscat. A coach who has runs on the board, knows the Postecoglou style (and would therefore offer some sort of continuity), and has learned to conduct himself better on the sidelines than he did (on occasion) as a player.

Yet in the rush to nominate an Aussie coach, one thing has been overlooked; both Arnie and Musky are under contract with their clubs. Remember the protracted battle FFA had with Melbourne Victory over compensation for Ange? A similar scenario could arise here.

Finally, unless FFA acts quick smart, this may not be their decision (in their current form) to make. With the November 30 AGM looming, and the row over the congress far from settled, who appoints the coach if the board are swept away by FIFA?

Either way, with the clock ticking already towards Russia, the identity of the new man is of the utmost importance.

As for Ange, I'm sure we'll see him reappear as a club coach sooner rather than later. Why all the ducks and drakes, only he knows. The media has copped a barrage for asking the question repeatedly but what else were they supposed to do? This is the singularly most important role in football in this country, there should be no free passes.

All I know is that him not being in Russia is a huge disappointment. In my opinion, he was, and remains, the best man for the job, whatever the criticism.

His legacy may be safe, and for his achievements we owe him immense gratitude but today there is only a sense of unfinished business.