Ange Postecoglou has not been directly critical of Bert van Marwijk and the Socceroos’ performance in Russia, but he’s gone pretty close.
I really enjoyed Ange’s time in charge or the Socceroos. He made us believe again after the Holger Osieck debacle and dramatically deepened the talent pool available for selection. He won the Asian Cup and was the first coach to grow up in the Australian system and qualify us for the World Cup. We can all be very proud of him.
I was devastated when he left the post – not least as it took him so long to make up his mind and thereby reduced the preparation time for his replacement. I also disagreed with the direction in which he was taking the team but it did look, after the games against Honduras, as though the boys were finally starting to understand the new system. The fact they were able to readapt to van Marwijk’s system so rapidly probably says more about their own natural templates than it does about van Marwijk’s coaching.
And that’s part of what makes Ange’s recent heckling from the sidelines a little unpalatable. We don’t know whether we would have done any better under Ange if he’d stayed on, but he was the one who abdicated and can hardly expect that any incoming coach, paid to get results, would have wanted to persist with tactics which had so jeopardised Australia’s qualification and for which we didn’t have the cattle.
What upsets him most, however, is what he perceives to be Australia’s willingness to accept an inferior position.
“We still want to be the underdog,” says Ange. We revel in our “competitiveness and defensive stability”, rather than seeking to conquer all comers.
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To be fair, he’s been saying this for a while, but to me there’s a logical misconception in Ange’s attitude. You can’t simply decide no longer to be underdogs…or to be perceived as underdogs.
Underdog or non-underdog status is a chicken and egg situation. Confidence and perception of relative ability only comes through results – consistent success. We have never had consistent success on the world stage and the closest we got to it was probably about the time Ange decided to parlay our invincibility in the first phase of World Cup qualifying into a totally different system for which we didn’t have the players.
Ironically, if he’d kept going with his original shape and system (with which he won the Asian Cup) we probably would have qualified easily with consequently more confidence going into the World Cup Finals and more ready to believe that we could outgrow the underdog tag.
To my mind, Ange did a great job (initially) and set up Australia to go to the next level. The real unfinished business was identifying and developing a couple of natural goal scorers to turn our otherwise excellent play into points. Ange tried to compensate by changing the system to get more of his dangerous midfielders onto the pitch, but the true problem was finding someone who could finish.
That’s the main lesson we’ve learned from Russia and one that will be keeping Graham Arnold awake at nights as he scours video of Australian strikers from across the globe.
In the meantime, I’d prefer it if Ange was a little more circumspect about the Socceroos. He could have taken us to Russia but he chose not to.
Adrian’s latest book The Fighting Man is in the shops right now or available through Booktopia. Adrian also wrote Mr Cleansheets.