Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ange the evangelist has faith in Australian game

Ange Postecoglou arrives for Wednesday's press conference.

Ange Postecoglou arrives for Wednesday's press conference. Photo: Getty Images

If anyone was in any doubt that Ange Postecoglou is the right man for the right job at the right time, they only had to listen to him at his introductory press conference as Socceroos boss on Wednesday afternoon.

Calm, measured, deliberate but decisive, the former Melbourne Victory mentor spelled out, in shorthand form, his footballing philosophy and his manifesto to change the culture and mindset of the local game as much as the national team.

Postecoglou is a thoroughly modern coach, one who understands the importance of sports science and technology as much as anyone else in the domestic game. But he also understands the need for passion, commitment, understanding of the game's place in Australian society and the role it can play.

He is an evangelist as much as an enabler, a man who believes that soccer can continue to grow and take a major place in the Australian sporting landscape. He has five years to fulfil that ambition, and he will hit the ground running on Monday.


Postecoglou has promised an aggressive, attacking style of play, and made clear once again that he is not afraid to put his faith in youngsters. He will shake up the team and no one can take his place for granted.

This was an appointment as much symbolic as it was practical. After firing Frank Farina after the 2005 Confederations Cup, Frank Lowy has hired two Dutchmen (Hiddink and Pim Verbeek) and a German (Osieck).

Although he needed persuading by David Gallop, the FFA's CEO, Lowy was finally convinced that all that glitters is not necessarily gold, that having a coach from the European heartland of the game might not necessarily deliver better results than someone home grown.
After the trauma of recent results, the difficulty the Socceroos had in qualifying for the 2014 World Cup and the heavy criticism of the team, Gallop and the FFA board realised that it was important to make a statement for the local game, and what better statement to make than hire the best credentialled Australian coach to lead a much needed rebuild.

Postecoglou's passion, energy, commitment and desire to take the commanding heights in the restructuring of the national team make him the ideal choice at this time. Postecoglou is 48 years old and has been coaching for almost two decades. He spent his entire career playing at South Melbourne in the old NSL, winning four caps. He believes, deeply, in the primacy of the Australian game, the importance of developing not just players but a football culture.

He is prepared to engage wholeheartedly  in that process in a way none of his predecessors ever were.

Hiddink was a big-bang short-term gamble with whom Lowy and the Socceroos got lucky.

Verbeek was focused solely on getting to the World Cup and didn't care two hoots about the A-League – even declaring once, famously, that he would rather his players be in the reserves and train with big European clubs than play regularly in the domestic competition. Osieck had been running to stand still and barely had time to look beyond the parapet in the battle for World Cup qualification.

Postecoglou will be the opposite. He will be involved, interested and a keen observer of matches involving Australia's junior teams, the under 17s, under 20s and the Olyroos. He will make the time to look at these players, to attend games. He will be concerned and want input into the development programs and the way younger players are nurtured and brought up to understand and be a part of the nation's unfolding football narrative. He has skin in the game in a way his immediate predecessors didn't.

One anecdote from a long-time fan of the game, Nicholas Tzaferis, illustrates Postecoglou's commitment well. Nowadays Tzaferis is the general manager of corporate affairs with Tabcorp. But in 1991 he was a star-struck teenage South Melbourne fan delighted that they had won the NSL championship.

''The team was celebrating its championship win at a very private function at a Flemington restaurant that was only attended by the players, coach Ferenc Puskas and one or two others. As sons of the chef, my brother Allan and I (then aged 11 and 13) also got in but we had to sit at a corner table in awe of the players,'' Tzaferis recalls.

''Early on in the evening Ange left the table with his fellow players and came over and spoke to Allan and I about the game, our favourite teams, the Socceroos, where we played our football.

''What was most amazing, however, was that Ange then sat with us two young lads all night. You could sense he had a drive to make us love the game even more, acting like an ambassador for it.

"It was as if he felt a duty to make us more in love with football – if that was possible!"
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