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Postecoglou saga exposes soccer’s double standard

Soccer

The reaction to reports Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou will quit at the end of the qualifiers would be far more hostile if he wasn’t an Australian, writes InDaily columnist Paul Marcuccitti.

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It seems longer ago, but it’s only been four years and a few months since the Socceroos went into a fortnight of decisive qualifiers in serious danger of missing the 2014 FIFA World Cup finals.

With just six points from five matches, they were third in their group; Japan and Jordan were in the top two (automatic qualification) spots, and Oman was fourth but only behind Australia on goal difference.

Jordan and Oman had both played one more game than the Socceroos, but the three remaining matches included the tough visit to Japan.

And the team was struggling with its shortcomings exposed by the nations that threatened to deny Australia a third-consecutive qualification. Jordan defeated the Socceroos 2-1 in Amman, and Oman would have done the same in Sydney but for a superb late strike by Brett Holman.

Now what would we have said about the then coach, Holger Osieck, if news had emerged before those crucial last two weeks of qualifying that he planned to leave as soon as they were over, irrespective of results, with the subtext being that it might be because he was positioning himself for a role with a club in Europe?

And what would we have said about Terry Venables if there had been similar news in the lead up to the Socceroos’ qualifiers with Iran in 1997? Or if it had been Pim Verbeek during the campaign to reach South Africa 2010?

I’ll tell you what many Australian soccer scribes and fans would say. Something like: “This is the problem with bringing in overseas coaches – they’re just doing a job / they don’t care about the game here”. Some critics would undoubtedly throw the word “mercenary” into their diatribes.

But two of those three former Socceroos coaches honoured their contracts. Osieck wasn’t given the chance to, because Football Federation Australia sacked him in October 2013. He was in charge when qualification was achieved in June of that year, however, a few months later, there would be two 6-0 losses in friendlies (against Brazil and France).

Venables, remarkably, stayed with the team until June 1998 (when the World Cup finals – which we weren’t in – were played). Despite Australia’s heartbreaking elimination in November 1997, he went on to lead the team to the final of the FIFA Confederations Cup, even though a pay dispute threatened to derail the Socceroos’ campaign.

Verbeek, who achieved qualification in record time and took Australia to its highest ever ranking (14th in September 2009), was signed up to the end of the 2010 finals in South Africa. Not only did he honour this, but three months before the tournament he had the decency to tell FFA that he would leave afterwards (effectively, that he wouldn’t seek a new contract).

Osieck, Verbeek and Venables were all targeted by the ever-present “we should appoint an Aussie” camp.

The late Johnny Warren, former Socceroo and SBS commentator, fought the Venables appointment. Verbeek was, quite ridiculously, deemed to have not understood “the cultural qualities of Australian players”. After Osieck was fired, a popular view was that a local manager would focus more on long-term rejuvenation while a foreigner would worry more about results.

Dutchman Pim Verbeek took the Socceroos to their highest-ever ranking – 14th – in September 2009. Photo: EPA

So Aussie Ange Postecoglou succeeded Osieck four years ago and was given a five-year contract.

And guess what? The last two days have been awash with reports that he’s quitting at the end of the qualifiers regardless of whether the Socceroos make it to Russia. Also, according to some, one of the reasons for leaving next month is so that he can smooth the path to his next gig with a club in Europe.

Even more extraordinarily, while the qualifying campaign has stuttered, Postecoglou has been full of rhetoric about how his methods are intended for the tournament itself. Did he not say, “every decision we make — about selection, the way we play — is designed so that if we do get to a World Cup, we can make an impact”?

MERCENARY!

Wait… I forgot our special double standard. You could never say that about an Australian coach of the Socceroos; only foreign ones.

Naturally, in discussing who might replace Postecoglou, the Aussie v foreigner debate is on again. Brisbane Roar coach and former Socceroo John Aloisi was quick to say that it should be an Australian. Many others will, too.

But if it were possible, would we not give the job to Joachim Löw? Or Diego Simeone? Or Carlo Ancelotti?

As improbable (well, impossible) as snaring a coach of that calibre would be, no one would seriously argue that there are any Australians that have the pedigree that those three have. Of course we’d take one of them if we could.

Frankly, the only criterion should be who, among candidates FFA can afford, is the best person for the job. It shouldn’t matter if that person doesn’t hold an Australian passport.

Paul Marcuccitti is InDaily’s soccer columnist.

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