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Socceroos coach must be Aussie, Merrick insists

Soccer

The Socceroos post must go to an Australian like Graham Arnold or Tony Popovic, long-time A-league coach Ernie Merrick has declared.

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As Football Federation Australia’s panel of experts scours the globe for Ange Postecoglou’s successor, Merrick added his voice to the chorus in favour of a local appointment.

“The Socceroos job should go to an Australian coach,” Merrick said.

“Graham Arnold or Tony Popovic would be the front two.

“The idea of going overseas again, I just don’t understand that.

“Those two know the players, they know the sporting culture, and I’d love to see one of those two given the job.”

While FFA chief executive David Gallop has indicated an Australian coach would be preferable, the governing body is casting the net far and wide in search of the right person to take the Socceroos to next year’s World Cup, with contract length and Postecoglou’s legacy both key issues for consideration.

Sydney FC’s Arnold is already the standout domestic frontrunner among other candidates including Melbourne Victory counterpart Kevin Muscat.

Brisbane and Central Coast coaches John Aloisi and Paul Okon have also been mentioned as outsiders.

Popovic was somewhat removed from calculations since quitting Western Sydney in September for Turkish club Karabukspor.

However, he’s reportedly not ruled out a dual club-country role in the lead-up to Russia 2018, though FFA has said the feasibility of repeating Guus Hiddink’s multi-tasking of 2006 appears slim.

Merrick, by far the A-League’s longest-serving manager, had not spoken with either Arnold or Popovic.

But the Scottish-born 64-year-old, whose Newcastle Jets are sitting second on the A-League ladder,  said the decision was a no-brainer.

“How many times have you seen an overseas coach come in and coach at club level?” he said.

“They don’t know the players, the style of football or the Australian culture, and they’ve struggled a bit.

“I just think we can stand up for ourselves now, and I’m saying that as a mostly Australian Scot.”

It comes as World Cup-winning coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said he was sounded out about the vacant position, although Football Federation Australia claims it is yet to approach any coaching candidates.

Scolari, who recently ended a two-and-a-half-year stint with Chinese Super League outfit Guangzhou Evergrande, said Australian soccer’s governing body had been in talks with his agent about replacing Ange Postecoglou.

“I am one of the names they spoke with… to see if I was interested in taking them to the World Cup,” Scolari told Reuters.

Scolari said he was happy to discuss the role but wants a long-term contract rather than one stretching only up until next year’s tournament in Russia.

“I don’t intend in just taking a team to the World Cup,” the former Chelsea manager said.

“I intend on leading a team with an organised project for one or two years.

“But I am interested.”

FFA said on Tuesday its selection panel was still defining the criteria for the job it’s been tasked to fill by mid-February, and had not yet approached any candidates.

The nine-person panel – featuring former Socceroos Mark Schwarzer, Stan Lazaridis and Mark Bresciano – has already been inundated with hundreds of inquiries including from agents representing a number of high-profile names, with Scolari understood to be among them.

Having led Brazil to World Cup glory in 2002, Scolari suffered the ignominy of a 7-1 home defeat by Germany in the 2014 tournament – their first home loss since 1975 – and an event Scolari described at the time as the “worst day of my life”. 

Days later his Brazil tenure came to an end after a 3-0 defeat to the Netherlands in the third-place play-off.

Former England manager Sven Goran Eriksson is another foreigner to have publicly flagged his interest, while others linked to the job include Marcelo Bielsa, Juergen Klinsmann, Bert van Marwijk, Gianni De Biasi, Slavoljub Muslin, Christoph Daum and Guus Hiddink.

While FFA chief executive David Gallop has indicated an Australian coach would be preferable, it is casting the net far and wide in search of the right person to lead the Socceroos against World Cup group opponents France, Denmark and Peru.

Contract length and continuing Postecoglou’s legacy are among the key factors being considered during the coach search, which the panel hopes to be completed by mid-February ahead of the next friendly in March.

-AAP, Reuters

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