We all want Ange to stay on with the Socceroos, but what if he quits? We need to start looking at the options.
Let me start by emphasising – very strongly – that I want Ange to stay. I’m one of the many who were critical of his new shape, until the game against Chile showed how well it could work. Further tinkering with personnel and systems saw some further evolution of solidity (especially with Mile back in the team and dropping deep when needed).
It does give him the luxury of using more of his star midfielders and playing aggressively. Ange calls it the Australian style to be so focused on all-out attack, although some might suggest that Japanese pilots came up with the same idea as early as 1944. (Kidding!)
It's not perfect, but we’re not Germany and if Ange has built a team able to make it (eventually) to the World Cup Finals then I want him to stay.
Thing is, he may not want to stay, and if he does (for whatever reason) pull up stumps, we’ll need to find to find someone else in a real hurry.
It’s possible we could prise Popa away from his dream job in Karabukspor, but there are only three realistic candidates. (Many sing the praises of current deputy Ante Milicic but you couldn't throw him in with no first team experience.)
Sydney fans will hate me for this, but Graham Arnold is the most obvious candidate. He’s Australian, knows the players and the possible bolters, and has an exceptional coaching record. He has long shown himself to be a wily tactician and, importantly, is capable of changing shape and system mid-match to cope with what the enemy are doing. He is also outstanding at creating a shape and system that best suits the players at his disposal.
He is also capable of devising plans to nullify the impact of important players. I’ve written before about the time the Mariners faced Brisbane (whom they hadn’t beaten for ages when Berisha was at his most lethal). On a stinking hot day at Bluetongue, Zwaanswijk, Sainsbury and Josh Rose spent the first ten minutes stroking the ball around in triangles with Berisha racing about like a maniac trying to close them down. That was his thing. But pretty soon he gave up – wilted in the heat – and was effectively deleted from the game. I believe the Mariners won that 1 – 0.
Some will try to tell you that Arnie had a go in the top job and failed. This is bollocks. Arnie was a caretaker at the Asian Cup in 2007, and half his team didn’t want to be there after such a long period without a break. He was on a hiding to nothing, and let’s not forget his team went out on penalties to Japan – who are no slouches. Arnie is a much better coach now – accustomed to winning – and he would be my top pick.
The next best candidate would be Kevin Muscat. No other man so polarises opinions – voted the Most Hated Man in Britain when at Wolves, perpetrator of the ugliest tackle I’ve ever seen (against Adrian Zahra) – it’s easy to forget that he was actually an exceptional footballer.
Besides being a fantastic defender, Muscat had great vision going forward and a superb passing range. Melbourne Victory, at their best, are a very good reflection of Muscat’s qualities as a player – hard and organized at the back, lightning going forward, and ruthless in front of goal. (I know, not so much this year, but you know they’ll be there when the whips are cracking.) Muscat may be a thug, but he’d be our thug – and I’ve no doubt he’d galvanise our players into a fiercely resilient team.
Last, and probably least, is Aussie Guus.
Hiddink might be available, if the price is right. He’s apparently been talking to South Korea about coming on board as a consultant and (as far as I know) remains a free agent despite being linked with every current opening in world football. The players would respect him and he’s certainly done it before – but would his heart really be in it now? He’s more than half retired and I suspect he’d see it more as a chance for a front row seat at the World Cup than a genuine challenge.
The next coach, if it isn’t Ange, needs to be excited about the World Cup in 2018 and the Asian Cup defense in 2019. I can’t see that being Hiddink.
No, I would like Ange to cut out the dithering and firmly nail his colours to the Socceroos’ mast.
But if not, Arnie or Musky please.
Adrian’s latest book Political Football: Lawrie McKinna’s Dangerous Truth is in the shops right now or available through Booktopia. Adrian also wrote Mr Cleansheets.