Let me start by saying I am a big fan of Ange Postecoglou as Socceroos coach. I’ve read his book (written by Andy Harper) and my main takeaway was that we absolutely have the right man in charge of the national team.
He got rid of the tarnished golden ones who’d hung on a bit too long.
He blooded numerous exciting youngsters and promoted a more attacking style.
He made us proud(ish) at the World Cup by playing well in the toughest possible group.
He won the Asian Cup and did it in style in front of teeming, adoring crowds.
But he hasn’t yet done the thing I suspect he most wants to do – qualify for a World Cup. And that is why I think the pressure is starting to get to him with some of the comments he’s made in recent times.
He claims that he is happy for Australians to be discussing and debating his tactics, but he doesn’t seem to enjoy the scrutiny and criticism. His new “three at the back” approach has been queried by some, blasted by others, but passionately defended also. Ange said (of the criticism) that if he’d been an overseas coach he would have been lauded as a genius for trying something different.
We got four points out of six against Iraq and UAE – teams we should always be beating (in my opinion). Four points was the minimum acceptable return from those games. Anything less would have been a disaster, so no-one’s going to be called a genius for getting four points, irrespective of where they come from.
After all, Pim Verbeek and Holger Osieck came from overseas and no-one called them geniuses. They both made the World Cup though, albeit with crippling pragmatism. Ange replaced Holger and made a big fuss about playing the way that Australians want to play: fast, fearless and physical but also tactically sophisticated. What that means though is that Ange has put massive pressure on himself to make the World Cup – playing in a quintessentially Australian style. If he fails then the conclusion must be that the quintessentially Australian style coupled with the Australian coach is not as effective as the boring pragmatists from overseas who did actually get us to the biggest show on earth.
And there’s your cultural cringe.
Strangely though, the coach is accusing the fans and pundits when it looks to me as though the only dread comparison with overseas is coming from the coach himself.
Yes, there is criticism of his new shape (and some of his selections) but no-one is saying let’s go back to a foreign coach. In fact, when people do discuss Ange’s successor (most of us hoping it won’t be for a while) they mainly talk about Australian candidates, such as Graham Arnold or Tony Popovic. So where is this notion of cultural cringe coming from?
It’s not just the nationality of the coach. Ange’s latest criticism of fans who question his shape is to suggest that this also is a form of cultural cringe. We admire Chelsea playing three at the back, for example, but we don’t trust Australians to do it because deep down we don’t believe we’re capable of anything but a conservative four at the back.
Sorry Ange but no-one cares what shape you play, as long as you win. If you want to change the shape then at least go with wingbacks who are able to play the position. Mathew Leckie and Robbie Kruse will cost us in the critical games to come if required to defend. That’s not cultural cringe – that’s my observation of what was clearly going wrong in the last two games and, my fear for the next, if we don’t fix the problem.
Ange keeps saying that it’s not just about getting to the World Cup. There’s no point in going unless you’re going to make some sort of impact when you get there. He almost seems to be saying that he will tinker with our shape and style, irrespective of results, because playing in the Australian way and having a go is more important than going to the World Cup.
I disagree profoundly.
It is always important to go to the World Cup.
What’s more, how could anyone look at the way we played against Iraq and call that having a go? They completely killed us at the back – winning headers, winning second balls and finding space out wide that wasn’t patrolled by the wingbacks. We were lucky to get a point in that game and, in my opinion, we weren’t much better against UAE. Trent Sainsbury made a huge difference in that game and fortunately UAE were even worse than us, but we certainly gave them chances and couldn’t hold possession in the first half. That inability to hold possession would be death against Saudi Arabia or Japan.
But Ange speaks as though the new system was justified by the UAE result and that we’re all cultural cringers to go on whinging about it.
Lighten up Ange. We’re all on your side, but please take a fresh look at what happened against Iraq and UAE. Is that really what you wanted?
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.