Thursday, 24 October 2013

Is it OK for South fans to like Ange Postecoglou again?

Here's a confused ramble focused on confusion.

So, while waiting for a bad episode of The Simpsons to start, I was watching Ten news yesterday evening, the sports segment to be precise. The first item was on the Geelong Cup, a group three race, whatever that means. Then some racehorse trained by Tom Waterhouse's mother being retired. Then AFL trade news, including Heath Shaw being traded to GWS for Taylor Adams. Then finally, four stories in, the fact that the Socceroos had a new coach. It makes you think that we still have a ways to go yet. Today online on The Age's sport section prominence is given to Bradman and Warne getting a perfunctory honour, and after that a washed out one day cricket match.

But back to Ange - who could have foreseen this situation after that interview on SBS all those years ago? One of the more humorous comments on the matter in the week leading up to Ange's appointment was made by 'Chips Rafferty' on Football Anarchy:

Imagine, Ange the NT coach and Craig still the SBS weather girl.

Some people have talked (vaguely) about his stint in the VPL before making his comeback to the national scene via the A-League - which really, nothing much can be made of, because that team was doomed from the get go. More interesting for me is the fact that, like his 1991 championship teammate Joe Palatsides, he actually tried his hand at coaching in Greece, getting out of the comfort zone of milking a local career, lower league club by lower league club. In our boredom, South of the Border was probably the only English language 'press' (and we use that term lightly) that covered Ange's stint at Panachaiki in the third division, and that was mostly relaying basic progress updates.

What it means to me is that he's willing to take chances, something that became evident as well when he went through the process of creating his Brisbane Roar team. Despite the success he had in his years as South coach, there was always (and still is) talk that he more or less inherited Frank Arok's team, a team that after a tumultuous period would have supposedly come good anyway. And that's no post-A-League sour grapes - that line of thinking existed even among contemporary South fan commentary.

During his A-League coaching career, the attitude of South fans towards Postecoglou has ranged from a certain matter of factness - coaching is his career, and he should be able to continue it anywhere he wants - to calling him a sellout for becoming a part of the system which has relegated us to dealing with an ethnic club glass ceiling (and taking Paul Trimboli with him as well). He's not alone among our former players, sponsors and fans to do this, but he's by far the most high profile.

Postecoglou overseeing South training in Brazil in 2000.
Most though probably never wished him either well or ill, taking a more ambivalent, philosophical approach - he's not at South, so who cares? That's certainly the approach I've taken since he left Panachaiki, a stint I covered more as an oddity than as anything serious. Perhaps those attitudes stem from the way his recent Australian soccer history has shone a light on the general South experience post-A-League, at least from the point of view of those of us in exile from the top-flight. Here's someone who, because of his association with old soccer, the NSL and especially its most powerful (ethnic) club, was thought to offer nothing to the new dawn, who would usher in an era of new players, coaches, methods and history divorced from whatever happened before. Now he's in charge of the goddamn national team, while we've got A-League reject Mehmet Durakovic.

When I celebrated Mitch Langerak's rise to Borussia Dortmund and Socceroos representation, I did so because yes, it's a magnificent achievement, but also because South was a small, perhaps unusual stepping stone on the road to those achievements (which he acknowledged with re-tweet, swoons). Can we then ignore Postecoglou's even more incredible rise? He's one of the few who came through the South system and had a sustained career at the top as a player. The only one involved with all four of our NSL titles. Someone who had been doubted repeatedly, and yet is one of the few players or coaches who left the club both on his own terms and as a success.

The variety of reactions with which South fans have dealt with Postecoglou and others like him, is reflective of the alienation seemingly inherent in being a South supporter these days, at least for those of us who don't split our time between South and an A-League team. Who are we now, compared to who we were? Can we be something like what we once were, in terms of status? What if we never make it back to the top-flight? Just how much has everyone who once supported us moved on from everything? Far enough to forget us completely, or within reach should we ever once again reach where we 'deserve' to be? At least once a year, most often in the quiet of the off-season, I seem to ask this question, and every time I think I get closer to an answer, I find that it's just as elusive as it ever was.

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Here's a couple of articles from the mainstream/legitimate press that are worth a look.

Ray Gatt's article charting Ange's coaching career path isn't too bad, including some good South history with David Clarkson.

Ange Postecoglou's path: from near-death experience to the Socceroos

Ray Gatt, The Australian, October 24, 2013 12:00AM

IT was early November 1996, in the days of the National Soccer League, and Ange Postecoglou, a wet-behind-the-ears coach, was conducting a training session with South Melbourne, oblivious to the lynch mob gathering around the back of the stands.

Only five rounds into his first senior coaching job and with just a single point to show, Postecoglou had already come under intense pressure from fans and officials of the Greek-oriented club.

That night was supposed to be his last in charge of the club he had served for 193 games as a player. The committee had made its decision and the president would be the one to deliver the coup d'etat.

As the committeemen nervously shuffled their feet waiting for the president to arrive, they received news he had fallen ill and could not make it. Reluctant to complete the hatchet job without him, they made a hasty retreat and decided to leave him in for one more week.

The rest is history. South Melbourne won its next game 1-0 against Newcastle Breakers and went on a winning streak that saw it climb from the bottom of the table to the preliminary final, which it lost to Sydney United.

Under Postecoglou's positive "follow-me" coaching philosophy, South Melbourne won successive NSL titles in 1997-98 and 1998-99.

Postecoglou's coaching career, give or take one or two hiccups, has gone from strength to strength and today he is the new coach of the Socceroos, entrusted by Football Federation Australia to lead the national team out of the abyss and into a new dawn.

David Clarkson, who won two championships under Postecoglou at South Melbourne, always knew his old boss would climb to the top of the coaching tree.

"Who knows what would have happened had it (the sacking) gone through," Clarkson told The Australian. "But, he got that luck. We won two titles, were Oceania champions and played in the world club championship against Manchester United."

Clarkson said he always saw the drive and the passion for coaching in Postecoglou.

"He was a winner, very intense and a lover of the game. You could see it in everything he did," he said. "Yes he was passionate about coaching, but he was also very passionate about the game and how it should be played."

Clarkson said if Postecoglou had a fault it was "maybe he did not manage players as best as he could back then".

"But it was never personal. He always had his end goal and he'd tell us he would take people on the journey who wanted to be there ... if not 'you can go'," he said

"I was always scared of him, to be honest. Why? Because I was afraid of letting him down. He expected such high standards and I respected him so much that I just didn't want to disappoint him."

Postecoglou did it tough as coach of the Young Socceroos between 2000 and 2007, struggling to come to grips with international football and drawing intense criticism from past players and coaches.

Some might have thought that was the end for him as a coach, but his stint as an analyst on Fox Sports showed he was a deep thinker about the game and the critics did not affect his fierce pride and burning ambition.

Postecoglou has stayed true to his philosophy of playing entertaining football based on retaining possession and playing out from the back, even when under pressure.

He is not afraid to make the tough decisions on players. It is the "my way or the highway" mentality as he showed when he first took over Brisbane Roar midway through the 2009-10 season. Postecoglou was ruthless, releasing Socceroos veterans Danny Tiatto and Craig Moore, and journeyman Bob Malcolm.

Young players were drafted in and while Roar did not get anywhere near the finals that season, he was sowing the seeds of success. And success came quickly.

The Queenslanders won the A-League title the next season then followed up with a second in 2011-12 as he became the first coach to win back-to-back titles in the A-League - something he had already done in the NSL.

Postecoglou will be vastly different to his predecessor, the sacked Holger Osieck, in many ways.

Firstly, he understands the Australian sporting mentality. He won't be as rigid in his thinking and will rejuvenate the team with younger players. No player will be safe from his scrutiny. They will all need to fit within his system.

He will go with what he knows and believes in. It is best explained in an interview he did after he was appointed Victory coach before the start of last season.

"I'm in it to win championships, but what drives me is that it has to mean something. A title must reflect the way we've played, behaved on and off the field. When people went to watch Brisbane Roar, they knew how they were going to play and conduct themselves, win or lose.

"I'm not going to do exactly what I did at Roar, but there will be a strong identity there at Victory."

With eight months, maybe half a dozen friendlies and a couple of camps to the World Cup in Brazil, the odds are that there is not enough time for Postecoglou to impose his will on the squad.

But unlike with Osieck, FFA has given him a mandate to produce talent, revitalise the squad, jettison some of players and set up for the future, including the Asian Cup on these shores in 2015.

Even at Brazil, you wouldn't want to bet against Postecoglou at least turning the Socceroos into the competitive team fans have grown to love and admire.


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Joe Gorman's article from The Guardian isn't too bad either, though it probably didn't need the music analogy. The comments on the cultural cringe in Australian football are worth noting.

Ange Postecoglou: the Socceroos' very own Paul Kelly

Like the musician, the new Socceroos coach shows respect and a deep knowledge of the medium in which he works

Ange Postecoglou has graduated from the A-League to become the new Socceroos manager. Photograph: Julian Smith/AAP

After almost a fortnight of rumour and recriminations, the FFA has appointed Ange Postecoglou as Socceroos coach. When Frank Lowy confirmed last week the next coach would be an Australian, it was always going to be either Ange or Arnie. Both worthy choices, the FFA has put its faith in a local for the first time since 2005.

Melbourne Victory have made the noble decision not to stand in Postecoglou’s way, although not before criticising the FFA for tapping up their coach and baulking at the seven figure compensation package.

In a statement to the media, Victory Chairman Anthony Di Pietro said, “we are disappointed with the process undertaken by the FFA, given the outcomes we tried to secure could never have been achieved within the timeframes offered, which ultimately forced us to accelerate our decision not to stand in Ange’s way.”

As much as the Socceroos are the pinnacle of the football hierarchy, the clubs are also entitled to defend their own patch of turf, as are state league clubs below them. Developing players and coaches comes at a price, and it is not for the FFA to be cherry-picking the best talent without recognising the investment of the clubs.

That said, it is a milestone in Australian football for several reasons. In the ninth season of the A-League, Postecoglou becomes the first coach to graduate from an A-League club to the Socceroos. In doing so, he’ll also become the first Australian coach to take the national team to the World Cup since Rale Rasic, who led the Socceroos to the nation’s first World Cup in 1974. Forty years is certainly a long time waiting, but it is a change that will be welcomed by the vast majority of followers of the national team.

Having an A-League alumnus at the helm of the Socceroos will certainly be a boost for the profile of the competition. After three successive foreign coaches, the football community has been heavily in favour of a local, and now that we’ve gone native, the cycle will likely continue. With so many former Socceroos completing their coaching licences and receiving jobs in the A-League, Postcoglou’s appointment may be a harbinger of change in the selection process.

In elevating Postecoglou, the FFA has pushed him into a new realm of prodigal son. As one of Australia’s most successful club coaches with South Melbourne Hellas, Brisbane Roar and Melbourne Victory, he comes into the job with huge expectations. Despite the Young Socceroos hiccup in 2006, Postecoglou has been something of a King Midas at club level.

When he took over from Frank Farina at Brisbane Roar in 2009, he quickly moved to purge several senior players from the squad including Craig Moore, Charlie Miller and Bob Malcolm, building a new-look team around midfielders Matt McKay, Massimo Murdocca and Erik Paartalu, all of whom he had previously worked with at youth level. After two successive A-League championships with Brisbane – which included a record breaking unbeaten streak – he took up a new challenge at Melbourne Victory.

Postecoglou may have taken a little longer than expected to make his mark in Melbourne, but when the Victory are on form, they play some of the best football in the competition. And as he did at Brisbane, Postecoglou has given young players a chance, putting faith in the likes of Marco Rojas, Nick Ansell, Andrew Nabbout and Connor Pain in important matches. In round one this season, Postecoglou continued this trend by granting the highly rated Rashid Mahazi a start in central midfield in the Melbourne derby.

In this regard, Postecoglou offers the Socceroos a sound knowledge of local players and a willingness to experiment with young talent, two qualities sorely needed in the national team. With the team in serious need of regeneration before the Asian Cup on home soil in 2015, many senior Socceroos will no doubt be uncomfortable about their future in the green and gold with Postecoglou in charge. As the Postecoglou motto goes, "you don't sign players but people". It’s about time players are selected on their current standard, not reputation.

Notwithstanding his credentials, Postecoglou is also a fitting appointment for symbolic reasons. Having grown up a South Melbourne Hellas supporter, he spent his playing career at his boyhood club, before taking them to two NSL titles in the late 1990s, as well as a Club World Championship in Brazil. His has been a career at the coalface of Australian football.

The question of nationality has not been far from the debate about who should take over from Holger Osieck. Sections of the media, particularly Michael Cockerill and Robbie Slater, have been banging on for some time for an Australian coach to be appointed to the national team.

Others prefer to look simply at the credentials of the coaches in question, rather than the passport, with Craig Foster going as far to say that some of the discussion has reeked of “xenophobia” in his Sunday column for Farifax Media. Certainly Foster has a point, although his own Sam Kekovich on Pim Verbeek during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa would suggest patriotism is indeed the last refuge of the scoundrel.

While too much has already been made of nationality in the current coaching debate, the importance of Postecoglou’s emotional attachment to the local game should not be understated. David Gallop expressed his delight that Postecoglou happened to be "someone who’s learned his football in this country and who lives and breathes the mission of Australian football." For too long, Australians have held a cultural cringe towards the game’s history, cultural position and importance to the nation.

In many ways, Ange Postecoglou is to Australian football as Paul Kelly is to Australian music. Where many Australian musicians entrench the cultural cringe through gratuitous imitation, Kelly spent his career chronicling Australian culture through his songwriting. In several columns for Fairfax Media, as well as numerous media appearances, Postecoglou shows the same careful understanding and critical engagement with his surroundings, highlighting both a fundamental respect and a deep knowledge of the minutiae of Australia’s unique relationship with the world game. Like Kelly, his is a reflective nationalism, not the shouty, chest-beating, face-palm kind.

Moreover, when Postecoglou talks about learning from coaching greats such as Kevin Sheedy, Mick Malthouse and Wayne Bennett, as he did when he took over at Brisbane Roar, we get of a glimpse of a man unburdened by the insecurity that blinds many other football fans, coaches and commentators. In appointing Postecoglou, the FFA have found an ambassador for Australian football, not just a new coach.

4 comments:

  1. Well I think I want to know what Ang thinks of our clubs ability or likelihood to be more involved at the elite level. When he was coach if Hellas he once wrote an article more or less attacking the 'Australianisation' of the game under David Hills tutelage.

    Does he feel the same way?

    Savvas Tzionis

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  2. Season 1-9 there are no bad episodes of the Simpsons: Fact. The rest is crap.

    Ange is an enigma wrapped in riddle wrapped in a vest. On the small stage the trophies roll in... but not internationally. His stint with the young Socceroos is still in my memory. If Australia get to round 2 of the WC and do well in the Asian Cup then he is a genius. Otherwise it was just Frank Aroks team.

    James H

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  3. Ange has been very publicly and unambiguously clear over the past four years about his pride in, and support of the A-League and the direction/trajectory of football more broadly in Australia. He has been even more strident about this in the past year and past month – not withstanding his new reform role at the FFA. He has much to be proud about as we all do.

    However, Ange, like those long-term members and fans of South Melbourne (i have only followed them for about ten years) will always be required to integrate this new reality with their love of South Melbourne’s past involvement as a high status, ‘top flight’ contributor and leader. This, as the author suggests will be more than an intellectual exercise, but a deep emotional one that may never be resolved without one of two things happening (1) South Melbourne re-entering the ‘top flight’ or (2) the loss of status is genuinely accepted and a new, different future imagined and embraced.

    There are many other people who love football and followed the NSL, but never had a local NSL club (or like me had two, who both went broke and no longer exist) who don’t have this difficult emotional integration to perform. This burden was taken out of our hands by terminal administrative failure at many levels of the game, however, we can and should intellectually embrace the contribution of this history as we move forward united as a game - if not in the top flight of a federated, national pyramid.

    While members and fans of South Melbourne engaging intellectually or emotionally (or both) with the future of the club in the top flight or in some other direction is very important, it is not going to change one important fact. The past truly is a foreign country, and football in this country will never be what it was. Our burden as members or fans of South Melbourne is to simply answer the following question and then act accordingly – what do we want South Melbourne to be and can we stand the change required to achieve this? As an incorporated association that will be a democratic decision. The irony is that this democracy is itself a burden, as unanimity is not likely in such complex questions we can’t expect that this club will make change easy for itself. Change though will be mandatory if the club reasonably expects to chart a new, integrated and cherished future. Whatever that may be.

    Thanks as always.

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  4. That's it in a nutshell I suppose - for a lot of people, current supporters, former supporters, and even other soccer supporters, South exists solely as a past tense entity.

    ReplyDelete

While I like people commenting on the blog, it would be useful if different posters could at least leave some sort of nickname to make it easier to sort through all the different 'anonymous' posters. If your post doesn't get approved straight away, it's probably because I haven't seen it yet. Lastly, just because I approve a comment for publication does not mean that I endorse its content.