Posts tagged ‘Grella’

Finding Her Identity

Last week’s result by the Socceroos securing a draw with World Champions Germany n Kaiserslautern was another feather in the cap of national team coach Ange Postecoglou. It was also a wonderful result on the back of the team’s Asian Cup victory.

Despite these successes there is something that Ange Postecoglou has managed to achieve that no other Socceroos coach has achieved, and for that the game should be eternally grateful.

Rale Rasic back in the Seventies awoke the nation with is team of part-timers making it to the World Cup in 1974 being one of just 16 teams that participated in the finals. It was almost a surreal experience according to those who remember it.

Guus Hiddink broke the jinx, and in truth had some luck in seeing the team qualify for Germany in 2006; in a penalty shoot-out the result can go anyway, unless you are playing Germany! Yet when the tournament started he showed his tactical acumen and managed to steer the team past the group stage, and almost past eventual Champions Italy.

Pim Verbeek achieved the remarkable steering the team to the 2010 finals conceding just a single goal against Japan in the final round of qualifying, with a team that was clearly on the wane. His mission was accomplished. He has suffered major criticism for the 4-0 defeat against Germany, yet the same team went on to beat England 4-1 and Argentina 4-0 before bowing out to Spain in the semi finals.

No one except the FFA and Holger Osieck will ever know what the total brief was at the time of his appointment. One key factor was another qualification for the World Cup which he achieved. He was criticised for not blooding enough young players, yet he achieved the task that he was set.

What all of these failed to do, that Postecoglou has managed to do in his short time as coach, was play a style of football that taps into the Australian psyche.

In the past week this writer has spoken to three people who confessed they never watched the Socceroos before ‘because they were boring.’ They still admitted they did not watch most of the game but they would tune in because the current team is ‘exciting to watch.’

There is no doubt that the Golden generation featuring the likes of Schwarzer, Viduka, Kewell, Bresciano, Grella, Neill and co, were technically more gifted than many of the current crop of players. There were also more of them playing football at a higher level than most of the current crop. Yet the team never managed to achieve what Postecoglou’s players have achieved.

Postecoglou is without doubt one of the best home grown coaches Australia has produced. Like many of the great coaches an injury curtailing his career – just as happened to Brian Clough – saw him enter management at a very young age. Success in the NSL was a regular achievement. When the A-league started he was coach of the national Youth team, which proved with hindsight to be a great learning experience. Back in club football in the new A-League with Brisbane Roar he again created a team that played attractive football and won championships. When he became national coach many wondered how he would fair and early results were not promising. Yet during those games a pattern was evolving.

A pattern that has seen Australia for the first time have a football team with an identity. By that we mean an identity in terms of the style of football that the national team plays.

Australian football under Frank Arok was again blessed with extremely talented players, many who were still forced to be semi-professional. The team was always combative, the team never ever gave up, but the style frequently changed depending on the opposition or the importance of the match.

It was the late Spurs and Northern Ireland captain Danny Blanchflower who once said “Our tactics have always been to equalize before the other team score.” It may sound crazy but one feels the sentiment is there in this Australian team.

Postecoglou has tapped into the Australian sporting Psyche, that Australians in every sport like to be the aggressor. Look at the Cricket team, the Wallabies, the Kookaburras, all are teams that are immediately on the front foot against their opposition. All of them like to take it up to the opposition and make them know that they are not in awe of them. Previous Socceroos coaches have focussed on trying to limit the scoring opportunities of the opposition and therefore tended to play very defensive football. It appears Postecoglou realises that currently Australia’s defensive stocks are not world class, and therefore the team is bound to concede against quality opposition. However rather than sit back and try and limit the damage, his teams go on the attack. The theory being that Australia will score more than their opponents. It is a style that has resonated with many Australians who have never followed the game, and he may well have finally given the nation a style that becomes synonymous with the Socceroos.

Japan knew they could never compete physically with the bigger European players, so they developed a fast paced game based on speed touch and fitness in order to be competitive and it has paid dividends to their national team and is now a style that is expected from their teams. They focussed on their strengths and improved their weaknesses.

Postecoglou has done exactly the same. He has tapped into Australia’s desire to be the team on the attack and a new style of football has evolved. A style that seems to have captured the public’s imagination. Hopefully is a style that can be maintained, and will just like Japan become synonymous with the Socceroos.

To quote the inspirational Danny Blanchflower again ” The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It is nothing of the kind. The game is about glory, it is about doing things in style and with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.” It would appear that Postecoglou shares those sentiments.

Blanchflower was a part of a Tottenham team that won the double and also steered Northern Ireland to the quarter finals of the 1958 World Cup in the same year he lost his brother Jackie in the Munich Air disaster. Spurs with him in the side played an attractive brand of football, a brand of football where they believed if the opposition scored one, they would score two.

It would appear the Socceroos under Postecoglou have the same sense of belief. It certainly appears that they have found a style that resonates with the people of Australia. Let us hope they continue to win fans over playing football in this manner and like Spurs and Northern Ireland with Blanchflower in their side are rewarded with success. Most of all let this be the style of football for which Australia is known.

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March 30, 2015 at 10:35 am Leave a comment

Don’t Blame the Coach.

Are the Socceroos becoming a one man team? How strong is their reliance on Tim Cahill to pull them out of games? How long can he keep doing this?

There is no doubt that Australia’s performance against Oman yesterday was well below what many expected. Yet was the performance a total surprise? Australia may have players playing in overseas leagues but how many of them are actually playing week-in-week-out in the top leagues of the world? Our lowest number in 15 years, is the answer. So a performance like the one we witnessed is to be expected. Leagues in Korea and the UAE are not a match on those in Germany, Holland, France or England, even if they are better than the A League.

Australia is currently relying on the likes of Mark Schwarzer to keep the goals out at the age of 40, and he is still playing at the top, and Tim Cahill to score them. The latter is on the way down in terms of his career, having to move to America because his ankle injury could not sustain the rigours of so many matches in the EPL. In between they look to a Captain in defence in Lucas Neill who has sadly found that age has caught up with him and  Marco Bresciano in midfield is supposed to still supply the inspiration, yet he too finds himself coming to the end of his career plying his trade in the Qatari league.

Based on these facts, and that around this crumbling spine you have a number of players only playing sporadically for their clubs in Europe is it really any wonder that the team played so poorly?

We heard various excuses trotted out by the commentary team, who spend so much time pumping up Australian football, that even they found it hard to actually find a positive in such a performance. It was incredible to hear ‘the heat and humidity of Sydney’ used as a reason for their lacklustre display. The players had been in Sydney for a week!

Apart from maybe reducing the number of media commitments they attended and using that time to get them to practice together, Australia should take a good hard look at the development that has taken place in the past eight to ten years, especially at our showpiece development establishment the AIS. Quite simply the development of talent and preparing them to compete at the top level has fallen well short of the standards set when the likes of the aforementioned players were coming through, along with Kewell, Viduka, Grella, Popovic, Moore, and the list could go on.

What is also interesting is to look at is how this ‘Golden Age of Australian football’ developed. Apart from starting at the AIS and having a good grounding very few started their overseas careers with top flight clubs, even if they managed to end up at them. Tim Cahill started at outside-the-Premier League Millwall, before signing for Everton. Lucas Neill also started at Millwall before moving to Blackburn Rovers. Mark Schwarzer started at Dynamo Dresden and Kaiserslautern in Germany before moving to Bradford City and then breaking into the Premier League. These are just a few examples of players happy to play in a lower league, prove their worth and work their way up. Ask any of them and they will tell you that the game-time  they played at these clubs helped prepare them for life at the top level. Signing for a big club as a youngster often means very little senior football being played, and the more you play the more you learn and the better you become. Australia has a number of players signing for top clubs but how many of them have broken through into the first team? How many of them move on within a year? Some are loaned out and as their clubs realise gain valuable experience at a lower league club, those not loaned out and not in the first team squad rarely make the breakthrough. So does a young player signing for a big name club really help the national team?

Holger Osciek came into the role as head coach at an extremely unenviable time, with the national team going through a transitional period, some players simply are not ready for international football at this point in time, they have not played enough, learned enough or matured enough as players, this takes time. If he manages to get Australia to qualify for the World Cup in Brazil next year ask yourselves how many of these players are honestly ready to match it with the greatest players in the world? If  Australia qualifies, and everyone connected with football hopes they do, this current crop of players are going to have to grow up very fast as quite simply they are a long way off the pace at the moment. This is not Holger Osciek’s fault, you cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but it is the fault of those charged with developing players at the highest level in Australia over the past eight to ten years. Hopefully is being looked at now and has been improved for the next crop of players coming through. Hopefully lessons have been learned.

March 27, 2013 at 9:38 am 2 comments


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