Holger’s Spiel: A One-way Ticket

Brendon Thorne/Getty Images

It was our destiny. Remember, 2006? It’s history. Australia and the Socceroos have qualified for three consecutive FIFA World Cups. Read that back. It’s now a reality. It took us 32 years to qualify once (for only the second time), and now, we’re there again riding the crest of the wave from Sydney to Rio – what a truly epic achievement!

Football Federation Australia (FFA) has invested heavily in the Socceroos brand, and the game. It’s not come without numerous and complex challenges. One of which, has been coaching. More specifically, implementing a National Curriculum to lay the foundations for future generations. But, what of our coaching?

Australian football has seen a cultural transformation in recent years. Guus Hiddink left his mark on our nation and with it followed the development of a coaching model based on methodologies used throughout Europe. FFA has spruiked the grounds tirelessly to sell concepts like Small-Sided Football (SSF) and the 1-4-3-3 Formation Rationale. I believe this to be excellent work on the part of the governing body: moving away from direct instruction to games-based coaching, and a consistent system, is more in line with developmental football.

With all of this hard work now in the bag, my question is: why is national team coach, Holger Osieck, employed to play a different system to the one mandated by FFA? It’s a rational question to posit, isn’t it?

After all, at least seven of the so-called Golden Generation of Socceroos will retire post-Brazil 2014 – immortals in their own right. However, our Olyroos, Young Socceroos and Joeys face the daunting task of qualifying for Russia 2018 playing curriculum football. It doesn’t make sense. Have we gone back to thinking and planning for the short-term?

Aurelio Vidmar, Paul Okon and Alistair Edwards are developing our younger national team players to a system. This is productive work. Building on Hiddink and Pim Verbeek’s 4-3-3 would be logical. We’re now coaching our grassroots to play out from the back, keep possession, move effectively off the ball, look for the line of pass, and attack with creativity: to problem-solve and make decisions on their own.

What I’ve seen of Osieck’s football leaves more questions than answers: long-balls, counter-attacking and giving-up a lot of possession. Against top opposition? No. Emerging (not established) teams from Asia. I give credit to these nations for the way in which they develop their players. Let’s be frank, a team of 21-year-olds from Iraq came to Sydney last night and almost took away a point. According to the pundits, we were going to beat them easily, 3-0 or 3-1.

The media discourse on Verbeek in the days and weeks following our exit from South Africa 2010 was unforgiving. He lacked Aussie ticker, he lined-up against Germany and surrendered from the outset, he lost the dressing room … and the list went on.

I’m well aware that some will say that Osieck got us to Brazil, so he deserves to go. However, this is our last real shot – for what could be some time – to progress out of the group and showcase our football on the world stage. Are Osieck’s tactics good enough? Would the way we’ve been playing against teams in Asia be competitive when faced with opposition from Europe and South America, or even Africa?

These are legitimate concerns. The type we’re mature enough to ask, then debate.

We need a tactical leader and consistency across our national teams. Ange Postecoglou proved the curriculum works with Brisbane Roar. Why not our Socceroos?

Osieck’s taking us to Brazil, but what are we bringing back?


5 Responses to Holger’s Spiel: A One-way Ticket

  1. Ian A says:

    Osieck presided over a poor campaign! 2-0 down at home and scraping a draw against Oman; struggling to beat an under-strength Iraq; losing to Jordan. The Asian teams are not strong. Four places at the World Cup is a bit rich, if you ask me, but that’s beside the point. Osieck has shown a reliance on older players, which I don’t agree with. There are still four or five from the 2006 World Cup team. He needs to start blooding youth and give them the experience for future campaigns. But, of course, he has a short-term mentality that doesn’t suit the future of Australian football. Yes, we made the World Cup but not with the apparent ease of the last campaign. Playing Tim Cahill as a lone striker is also concerning. He’s best behind a striker. A genuine striker, like Kennedy, should start. Also, why persist with McKay at left-back? He’s clearly not a defender.

  2. The Eggman says:

    We’ve seen the heart of the team either retire or fade badly over the past four years. To still qualify during this phase is a big deal. The coach should get some kudos for qualifying not a shoeing, as the next generation of players are flatly not as good. The kids starting to emerge now look great, but that will serve us well in four years time, as they aren’t ready yet.

  3. Engel Schmidl says:

    Agree with Ron. A national team coach has a duty, first and foremost, to get the team to the World Cup. I think what people sometimes miss is that, as Ron says, a national team coach only has a limited time to meld a group of individuals from disparate playing environments (EPL, Bundesliga, J-League, A-League, etc.) into a cohesive unit.

    Our playing culture has changed gradually and has been through a series of minor revolutions and evolutions. We’re on the right track, but I think we sometimes overestimate our standing against more established football cultures, and underestimate how long it takes to build a sustaining culture.

    There are also ‘golden generations’ – freak events maybe, look at Denmark in the late ’80s, the Hagi-led Romania of the ’90s, Hungary in the ’50s – which can distort the bell curve of a nation’s footballing achievements. We had a great line of players from Bosnich, Okon and Zelic through to Kewell, Viduka and Bresciano. We might not quite have that level of player at the moment.

    Great to have the debate, though.

  4. David Jack says:

    The National Curriculum is not practical. You have to build your system around the players at your disposal, not implement a system and hope that the players can fit into it. Did the ruling football bodies tell the 1930s Arsenal, 1950s Hungary, 1960s Real Madrid, 1970 Brazil how to play; or Ajax and Holland how to play total football? These great teams were a product of the individual skill of the players, not because they copied a football formula. Footballers in Australia (at virtually all levels) are not capable of keeping possession, so they can’t “play out from the back”.

  5. Ron Smith says:

    A national coach has to work with players available in a limited time, very different to club coaching and at a higher level.
    We’ve been teaching players to play from the back for over 20 years. It didn’t start recently. Systems of play are not the solution, it’s the quality of individuals that make the difference. Look at what Belgium have achieved with that approach.

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