Even the most cursory follower of Australian football could hardly have missed the tsunami of reflection and debate following Ange Postecoglou’s Yokohama F. Marinos’ 4-0 win over Sydney FC last week.
Such dialogue shouldn’t be surprising.
Postecoglou’s status as one of the great evangelists of Australian football means he’d probably be delighted at the soul searching.
Much of the discourse, for obvious reasons, has centred on his exploits with Yokohama – yet there’s wisdom to be gleaned not only from the former Socceroos boss’s modern work but also from his very beginning as a coach.
His Yokohama side won the J1 League title in 2019.
Observers of Japanese football would also tell you that, even in the Japanese top flight, Postecoglou is doing something different.
After a trying welcome, in which his side narrowly avoided relegation in his first campaign, Postecoglou’s style of attacking and ambitious football born of pressing the initiative with a ferocious grounded passing game and a relentless press quickly proved their merits.
Postecoglou has always had a belief in the way that he has wanted to play the game – creating teams that his father would have wanted to watch – and it’s an ethos that has seen him rise to peaks hitherto unseen by any Australian coach.
It sends a strong message to all coaches about the value of showing bravery, initiative and never backing down – qualities Postecoglou has constantly preached as an ethos Australian football itself should hold.
That an Australian coach possesses this nous is a major positive – the export of quality coaches and administrators able to boost the local scene’s reputation just as much as a star player’s odyssey.
“My history is I like to win two in a row.” – Ange Postecoglou 🏆🇯🇵
— Optus Sport (@OptusSport) February 20, 2020
What can’t be lost, though, is that the game would not be in a position to bask in the reflected glow of the 54-year-old’s achievements had South Melbourne not chosen to hand the reins to the then 31-year-old following the departure of coach Frank Arok more than 20 years ago.
Back then, success came quickly.
Hellas’ faith in a young coach was rewarded by back-to-back NSL titles in 1997-98 and 1998-99, before Postecoglou moved from the dugout at Bob Jane Stadium to the Australian national team setup in 2000.
Eventually, the inability of the Joeys and Young Socceroos to qualify for World Cups in 2006 led to calls for his head, his subsequent ouster and – interspersed with a tumultuous (but not unsuccessful on the pitch) period with Panachaiki in the Greek lower leagues – resulted in him become a media pundit and consultant.
In so many other circumstances that could have been the end of it – Ange’s NSL achievements forgotten by the new A-League – but in 2009 Brisbane Roar came knocking.
Ange got a deserved break and a deserved second chance, but how many local coaches don’t get one, let alone two?
Whereas foreign coaches, of course, can’t be dismissed simply because they don’t hail from our shores, few would argue that the A-League tenures of foreigners such as Steve McMahon, Darije Kalezić, Warren Joyce, Markus Babbel and František Straka were dripping in highlights.
What would have happened for those clubs had they gone with a local candidate?
One with an ingrained knowledge of the local scene, awareness of the unique peculiarities of the competition such as the salary cap and a lack of transfer fees, and the ins and outs of summer football.
Such a decision needn’t have been an impediment to success either; 11 of the 14 A-League championships have been lifted by a coach of local origin.
Looking around, Tony Popovic, Ufuk Talay, Kevin Muscat and Steve Corica are all coaches that have all been given chances by A-League clubs in recent years .
Despite ups and downs, each of the quartet is beginning to define their own style and ethos on journeys that have potential to take them – and Australian football – to better things.
Models to emulate
But who will be the next cab off the rank?
Are Melbourne Victory and Western Sydney Wanderers (which may yet stick with Australian caretaker Jean-Paul de Marigny) willing to be bold and take a chance on a local name after being burned by a desire to appoint a ‘proven’ foreign commodity?
Are clubs that find themselves at the bottom of the A-League’s naturally occurring food chain willing to shake up things and empower a fresh coach with fresh ideas in an attempt to upset the applecart?
Is the league willing to give the likes of coaches such as John Anastasiadis, Hayden Foxe, Warren Moon, Ben Cahn, Mel Andreatta, Luke Wilkshire and many more the chance to strut their stuff at the highest levels?
Only time will tell.
But as Postecoglou has shown, there’s gold to be found in them hills.