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“After a great deal of thought and soul-searching, I've decided that the journey for me ends as Socceroos coach,” said Ange Postecoglou. And with that, the most successful era in Socceroos history came to an abrupt end.

The signs were there for all to see. When Herald-Sun journalist David Davutovic broke the news that Postecoglou was looking to quit as coach of Australia’s national team after the two-legged playoff win over Syria in October, there was widespread dismay among the Australian football community. Why wouldn’t Postecoglou want to lead his country at another World Cup?

Yet Postecoglou’s brusque demeanour in press conferences, his multiple references to being an “outsider” and his seemingly strained relations with Football Federation Australia suggest the decision to step down as Socceroos coach had been a long time coming. It may have come as a shock to many, but it’s not an entirely unexpected decision.

So where did it all go wrong? Many point to a routine 5-0 World Cup qualifying win over Bangladesh in Perth back in September 2015 as the beginning of Postecoglou’s fractious relationship with the FFA. The match itself was largely forgettable, but Postecoglou was taken to task and forced to offer a grovelling apology for daring to suggest the FFA should resolve a long-simmering pay dispute with the Professional Footballers Australia association.

Then there was Postecoglou’s increasingly rancorous relationship with the mainstream media. It started when Postecoglou unexpectedly switched to a 3-2-4-1 formation ahead of a crucial World Cup qualifier against Iraq in neutral Tehran back in March. A nervy display in the subsequent 1-1 draw would come back to haunt the Socceroos, who missed out on qualifying directly for Russia by a margin of just two goals, as they finished behind Japan and Saudi Arabia in their group.

Despite taking the unusual step of briefing journalists in situ of the reasoning behind his tactical switch, the game arguably marked the beginning of the end of Postecoglou’s honeymoon period in charge of the Socceroos. Subsequent home wins over the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia kept the critics in check, but a disappointing 2-0 defeat to Japan in Saitama left Australia’s World Cup hopes hanging in the balance and unleashed a chorus of barbs.

Led by former Socceroos and current Fox Sports analysts Mark Bosnich and Robbie Slater, Postecoglou was accused of employing a formation that was failing the Socceroos. Worse still, to his critics, Postecoglou was too stubborn to admit the problem. By the time Australia bombarded Thailand in a 2-1 win in Melbourne – which saw them fall agonisingly short of direct qualification – the claws were out.

Nevertheless, there was widespread shock at the suggestion that Postecoglou was willing to step down as Socceroos coach as soon as possible. Davutovic says Postecoglou “felt compelled to complete the unfinished task of qualification” once the Socceroos were drawn against Syria and Honduras in the World Cup playoff rounds. By the time Australia saw off the Hondurans in Sydney, there was a sense that Postecoglou would continue the journey and take his team to Russia.

And now this.

“As I've said many times, it's been the biggest privilege of my life and probably not the ending I had envisaged when we started, but at the same time, knowing it's the right time for me and the right decision” Postecoglou said in a press conference called to announce his decision.

It’s a bombshell the FFA could have done without. Under siege from their critics and clinging desperately to power ahead of an all-important Congress on November 30 – which could have drastic ramifications for the way the game is administered in Australia – the last thing the FFA needs is to be searching for a new men’s national team coach ahead of next year’s World Cup in Russia.

Yet they should have been prepared. For months Postecoglou has looked unhappy in the job. There are rumours the FFA even proposed the names of potential successors to Postecoglou, who was dismayed that none of the candidates mentioned matched his locally-grown attacking spirit and ethos.

But in the absence of any concrete statements from the man himself, that’s all speculation and hearsay. What is certain is that the former South Melbourne, Brisbane Roar and Melbourne Victory tactician is the most successful Socceroos coach in Australia’s nascent football history.

An Asian Cup win on home soil in January 2015 marks the high point of the Postecoglou era. But few will forget the way Australia played under his stewardship at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, when the Socceroos took the game to their opponents playing an attacking brand of football rarely seen before.

Questions should now be asked of FFA chairman Steven Lowy and chief executive David Gallop and their role in Postecoglou’s departure. There has long been a suspicion that, whatever their intentions, a lack of football nous is severely hampering the game. Did the pair ever buy into Postecoglou’s vision?

Whatever the machinations, Ange Postecoglou is no longer in charge of the Socceroos.  And despite belatedly leading Australia to the World Cup finals in Russia, fans of that rarest Socceroo of all – a successful home-grown coach – could be forgiven for asking one simple question. How did it all come to this?    

Categories: Opinion | Socceroos

socceroos, ange postecoglou, ffa

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