Dutchman Dick Advocaat has stunned Australian soccer by turning down the chance to coach the Socceroos, reports said yesterday.
Football Federation Australia (FFA) is reportedly holding crisis talks this weekend after Advocaat, who was set to be confirmed in the role this weekend after attending Australia's friendly against Nigeria in London, knocked back an offer to lead the national team in the World Cup qualifiers.
Just 81 days before Australia's opening qualifier in February, the FFA now has to renew its search for a coach and find a big overseas name to replace Dutchman Guus Hiddink.
Hiddink led Australia to the second round of last year's World Cup finals in Germany before quitting to take up an offer to coach Russia.
Reports said Advocaat has accepted a new deal to remain with Russian club Zenit St. Petersburg, said to be worth US$3.6 million a year.
Sydney's Daily Telegraph newspaper said the FFA had begun talks with Advocaat's lawyers as well as Zenit St. Petersburg.
"We are having discussions with Dick's lawyers and Zenit about it," FFA chief executive Ben Buckley told the newspaper from London. "We have already spoken to their legal guy and the club itself and we will have more discussions with them."
Advocaat, the preferred candidate, was expected to take over the national job once he had completed his club commitments with Zenit on Nov. 11.
But St. Petersburg apparently convinced him to remain in Russia, the newspaper said.
The reports will be poorly received by the Australian players, who were expecting to meet Advocaat before this weekend's Nigeria friendly and were keen to impress the new coach.
Middlesbrough goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer had earlier called on the FFA to resolve the coaching position as soon as possible.
"Our first World Cup qualifier is in February. The sooner we get a coach installed, get a bit of stability and start playing in the way he wants us to, the better it will be for everyone," Schwarzer said in London.
The FFA's technical director, Dutchman Rob Baan, preparing the Socceroos for the match against Nigeria, said he was not interested in the top job, while Hiddink's assistant Graham Arnold has his detractors after taking the Socceroos to a disappointing quarter-final finish at this year's Asian Cup.
Zenit won their first domestic title in the post-Soviet Union era under Advocaat with a hard-fought 1-0 away win at Ramenskoye last weekend.
Advocaat coached the Netherlands at the 1994 World Cup and also guided South Korea to last year's finals.