Three foreign coaches have paid the price for Australian humiliation on the international sporting stage this year and the search for a new soccer coach is taking place against a backdrop of hostility to “mercenaries” from overseas.
In a miserable year tempered only by golfer Adam Scott’s triumph at the US Masters, a proud sporting nation has endured the continuing travails of their once all-conquering cricket team and the defeat of the Wallabies rugby union team at the hands of the British and Irish Lions.
The latest humiliation came when the Socceroos, fresh from qualifying unconvincingly for next year’s World Cup finals, were handed back-to-back 6-0 thrashings in friendlies against former world champions Brazil and France.
The blame for the latter defeat in Paris last weekend was apportioned less than two hours after the final whistle, with German manager Holger Osieck summarily dismissed by Football Federation Australia (FFA) head David Gallop.
Rugby coach Robbie “Dingo” Deans was given a full three days after a third Test hammering in July that decided the Lions series before the New Zealander “stood down” to end five-and-a-half years in charge of the Wallabies.
The main event of the cricket year had not even been reached when South African Micky Arthur was the victim of a shock pre-emptive strike, his short reign curtailed after a 4-0 defeat in India, but before the Ashes series against England.
Both were the first foreigners to be put in charge of the respective teams and both were succeeded by Australians.
Osieck might yet be replaced by another coach from beyond Australia’s shores, but public sentiment — as represented by the media — is resolutely behind giving a local man a chance.
“His demise highlights the folly of using foreign coaches to lead Australian national teams over long periods,” columnist Andrew Webster wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday.
“Osieck and his predecessor, Pim Verbeek, are technocrats who never embraced the unique Australian manner in which we play on the international stage: punching above our weight, against nations with far larger player numbers to choose from,” Webster wrote. “Foreign coaches don’t bleed like home-grown ones. They are merely fulfilling a contract.”
However, the examples of the Australian cricket and rugby union teams suggests that taking the coaching job back “in-country” is no quick fix for a struggling team.
Arthur’s replacement, Darren Lehmann, oversaw a 3-0 defeat in England and his team face an uphill struggle in the return series, which starts in Brisbane on Nov. 21.
Ewen McKenzie was handed the Wallabies job ahead of World Cup-winning South African Jake White, but has lost two Tests each to New Zealand and the Springboks, only tasting victory in his first six matches against Argentina.
Melbourne Victory manager Ange Postecoglou, one of the top local candidates for the Socceroos job, initially urged caution over the groundswell of support for an “Australian only” approach to recruitment.
“The only thing I would recommend strongly is to appoint the best person for the job,” he told reporters on Sunday. “I don’t like this whole: ‘Let’s go local as opposed to overseas.’ It’s our national team — whoever the best person for the job is, that’s who should get it.”
However, after two days in which he firmed as media favorite for the post, Postecoglou yesterday conceded that an Australian would have more invested in the job.
“There’s no doubt, in any code and in any country, if you’re coaching the national team and you come from that country, there’s always that little extra bit you’ll put into it,” he told SEN radio.
“An Australian has to live in this country once he’s finished that job. I think there’s some sense in saying that if there’s an Australian who’s ready for it, you know, then that would be the way to go,” Postecoglou added.
Despite saying that recruiting an Australian coach would “make sense,” Gallop said the FFA had already put out feelers to Guus Hiddink, the Dutchman who led Australia to the last 16 at the 2006 World Cup.
However, whoever takes the job will inherit a very different squad from that Hiddink took over in 2005, a generation of players who blossomed into Australia’s finest.
Given that the current team just managed to squeak past the likes of Oman, Iraq and Jordan to get to Brazil, there is a case for suggesting that, whether led by Australian or foreigner, expectations for the Socceroos might be a little bit too high.