It’s been anything but easy, but Ange Postecoglou has battled his way through to World Cup qualification. (Reuters: David Gray)
“You know what? I can coach for another 20 years and I’ll always be an outsider in Australian football.”
For as long as Ange Postecoglou has been involved in football in Australia, he has been fighting against it. And despite his many successes, from the A-League to the international stage, he has never shaken the feeling it was fighting against him too.
That fight has turned ugly in the past few months, as the big, imposing bear fought to protect his cubs from the harsh realities of a World Cup qualification campaign. He has been hardened by decades of fighting, but for many members of his Socceroos team, this pressure was something entirely new.
Eventually, the collateral damage spread beyond the four walls of the Socceroos dressing room. And perhaps that is what has grated on Postecoglou the most.
“I owe it to myself and particularly my family, my wife, my boys, my friends,” he said following Australia’s win over Honduras, which clinched a spot in the 2018 World Cup.
“While I’ve got a thick skin, they’ve got to cop what I’ve been copping and it’s unfair on them.”
Postecoglou didn’t just fight against people — administrators, the media, and even sections of fans — he fought against the norms of Australian football itself.
He resisted the urge to take the “comfortable road”, always looking for something more pure, more advanced. Football that meant something.
“I told the players we’re not going to take a backward step. We’re going to be bold and ambitious and with that will come some scrutiny.”
In the A-League, that translated to revolution. His Brisbane Roar side changed what we thought was possible from Australian football teams. With the Socceroos, the translation was sometimes more muddled.
The Honduras win was vindication for Ange Postecoglou, but whether he sees out the World Cup itself is up in the air. (AAP: David Moir)
Many a coach has shared beliefs with Postecoglou, but few could say they have achieved as much. The attacking, possession-obsessed style of football, derived from the Dutch and mastered by Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona with much tinkering in between, has always been boom or bust by its very nature.
“It could have been convenient for me to say it’s a young group, and we’ve got to be patient, but all along I’ve pushed and pushed and pushed,” Postecoglou said.
It takes a certain bravery to persist, undeterred. To, once again, fight for what you believe against the many that doubt you, and especially when it begins to go awry.
And Ange knows as well as anybody that it had begun to go awry. What effortlessly flowed at the Asian Cup often monotonously chugged in World Cup qualification, and unthinkable disappointment loomed large.
Who knows how this campaign would have looked had he opted against that fateful shift to a back three mid-campaign. Despite the rage, formational shift almost certainly had less impact on the Socceroos’ concerns than most thought, but it served as a lightning rod for criticism from all corners.
But here Postecoglou stands, four years on from taking over. He has delivered World Cup qualification and Asian Cup glory, all the while doing things stubbornly, unmistakably and eventually successfully, his way.
In the coming weeks, that fight could soon come to an end. And if the final bell is to ring between now and Russia 2018, it’s impossible to say he’s been anything other than victorious.