The recent speculation linking Ange Postecoglou with high profile Japanese outfit Urawa Red Diamonds raises an age old issue surrounding Australian coaches.
How many of our best coaches have actually gone overseas? And with what success?
Eddie Thompson, Steve Darby, Gary Phillips and Ken Worden have all dipped their toe with varying degrees of success in various Asian countries in recent years, but no-one has really cracked it, with Thompson probably being the highest profile appointment with Sanfrecce Hiroshima over a decade ago.
Why is it that we have exported so many players to Europe, but not a successful coach? The list of top flight Australian international players to have played is long, and includes the likes of genuine world-class individuals such as Harry Kewell, Mark Schwarzer, Mark Viduka, John Aloisi, and Ned Zelic. Younger players such as Tommy Oar, Matt Leckie, Chris Herd and Adam Federici continue that trend.
The main reason for the differing approach between coaches and players is that clubs cannot afford to take a punt on the guy who is given the top job at the club. Unlike with players who can be parked in feeder clubs or youth teams and developed with patience, such as the Dutch approach to Oar, Sarota and Zullo, coaches are judged very quickly on their results and are not given time to get their feet under the table and get a feel for the league and the squad they have inherited. This is why European clubs appoint ready-made proven coaches.
How do coaches over there get a start? Same as they do here. They are often ex-players who have got their badges towards the end of their playing careers and been given an opportunity based on their reputation as a player and the strength of their name. Obvious examples would include Jurgen Klinnsmann, Roberto Donadoni, Pep Guardiola, Ruud Gullit, Marco Van Basten, Ronald Koeman and Frank Rijkaard. That trend continues even in the lower European leagues.
Another factor may have been the previous lack of pathway through the OFC regarding training, licensing, etc. The move to AFC will certainly help in this regard, with top domestic coaches now required to ultimately work towards the highly respected and globally recognised Pro license.
A further reason has probably been that only now has the Australian national team started to make waves on a global scale, with qualification for the last two World Cups and a good Asian Cup run. It will take time for us to develop a reputation as a talented football nation, and there are few examples of coaches working at a high level who come from countries traditionally regarded as footballing minnows.
Losing Ange now would be a massive blow not just for the Roar team that he has transformed so dramatically over the last 18 months, but also for the league as a whole. As we attempt to embrace new supporters to the code, we cannot afford to lose the attractive, high-scoring style of play that he has managed to seemingly ingrain within the squad. But who is to say that his assistant, Rado Vidosic, couldn-t take over the reins and maintain the same fluidity and level of play if Ange were to depart these shores?
We should be not be scared to lose our best players as we need them to be playing at the highest level they can to further the cause of the national team. A similar argument applies to our coaches – overseas experience can only be a great thing for our domestic coaches to acquire. Wouldn-t it be fantastic if in the near future we were able to confidently appoint an Australian coach to the position of national team manager, not because of his passport, but because he was the best man for the job and his CV backed it up?
The irony about raising these issues in the context of the alleged overseas interest in Ange is that he was persona non grata for the first five years of the A-League, overlooked by clubs including Adelaide United and Perth Glory who plumped instead for Aurelio Vidmar and Dave Mitchell when making their respective appointments.
Perhaps a lesson for the A-League boards to learn here is that whilst our coaches may not yet be a level where they can realistically challenge for the top managerial positions in Europe, there are enough good Australian coaches around for us not to have to import them for our A-League teams. Just ask Ange.