Former Socceroo manager Ange Postecoglou stands just 90 minutes away from potentially the most significant achievement by an Australian football coach.
For the past two seasons, the 54-year-old has been at the helm of J-League club Yokohama F Marinos. With a three point lead on the ladder heading into the final round of play and a comfortable seven goal advantage in the tie-breaking for and against column, Postecoglou’s men appear sure things; a done deal and J-League champions.
Barring some sort of bizarre final day flake out or the most stunning of all victories by their opponent this weekend and second placed FC Tokyo, an Australian manager will for the first time, have his hands on one of the most valuable pieces of silverware in Asian football.
The club is emerging as a potential Japanese powerhouse, with the City Football Group investing in a minority share in 2014. It had an obvious eye towards leading the club back to J-League success after what had been a ten year stretch of disappointment.
Not that the club could ever have been described as a minnow of Japanese football. Three league championships and a J-League Cup in 2001 are testament to its success. However, aside from a second place finish in the league in 2013, Yokohama has recently done little more than sniff around the fringes of the top rungs.
It’s most proud achievement is quite probably the fact they have played in the top flight of Japanese football since its inception. Never suffering relegation and always being competitive.
The involvement of the City Football Group usually signifies immediate change, thanks the increased investment and resourcing undertaken at the clubs with which they become involved. There are now eight such clubs across the globe, with trophies and more trophies a clear motivation for the owners.
A key part of the new investment in Yokohama and a potential change in fortune was to find the right mentor and Postecoglou, after successfully qualifying Australia for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, accepted the challenge laid out before him. He would follow in the footsteps of the now Melbourne City manager Erick Mombaerts in Japan, who was unable to produce the results which City Football Group demanded.
For the Aussie, it required a forgoing of another trip to the world’s biggest football tournament, something for which Postecoglou took much criticism. Many believed there was a sense of desertion. However, the manager had been explicit that his term was to only ever cover the four year period for which he had signed. When family ramifications, an attempt to sure up his long term future and his continued development as a manger were also considered, Postecoglou had a simple choice to make.
Yokohama it was to be and after moments of promise in 2018, his first season saw the club finish in 12th place on the J-League ladder. In truth, there were moments late in the season where they appeared a far better team than that result indicated.
Consistent with his past, Postecoglou was content to experience two steps backwards to eventually take a commanding three forward. It has long been his approach. Postecoglou has a plan, vision and philosophy about football. The chances of him stepping into a role and continuing with the style and methodologies of the previous boss are slim and none.
It was the approach he took with Brisbane Roar and Melbourne Victory in the A-League. It brought about multiple championships. At the helm of the Socceroos he took the same approach, starting from scratch and trialling a vast number of players before settling on the men he knew had completely bought into his way of thinking and could best execute his plan on the big stage.
Such an approach will potentially be the greatest legacy he leaves when the clip board is eventually shelved and his career is done and dusted. An Australian with the confidence to back his own systems and without the need to replicate the approaches of managers at the helm of some of the biggest European and South American clubs, is a new phenomenon.
Postecoglou never sought the tick of approval from those whose methods are supposedly the ‘right’ and ‘tested’ way to approach the game. He always had a clear plan and had the courage to back it no matter the outcome, fallout or any personal criticism that may come his way because of it.
Even Postecoglou’s critics, and there were many at times, would applaud him for having the courage of his convictions.
Now the Greek born manager will have a rather impressive J-League title to add to his resume. In a week where Soccerscene’s own Philip Panas’ interview with Phil Moss as Australian football coaches deserve better explored some of the challenges faced by domestic coaches, Postecoglou’s success is timely.
With Moss correctly identifying the limited opportunities presented to Australian coaches and the need for a solid support network to aid them in their development and growth, Ange Postecoglou has once again set the bar, broken the glass ceiling and pioneered the way forward.
It is a success most Australian football fans will celebrate, whilst a few doubters may be forced to eat a rather large piece of humble pie.