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A Lesson to be Learned: Ange Postecoglou wins J-League Title

On Saturday, former Socceroos head coach Ange Postecoglou completed the amazing feat of taking the Yokohama F.Marinos to the mountaintop of Japanese football.

The 54-year-old, who also coached the Brisbane Roar and Melbourne Victory, hasn’t had it all his own way in Yokohama.

After a tough 2018 campaign which saw his side finish 12th, the club backed him in to turn it around this season.

He has delivered in spades and following a comprehensive 3-0 win over FC Tokyo, he took Yokohama to an unlikely fourth J-League title.

It is a great story of redemption and perseverance from a man who has had his fair share of doubters over the years.

Postecoglou was responsible for our 2014 World Cup campaign, our qualification for the 2018 tournament and the infamous 2015 Asian Cup success.

Related Articles: Ange Postecoglou’s trail blazing J-League success finally silences the critics

We, as football fans, can very easily forget the good in which has come from coaches and players alike in their pasts.

Ange was thrown straight out of the frying pan at the Victory and into a white-hot fire as Socceroos coach, tasked with a near impossible feat of qualifying for the round of 16 against Chile, Spain and the Netherlands.

The Dutch were inches away from reaching the Final, falling short in a penalty shootout against eventual runners-up Argentina. Spain were the defending champions at the time and despite not reaching the knockout stage, were still a very formidable team.

Chile, perhaps deemed our easiest opponent at the time, were no slouches either. They defeated Spain 2-0 in the group stage and in the coming years, won back-to-back Copa America titles.

When your ‘easiest’ opponent was capable of outstanding achievements such as that, the job of Australia’s head coach was anything but enviable.

For the most part, he did a fine job making us competitive against some of the best in the world, despite three losses.

His finest hour came during our Asian Cup triumph against South Korea. Being the hosts of the tournament, Australia was expected to perform well and maybe even win the entire competition.

That kind of expectation brings about a lot of pressure. Ange coached his boys to perfection, showing his prowess as a manager and he led the Socceroos to a deserved trophy.

But the following few years began to take its toll on Postecoglou, with his resignation coming only a few weeks after leading the Socceroos to a fourth successive World Cup campaign.

In his press conference, Postecoglou spoke of the pressure that came with being an international coach and how it had “taken a toll both personally and professionally”.

Postecoglou was announced as coach of Yokohama one month later.

He reportedly received offers to coach Greece’s national side but instead opted to extend his contract in Japan, with hopes of surging up the table.

As we now know, he did more than just that.

Following his incredible title-winning season at Yokohama, Postecoglou’s name has been thrown into the hat for managerial opportunities in Europe.

Rumours are circling that he will take a job somewhere in Europe, with some of the biggest teams in the continent reportedly considering him.

All of his success following his departure as Socceroos coach goes to show something.

Ange Postecoglou was extremely underappreciated as head coach of our national team.

He faced enough criticism during his tenure to last a lifetime and it came from all angles.

Former players and fans were consistently on his back when things slightly went awry, with little-to-no margin for error as far as some were concerned.

In his athletesvoice.com.au column back in June of 2018, he spoke of how he wanted more out of us as a footballing nation.

He wasn’t going to settle for the Socceroos forever being, what he described as “battlers”. In his eyes, we weren’t going down without a fight.

This was resembled in the way he coached during the 2014 World Cup.

“Let’s now stand up and show that we could conquer that last bastion of our sport.” His own words.
He also claimed that many of those close to him at the FFA lost faith in him for his aggressive and ‘go down swinging’ style of play, believing this to be the catalyst for his eventual departure.
Now, following his successful ventures elsewhere and our forgetful 2018 World Cup and 2019 Asian Cup campaigns, his words need to be heeded now more than ever.
Perhaps he was right on the money, that we often settle for ‘giving it our best’ or ‘being that one step below the best’.
We should all take notes from him because, after all, he could be head coach of a top team in Europe not long from now.

 

Caelum Ferrarese is a Senior journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on micro policy within Australasia and industry disruptions at grassroots level.

New South Wales NPL clubs share Victorian counterparts’ fears of recommencement

Despite the existence of a desperate desire to see training resume for footballers across New South Wales, such a move may do more damage that good.

As of 12.00am Friday the 22nd of May, COVID-19 induced restrictions were eased and clubs began informing their members of the intended timeline for a potential return to full training in the coming weeks. Currently, all training must be undertaken in line with the Public Health Order issued by the New South Wales State Government.

That order has informed the Return to Training Guidelines issued by Football New South Wales. Those documents outline the overarching goal of allowing football training to recommence whilst also ensuring safe and positive conditions for all players, coaches and officials.

More specifically, a set of clear guidelines have been constructed in order to ensure that safety. At each session there is a requirement to:

  • have gatherings of no more than 10 people at any time.
  • have appropriate social distancing of at least 1.5m between people at all times.
  • allow for at least 4m2 for all participants at all times.
  • maintain reasonable levels of hygiene to minimise the risk of infection.

Should all go well, the intention is for game simulation, contested ball and social activity before and after the sessions to once again be permitted in the near future.

It has been a bold undertaking and one that required a set of somewhat strict measures to even be approved at a government level. However, with drill based sessions a far cry from a return to trial matches and eventual competitive play, any conviction that football is officially back in New South Wales and not threatened by COVID-19, is far from convincing.

Whilst it will be heartening to see young kids back on the pitch and enjoying the beautiful game, the ramifications of a return to play in Australia’s semi-professional landscape are challenging and potentially crippling.

The governing body in New South Wales has been categorical in its current position, “all football activities are suspended through to 31 May 2020 and no decision has been made in relation to Football NSW’s NPL Competitions for the 2020 season.” No doubt, with players now gradually returning to limited training, a statement of intention in regards to what happens post May 31, will surely be looming in coming days.

Should competition recommencement be the crux of that statement, clubs will potentially be placed in a precarious and life threatening position. As is the case with their Victorian counterparts, a number of NPL clubs have already approached Football NSW expressing a desire to cancel the season.

Sponsors have been lost, the doors of once profitable social clubs have remained pad locked for over two months and many clubs seem unlikely to be able to meet their wage bill for 2020. Throw in a potential return to play without spectators, where the clubs may in fact be forced to trade even deeper into the red.

The costs of venue hire would remain, payments for officials and security requirements may potentially be lessened but still in existence and revenue from gate takings and food/beverage sales would be zero. Thus, NPL clubs across New South Wales may well be asked to operate at a substantial loss should their federation demand a return to play.

Should a positive Coronavirus test cause a second shut down of the season, it will have all been for nothing. The best laid plans could be torpedoed in an instant; leaving clubs lamenting the recommencement and knowing things had actually worsened thanks to their return to the field. The shutting down of Waverley College, an Eastern Suburbs private school, on May 26th displayed just how fraught with risk a return to any organised activity where increased social contact occurs actually is.

New South Wales’ students had only returned to school in a full-time capacity the day prior and despite all best intentions to have children back in a safe and comfortable environment, for Waverley College, the recommencement of classes was a sheer waste of, and a potentially dangerous, time.

Football New South Wales needs to consider such realities when contemplating a recommencement of play. As keen as I am to have Blacktown City challenging for the NPL1 title, doing so whilst clubs continue to lose money and have their long term existence threatened may well be enough to sway its decision towards conceding defeat to COVID-19.

It would be a sad decision for football, yet one that may well need to be made.

 

 

Debate on the future of the game is essential to become a football nation

In regards to the conversation around Australian football right now, everything is on the table.

Despite the current times we are experiencing with the coronavirus pandemic, it’s refreshing to hear constructive debate around the future of the game.

Football is a game of opinions, after all. Everyone throws in their two cents, even more so when there are no domestic games to watch or participate in, at a grassroots or professional level.

The range of voices we have heard from in recent weeks, including former Socceroos and Matildas, current administrators, as well as past and present coaches, has given the footballing public a sense of belief that the game will finally focus on football first.

The in-depth discussions and dissections of what a Josip Skoko believes is best for the game, or what a Peter Filopoulos thinks, in such a transparent manner, is something we need more of to be a healthy football nation.

Most of these figures have spoken openly on what they think the new FFA CEO James Johnson must attempt to address, ranging from topics such as player development, junior fees, promotion and relegation and governance structures.

The overall consensus? Despite the last couple of years of largely negative press, if we address the long-standing issues of the game, it will have a positive future.

One of those issues is the disregard that was shown to NSL clubs when the A-League was established, despite all the positives they continued to contribute to the game, including youth development, traditional football culture and much more.

Former Socceroo Gary Cole told this publication recently that he felt “the history of Australian football, for a long time, kicked off in 2004.”

It resonated with me a while after. How could you not agree with Cole, in this case?

I was quite young when the NSL folded; most of my life, all I have known is the A-League.

‘Old soccer’ as Cole called it, was barely referred to and when it was, it had a negative or embarrassing connotation attached to it, during the opening years of the A-League and arguably still does now.

Why was this the case? It’s inexcusable. You can’t tell me now that the game has properly recognised our previous national competition or the clubs involved and the heroes of that era.

Younger generations can’t celebrate legends like Cole who paved the way for the likes of the Tim Cahills and Harry Kewells of the world, if they are not told who they were, who they played for and what they achieved.

Clubs like Cole’s Heidelberg United are central to one of the other pressing debates discussed by those in the game, a national second division.

Ex-Socceroos goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer put forward his plan during a ‘State of Football’ chat with Optus Sport on Sunday, in which he outlined a region-based conference system for a national second division setup.

“It minimises travel costs, but creates a second tier, semi-professional, with a view in the future to lift it up,” he said.

“In Germany for example, the third division is regional. The top two teams, depending on the region, (size of) participation, go into a play-off for eventual promotion.

“Why can’t we create a similar structure?”

Will everyone agree with Schwarzer’s idea for the second division? Absolutely not.

But that’s beside the point. The more these matters are spoken about and debated, the urgency increases for administrators to take all views into account and move forward with plans to implement.

There are those who think some former Socceroos, without any administrative experience, are not best placed to make calls on the future of complex governance decisions within the Australian football system.

That’s a fair enough criticism, but that doesn’t mean their involvement in the discussion of the game’s future, through different online platforms and now FFA’s Starting XI panel, hasn’t already been effective and will continue to be so.

Their influential voices form part of the narrative from all corners of the game who now support a national second division, with a point being reached where no other option will be accepted.

Call me an optimist, despite the game’s governance track record over its history, with James Johnson at the helm, football can finally be its unique self and stand on its own two feet.

There is renewed confidence that decisions will be made in the best interests of the sport, not simply trying to replicate what rival codes do.

In the end however, while discussion and debate around the game’s future is important, it’s the actions that count.

Could COVID-19 stunt progress towards the Second Division?

The ongoing worldwide pandemic has seen the A-League, as well as all state competitions postpone their fixtures until further notice.

The current situation is bleak, with no timeframe set for when on-field competition can restart or whether the current season will be cancelled in favour of a fresh start next season.

The FFA has a lot on their plates right now and no-one would envy them right now. However, if they’re not careful enough, they could potentially set Australian soccer back several seasons.

The COVID-19 pandemic will end, but things won’t normalise for a long time. The health and safety of Australians is of the utmost priority and thankfully, the country hasn’t been as seriously affected as some.

In saying that, several aspects of the game in our country cannot be sacrificed and must not be put on the backburner.

The National Second Division was easily the most necessary adjustment to the elite level of our sport prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Obviously, these bizarre times have altered this. But when the dust settles, and it will, the FFA needs to act upon the National Second Division.

When life-changing events take place, it becomes second nature to drop whatever you’re doing and focus solely on the important matter at hand.

After a while, it becomes easy to forget on what you were originally focused on. Sometimes, it gets left in the rear-view mirror altogether and you never do a U-turn to find it.

The FFA cannot do this to their current plans on the National Second Division.

At the time of writing, no ‘set in stone’ plans currently exist for the FFA and the National Second Division. Nothing concrete has been put to paper.

On the flipside, it is known there are strong motivations to get the ball rolling as quickly as possible. Like a cheese wheel going down a hill.

Weird analogy, but the point remains. The FFA is acutely aware of how important the National Second Division is to the future of the A-League and the sport in Australia, as a whole.

It goes without saying what makes the European leagues so cutthroat and enviable to Australians.

The promotion and relegation, the seemingly endless divisions in countries like England, Germany and Spain. The possibility of playing against some of the best in the world, both domestically and in continental tournaments. The knowledge that if you’re not up to scratch, you can be out the door as quick as the snap of a finger.

Or as quick as a cheese wheel going down a hill. How’s that come up again?

There isn’t as much accountability for poor performance in Australian soccer. If you finish bottom in the A-League, there’s no real punishment. Some seasons can be a real lottery.

The point of all this? To ensure the FFA doesn’t allow COVID-19 to halt their plans on the National Second Division.

They can be excused for ignoring other issues right now, some just simply aren’t essential. But the future of Australian soccer is one of the most essential issues for them.

Let’s say for arguments sake that the FFA planned to introduce the National Second Division at the start of the 2022-23 A-League season.

Let’s also say that the COVID-19 pandemic happened in another universe, allowing them a near uninterrupted 18-24 months to figure out a setup for the National Second Division.

With their current motives to get the National Second Division started, it’s more than plausible that it could become a reality in that timeframe.

However, we live in the universe where COVID-19 has wreaked havoc upon the world and these plans have been temporarily put to the side.

It’s foreseeable that the FFA will allow things to completely settle before they resume planning on the National Second Division.

That is easily one of the biggest mistake they could make at that time, when it comes.

They can’t afford to delay any longer. If they push plans back to 2024-25 or even longer down the line, the game in this country will suffer even more.

We can’t imagine having to make these tough decisions during this time such as cutting or furloughing staff amongst other things.

But if they make the decision to delay the National Second Division plans, they’ll regret it sooner than they think.

We’re hopeful this is not the case.

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