Australia won’t have the best team at the World Cup. Indeed, if you believe the latest FIFA rankings, technically we’ll have the worst.
But if coaches count – and in the right circumstances they definitely do – then we have reason to believe Brazil might not be the train wreck many have predicted. It wasn’t the announcement of the 30-man preliminary squad which caught the eye on a sunny day on Sydney Harbour. It was the manner of the man making the announcement, Ange Postecoglou, which changed the dynamic in the room. The same thought goes through your head over and over again. How lucky we are to have him.
The last coach of the national team with the same missionary zeal was Frank Arok. It’s no co-incidence Postecoglou holds Arok in enormous regard. Different man-management styles, true enough, but the message remains the same. Treat each green and gold shirt as if it might be your last. And that’s the way to get the best out of a group of players who, if we’re honest enough, need to massively overachieve in Cuiaba, Porto Alegre and Curitiba if the Socceroos are to depart Brazil with their dignity intact.
There were two messages Postecoglou wanted to get across about his own credentials when the media throng moved onto the subject of his ability to rise to the biggest occasion of his football career, as a player or a coach.
One, after 17 years in the technical area, he is just as experienced as most coaches at the World Cup, and more experienced than a number of them. Just because that experience has virtually all come in Australia, Postecoglou argues, shouldn’t diminish his readiness for the challenge that awaits him.
Secondly, Postecoglou wants it know that while he is a dreamer in many ways, his feet are firmly on the ground when it comes to the ultimate adjudication for every coach. Results. He won’t take losing lightly, far from it, and if that means re-calibrating some of his tactics – notably making sure the crosses come in for Tim Cahill or Josh Kennedy – then that’s what he’ll do. The team of his own image is more likely to emerge in the Asian Cup and not the World Cup, which is right. The Socceroos can’t afford, on so many levels, to be humiliated in Brazil.
And so we have a coach is as ready as he’ll ever be to rub shoulders with Louis van Gaal, Vincente del Bosque and Jorge Sampaoli. The question, then, is what about the players?
In international terms this is an inexperienced squad – we’ve lost around 300 caps from the defence in the last six months alone – but it’s not such an inexperienced team. If you assume Cahill, Mark Bresciano, Luke Wilkshire, Mile Jedinak and Mark Milligan will make the starting XI – and we should assume little with Postecoglou in charge – then there will be enough players with enough big-game experience to guide the youngsters through.
There are just two uncapped players on the list, and the youngest, Adam Taggart, will turn 21 in the pre-tournament camp in Vitoria. Callowness is not a feature of the squad, something that tends to get ignored in the discussion. Taggart has just finished the season as the A-League’s Golden Boot, Josh Brillante was rusted-on as a starter for Newcastle Jets, Ben Halloran, Curtis Good and Massimo Luongo all featured regularly for their European clubs.
In other words, the youngsters and not completely wet behind the ears, and if anybody can turn these boys into men it’s Postecoglou, whose work as Australian youth coach is too often unfairly maligned.
Perhaps the most interesting selection is Bailey Wright, who is in line to become the first Preston North End player to represent Australia since the icon himself, Joe Marston. Not big for a stopper, but quick across the ground and a player who moves towards the ball rather than away from it, Wright gets his chance because of untimely injuries to Rhys Williams and Trent Sainsbury.
Personally I would have gone for Brisbane Roar skipper Matt Smith, but while Postecoglou listens to opinions he rarely acts upon them. The voice he listens to is the one inside his head. There’s one man definitely in control heading to Brazil, and he’s the one which counts.