Verbeek & Osieck similarities creates quandary for Socceroos

by Ben Somerford on Dec 11, 2012

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The air of discontent in relation to Holger Osieck's team selection at last week's 2013 East Asian Cup qualifying tournament has been both reasoned and fair but the German's tactics are part of a greater problem facing the national team set-up.

By now, we've all heard the criticism emanating from journalists and fans about an opportunity missed to fast-track youngsters like Aaron Mooy, Eli Babalj and Tomas Rogic under the pressure of an entire group stage tournament.

Now the tournament is over and qualification has been secured - despite that almighty scare – it's worth rationally asking, 'why did Osieck pick the team he did for the opening two games?'

At the time (following the 1-1 draw with North Korea), he reasoned that the youngsters didn't have the experience to handle the North Koreans. He feared a “negative experience” for his newcomers?

Reading between the lines, Osieck went with what he trusted and that's the experienced players. He felt he knew what he could expect from them, rather than take a gamble on his untried youngsters.

Most Australian fans would want the national team coach to be bold enough to take that gamble, hence the criticism which I'll say again was fair.

However, looking at it from his perspective, that gamble goes beyond a game of football. If he failed to guide Australia to the East Asian Cup, his job would have been at stake. He plumped for his tried-and-true, although that ironically almost came back to bite him on the butt.

Most fans would argue a young A-League-based side would have got the job done against Hong Kong or North Korea anyway. That's up for debate, but Osieck wasn't willing to risk finding out and we need to ask why.

After all, he's done this before in World Cup qualifying. In fact, this has been a constant criticism of Osieck during his tenure as Socceroos coach. His predecessor Pim Verbeek did the same thing too. Clearly this is one of the greatest challenges facing Australian football and one which simply won't go away.

It may seem simple to the fans; give the youngsters a chance, the best ones will impress and keep their spots, those who don't, will miss out next time. But for Osieck, and Verbeek before him, it's evidently not so basic. If those youngsters fail, they're the ones in the firing line.

The fans may demand a long-term vision, but these coaches' chief concern is keeping their contract. As unconvincing as Australia's 2010 World Cup and 2011 Asian Cup qualifying campaigns were under Verbeek, he got us there on both occasions and kept his job. Osieck has done the same thing with the 2013 East Asian Cup and arguably may do the same on the road to Brazil.

The long-term vision Australian fans may hope for is a team which can qualify for the knockout stages of the World Cup but that's not realistically going to happen if we continue down this path.

One coach did take us to the knockout stages at a World Cup and that's Guus Hiddink. It's easy to get nostalgic about Aussie Guus's time as Socceroos coach, but it's worth remembering some of his bold moves prior to the 2006 World Cup.

Hiddink plucked Luke Wilkshire and the previously uncapped Joshua Kennedy – both in their early 20s at the time - out of obscurity before they became World Cup heroes. Even guys like Jason Culina and Tim Cahill were relative newcomers to the national team set-up with just 13 and 16 caps respectively prior to the 2006 event.

We know the impact they made and that's the kind of initiative and foresight from a Socceroos coach that Australian football fans want.

Unfortunately, the FFA had to pay top dollar for a shrewd tactician like Hiddink. Since then, they've not been able to fork out similar salaries and as a result we've hired uninspiring bosses in Verbeek and Osieck. When you compare all threes CVs, you begin to realise the gulf. In my opinion, Verbeek and Osieck are nomads who have done satisfactory jobs at various organisations but that's all.

We need a manager to take us to the next level and ultimately that's Australian football's next big challenge.

It will be difficult for the FFA to compete with the riches on offer elsewhere and land another Hiddink. Realistically their pockets aren't that deep either. The cheaper alternatives are leading us down a path which won't satisfy fans for much longer as our expectations rise given the talent at our disposal.

When you consider the FFA needs someone with foresight, vision and a long-term plan beyond his coaching contract, you ponder whether it's time for a homegrown coach who understands the situation and has the passion needed for Australian football.

Ange Postecoglou is one some have hailed as a future Socceroos coach, but it may not be his time just yet. If not, the FFA need to find better alternatives for life post-Osieck (whenever that comes) because continuing down this trodden path isn't taking us anywhere new.