Postecoglou opens up ahead of Asian Cup

In one of his most candid interviews, the Socceroo boss opens up about his past coaching career, the changes he's implementing in the national team and what he thinks his future might hold.

As far as Australian coaches are concerned, Ange Postecoglou has been there and done it. 

The 49-year-old led South Melbourne to domestic titles then coached the team against Alex Ferguson's treble-winning Manchester United at the Club World Cup in 2000.    He then coached Brisbane Roar to two Hyundai A-League titles, smashing records along the way.

Last year Postecoglou guided the Socceroos to a respectable performance in a nightmare group at the World Cup but now he faces an even bigger test, capturing silverware on home soil at the AFC Asian Cup, with the expectations of the host nation soaring.

"The Boss" took time out of his exhaustive pre-tournament preparations to explain what makes him tick with remarkable candour.

Q: How do you feel?

A:  I feel good, it's a tournament. That gets the competitive juices going as much as the other games are important and you still need the friendly games. You're trying things and you're doing them for a purpose. Competition's a different beast. I love that element of it in terms of coaching, there's an edge to everything you do. I'm looking forward to it.

Given your brief was to implement long-term, generational change, does the criticism of Australia's friendly results and ranking slide annoy you?

No it doesn't annoy me. You've just got to be careful what you wish for. I'd be more disappointed if it was the other way (round). If I wasn't doing what I was brought in to do. What's happening now is part of the process. I accepted that we were going to have some tough times. Because there's been some radical change, particularly in a year where you've got two of the biggest tournaments we face all within six months.

It's more important the people around you, the players and the staff, don't lose belief. We're pretty encouraged that all the way through there hasn't been many doubts about what we're doing or where we're heading from the people surrounding me. In terms of criticism, I've faced a hell of a lot worse.

Have you had to insulate some of the players and the staff from that (criticism)?

It's not insulation, it tests me as a coach in terms of how much belief they have in what I'm saying. That's my challenge. If they've got any doubts or doubts creep in and then they get extinguished by a training session or by something we do or a performance then it means I'm coaching well. It's not about insulating because sometimes if you insulate it means you're scared of what's coming from the outside. And we're certainly not.

We've been very exposed and I've continued to be exposed and this team to be exposed over the last 12 months because we need to be. A lot of players have just been introduced to international football and it's a tough and brutal landscape. I didn't want to give them some soft home games and think that's what it's all about.

How does it feel when you send your team out and then the result is out of your control?

Game day I have a very minimal influence on the players, apart from the team talk and a couple of hours in from the game. The work is done now (in training). This is where we prepare, this is where I as a coach do everything I can to make sure these players are ready. Come game day, in essence, apart from substitutions, I'm powerless from changing things in a radical way. It's now that's the critical time. That's why you work hard during the week. 

From clubland to international football that's the big difference, you can't waste a minute of the time you have together because it's so limited. If we wasted a training session in a camp it's disastrous, we can't let that happen. To make sure it doesn't everything is planned meticulously. In clubland you can have an off-day at training.

Referring to the infamous interview with Craig Foster, despite your success in the A-League, do you still feel you have a score to settle or something to prove at national team level? Is this a chance to dispatch lingering memories of that time?

I don't think I ever will. Even if I did, I reckon there'd be something inside me that will still be trying to prove people wrong. This is my 18th year (of coaching). You don't last that long unless you've cottoned on to something that's effective and successful. My time with the Under-17s and 20s, I thought, was fruitful. We did make inroads. And it was probably the worst time in the national football landscape we've had in the last 50 years with no league what so ever. The whole country in disarray in football terms. We still managed to perform well and I learned a hell of a lot through that.  

I don't have scores to settle, I don't have to prove anything to anyone. Except to myself. People tell me I'm constantly dissatisfied with what I've achieved. I think that'll always be within me, I think that's what drives me. It's probably why I've moved around a fair bit too, there's an itch there and it needs to be scratched all the time. If I see a challenge, particularly if it looks like a hopeless challenge, I'm a sucker for it. 

There are some (coaches) who can reinvent themselves or alternatively you can gut the place and start again every three or four years. But I think it takes a different kind of beast than me to do that. 

How many members of this Socceroos squad were in your youth set-ups?

There's a few. I think the last time I counted it was in double digits. Mile (Jedinak) I coached at Under-20s, Alex Wilkinson, (Matthew) Spiranovic, Millsy (Mark Milligan), Matty McKay.

How much better could these players be without the limbo between the collapse of the National Soccer League and the establishment of the A-League, combined with the decisions made by Pim Verbeek and Holger Osieck?

You don't know, that's the thing. You look at a lot of these guys - when we went to the 2003 and 2005 World Youth Cups I was taking young players who were playing semi-professionally who are now 27, 28, 29 who are good footballers. Guys like Alex Brosque, in 2003 we beat Brazil and topped our group, that group of players was a strong group. But they came back and had to play for Marconi or Bonnyrigg or South Melbourne, train two or three times a week. 

We're paying the price for that now. That had the domino effect then of subsequent national team coaches deeming they're not good enough for national team because they never really progressed their careers to that extent. You're left with this massive vacuum of players.

The biggest thing for me at the World Cup was how many players we had in the prime of their careers, which is 27, 28, 29, who weren't ready. So going back a step, since the World Cup, I've purposely tried to pick players who are 21, 22, 23.

What will happen if things go wrong at the Asian Cup? Do you think your job will under threat?

I just don't think in those terms and to me it's never about absolutes. We might win, we might be the ones who get the lucky breaks and the lucky penalty, that's not going to mask where I think we're at. For me it's just sticking to your original mission. The original mission was regenerating the team. Rejuvenate the way we play our football. Something that more represents the kind of country we are and what the majority of supporters want their national team to play like. That's still what's driving me. The absolutes of it, I've never worried (about them). If I worried about losing my job, I wouldn't have taken this job. I wouldn't have done half the things I've done in my career. Once you start thinking in those terms you're always going to be shackled to the end result. Which I never want to be.

Is 'sticking to principles' your mechanism for retaining your sanity?

Absolutely. If I've got one regret throughout my whole coaching career, it's that I compromised too many of my beliefs towards the back end of my tenure as a national youth coach. We went through this whole organisational change of Soccer Australia to FFA, a whole lot of people from outside our sport came in to run the game and I compromised some of things I wanted to do. In the end it cost me my job and no-one cared. So I figured if no-one's going to care if you lose your job, at least you should do it the way you want to and not have regrets. Since then I've made it a mantra of mine. I believe what I do will be successful and I won't compromise on that. 

What did you change toward the end of your national youth team tenure that compromised you?

I compromised things like the staff I had, the way I worked, the amount of time I was given. I acquiesced and was complying with whatever they threw at me because I thought we're just getting in to Asia and maybe this is what needs to be done for this organisation to start on a new journey. 

But as quick as it started - I remember taking the Under-17s out to pre-qualifiers and we only had a week together with a bunch of 15-year-olds. We got bombed out by Laos who were later disqualified for having an overage team. You do all this stuff, you're compliant and you're shown the door at the end of the day.

Even that interview (with SBS) was, I look back, no-one from FFA - there was no sort of media guidance, I was just thrown into this interview. Craig Foster and SBS conducted themselves the way they wanted to. If I'm going to be the one facing the music, I'm going to do it my way. 

I never had an issue with him, I don't have an issue with him now. I have an issue with the way it was conducted. I don't think it painted anyone in a good light, I've said that consistently. I haven't watched it ever. People keep bringing it up. But for me, his beliefs and the way he talks about the game, I have no issue with. We probably have a lot of similarities. I just didn't like the way it was conducted. I didn't like the way it painted me as a person. I don't think it was useful for anyone. 

Do you have ambitions to coach overseas again?

Definitely. I'm turning 50 this year but in coaching terms I've still got a few years (left) under my belt. Knowing what I'm like there will be something I'm willing to tackle that's for sure. But I'll only go somewhere if it suits me. It won't be just for the money, it's got to be some sort of lost cause.

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