Socceroos ready for Chile encounter
Sebastian Hassett and Michael Lynch preview the Socceroos' opening game against Chile in Cuiaba, Brazil.PT4M7S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-39zp1 620 349 June 12, 2014
Cuiaba: For Ange Postecoglou, this is the culmination of a lifetime in the game.
When he leads his team out on to the pitch for Australia's opening World Cup match with Chile in the early hours of Saturday morning, Australian time, his long journey to the summit of his profession will be marked in the most recognisable fashion.
Ange Postecoglou: ready for his date with destiny. Photo: Getty Images
The coach has won numerous domestic titles - in the old days, before football was cool, with South Melbourne in the NSL, and more recently in the A-League with Brisbane Roar.
But becoming head coach of his national team at the World Cup finals, and becoming the first former Socceroo to do so, is a special achievement, one that he has spent a lifetime building towards.
He has shown himself to be a student and an historian of the game, a man with a deep and abiding knowledge of the sport and a thirst to learn more all the time, to watch, listen and constantly develop his own skills.
Postecoglou won the A-League title with Brisbane Roar. Photo: Getty Images
Postecoglou is not afraid to take advice - he spent time talking to Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers when his then club side, Melbourne Victory, took on the Reds in that sell out at the MCG last July. Through his 30-plus years as a player and manager he has had the chance to tap into some wonderfully well informed football minds, including the likes of the great Hungarian Ferenc Puskas, who was at South Melbourne during the club's NSL hey day.
The Greek born migrant to Melbourne has also tested himself out overseas - something not many Australian coaches either choose or get the opportunity to do - by coaching in the land of his birth.
It was, as he has recalled, a bruising encounter with a raft of interfering officials and ''colourful'' identities to deal with, but it was character building in the truest sense of the world.
The Socceroos coach is aloof with his players. Photo: Getty Images
And, unlike many in the technical area, he has real-life experience of working full time in the media.
It might seem odd now, given his popular acclaim, but when he came back from Greece Postecoglou struggled to get a job in the higher levels of the domestic game. Yes, he coached in the Victorian State League, but he also worked on a regular basis for Fox Sports as one of the more trenchant and honest analysts of the game.
Perhaps that's why he has little hesitation in coming back hard on questioners at press conferences if he believes that their inquiry is ill informed or off the point. Its a tactic that only a confident coach can adopt, and only then from a position of strength, which is where he finds himself at present.
A man of strong conviction and self belief - at almost 50 Postecoglou knows his own mind, is confident in his judgements and knows his value and self worth - the Australian coach will not die wondering whether his tactics or approach is the right one or not.
He has insisted all along that he will not merely seek to limit damage in this tournament when the Socceroos take on three teams - The Netherlands and Spain follow Chile in quick succession - that are rated a long way ahead of them.
He has, rather like Macbeth, been bloody bold and resolute. He has wielded the axe and lopped the heads of several of the squad's established veterans, ushering in the sort of generational change which might usually take place over two or three years in a matter of months.
No respecter of sentiment, he got rid of former captain Lucas Neill, Sasha Ognenovski, Mark Schwarzer and Luke Wilkshire, amongst others, as he seeks to reshape the squad in his own image and fashion a line up that can play the fast, fluid, high tempo pressing game that he wants.
Even though Tom Rogic was regarded by many as an indispensable part of the midfield he wasn't prepared to allow his high opinion of the player get in the way of his pragmatic approach: when he decided Rogic, and another veteran in Josh Kennedy, were not fit enough to play a role in this World Cup he was ruthless in discarding them from the squad and replacing them with others he thought could do a job.
Some might see it as a gamble. When push comes to shove, others might feel those old heads could be relied on to keep things tight in extremis, especially as Australia is expected to come under heavy pressure.
Not Postecoglou. He has backed himself and his judgement and sought to fire his players, many of whom have played with him earlier in their careers at Melbourne Victory or Brisbane Roar, with self belief.
It seems to be working. While Australia might have lost their friendly with Croatia last week, there is a quiet confidence amongst the players that they can cause an upset in at least one of these games, and that there would be no better one to do so than in the first.
For Postecoglou there is no question of ''parking the bus''. He is a subscriber to the theory that attack - or at least possession of the ball - is the best form of defence and while Australia will not be gung ho about their approach to the Chile fixture they will try to take the game to their opponents.
Will his confidence in his players prove misplaced?
This is his litmus test. It might not be his team yet - he has only had four matches to work with them before the biggest tournament of them all - but it is squad, chosen by him from what he considers to be the best available options.
There are a few who might be there but for injury: centre backs Curtis Good and Rhys Williams, right winger Robbie Kruse, in particular. But the coach has not whinged or moaned or drawn attention to those who are not here at the expense of those who are.
That is to his credit. His is a workmanlike, can do approach. He sets out a course of action, selects the people he thinks can achieve his targets and backs them in, even if they are unfashionable figures such as centre half Alex Wilkinson, who only cane on to the international radar when Postecoglou became coach.
This is not a coach who wants to hang around with his players nor be pally with the administration. He famously is aloof with his playing personnel, part of a psychological tactic of keeping them on their toes and never taking anything for granted. His mantra is that you are only as good as your last game and that selection is not a God given right.
It's a tough, lonely position. He has surrounded himself with his own chosen staff - assistant coach Ante Milicic was his appointment, as were technical analyst Peter Cklamovski and Andrew Young, the sports scientist and football conditioning man - and he will not look for succour from outside a small but select group of intimates whom he respects and whose judgements he values.
Potecoglou knows that this is a results driven game, but he is shrewd enough to know that the real results he will be judged on are not here in Brazil but back home, six months later, when the Socceroos host the Asian Cup.
If his team can be competitive here, bloody some aristocratic noses and maybe pull off a couple of shocks that will be progress, especially if some of the younger brigade perform with distinction.
Brazil is today, and should be enjoyed for its own sake. But Postecoglou is playing the long game, with the Asian Cup and qualification for Russia 2018 and wherever the 2022 World Cup takes place just as much on his mind. The ride begins to pick up pace this weekend ...