“THE Socceroos have always reflected what it means to be an Australian.
“We represent the diversity of our nation. We fight for each other. We punch above our weight.
“We strive to reach global heights. We do it with spirit and purpose.”
Those were Ange Postecoglou’s words on day one of his new job as Socceroos manager, with a World Cup looming and fundamental change on the immediate horizon.
His message was aspirational. It translated directly onto the pitch through clear, visible actions – never take a backwards step; take the game to the opposition.
“As a defender you have a choice, do you go into a tackle or do you retreat? We’re going in,” Postecoglou wrote in Changing The Game.
“If you receive the ball and you have an opportunity to pass forward do you make that pass or do you play it safe? We’re going forward. That is the basis of everything we do … irrespective of the opponent.”
This was a message that fans bought into – it delivered the Asian Cup on home soil, it elevated players above their abilities due to pure self-belief.
It ultimately ended in tears – a coach burnt out by the off-field political malaise that had been setting in for years, coupled with a shift in the media narrative surrounding his team.
He left, with World Cup qualification sealed, for Bert van Marwijk to be appointed his successor nine weeks later and just four months out from Russia 2018.
There is no aspirational message coming from Bert van Marwijk, no long term vision for the game in Australia, not even a game on home soil.
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It is a pure marriage of convenience – a national team in need of a tactically astute coach with experience, and a coach in need of a national team to lead out at the World Cup.
The marriage is already off to a rocky start.
From day one, Van Marwijk made clear his team philosophy was based on “influencing the game with the ball”, on pressing, on not “running behind your opponent [retreating]”.
There was next to none of this on show in Australia’s 4-1 loss to Norway. No pressing, instead retreating. No influencing the game with the ball, instead slow and monotonous ball movement against a team far from the qualities we’ll face in Russia (both in style and quality).
What is clear is the fact we are once again going through another fundamental shift in approach with football’s pinnacle event looming. We are a national team in limbo.
“The last few years we played to a certain philosophy. Now a new coach has come in and as a player you’re not too sure what is wanted from you,” admitted Socceroos regular Robbie Kruse.
The mitigation is clear – Van Marwijk and his two assistant coaches had just four days with the team, three full sessions to get across a new vision.
But they knew that when taking on the job.
With recovery sessions excluded, he will likely have just one full session with the team before they take on Colombia in London on Wednesday morning AEDT.
The Colombia game now stands as crucial – not just about a win or a loss, but entirely about getting players to buy into the new way.
They’ve admitted to being confused, the reaction has gone as far to describe them as “lost”.
They need the belief of being able to match it with a supremely talented team who days earlier beat France, Australia’s first group opponents.
There needs to be evidence of being compact defensively – as was the message against Norway – and the Socceroos need to cause problems by moving the ball quickly and with purpose – as was the main message during Van Marwijk’s first sessions.
Postecoglou earned buy in, both from the public and the players, by linking the playing style to something bigger than what happens on the field – it was about the history of the Socceroos, it was about what it meant to be Australian, it was about changing the perceptions of our team around the world.
Van Marwijk’s relationship is more clinical – it’s about results, plain and simple.
On Wednesday morning, there needs to be signs that this way, Bert’s way – one that involves another fundamental change – will deliver what we were all signed up for.