Holger Osieck: there were more than enough reasons for him to go

Never mind arguments about an ageing line-up and a post-golden generation slump – the Socceroos coach can be rightly judged to have failed in his appointed mission

Socceroos fans will be feeling a mixture of relief and frustration at the news that Holger Osieck has been relieved of his duties after a second excruciating 6-0 defeat in succession.
Relief because the national team that for so long was a shining source of pride (sometimes the only one) in Australia’s football firmament has become an embarrassment on his watch; frustration because between Osieck and Pim Verbeek it seems we have wasted the best part of six years.
There is never only one reason that a team fails, and Osieck should not wear blame for things that are not his fault. He is working with a set of players poorer not just than the so-called golden generation that peaked in 2006, but probably of any Socceroos coach since the early 1990s. An Alex Tobin or a Tony Vidmar would come in pretty handy right now, never mind a Ned Zelic. And Osieck achieved his primary goal, World Cup qualification, albeit hardly in convincing fashion. We might blame his bosses for setting that limited and short-term target, but that is a different argument.
Nevertheless, the list of Osieck’s shortcomings is a whole lot longer. He arrived with some doubts about his track record as a No 1, but a reputation as a highly competent technical coach (and, hard to believe now, a special nurturer of young talent). Yet the debacles against Brazil and France have exposed his manifest failure to achieve even the relatively modest goal of successfully parking the bus.
No one expects Australia to go to such countries and play them off the park, but they rightly expect the Socceroos to be hard to beat. New Zealand showed at the last World Cup what can be achieved with A-League standard players against highly accomplished European and South American teams. It’s not pretty, but it’s the minimum requirement for a team at Australia’s level, and a base to build something better on.
Second, the familiar accusation that Osieck has failed to rejuvenate the team he inherited.

Even bearing in mind the limits of the younger players at his disposal, he has to be judged guilty as charged.
It’s not just that the spine of his team is so ancient you can all but hear the creaking. Equally important is that some of the players still involved have shown by their failure to secure regular first-team football in competitive leagues – or their willingness to settle for something inferior but more lucrative – that they lack the hunger and/or sharpness to justify a place. Moving to a club in the Middle East (for example) should be taken as a sign that any professional has mentally checked out, no matter how superficially pleasing their performance may be.
We’re talking specifically here about Mark Schwarzer, Lucas Neill, David Carney, Mark Bresciano and, most disappointing of all, Brett Holman. Cahill too, although he should be the last on the list of veterans to say thanks and goodbye to.
This is more a criticism of the coach than the players. It’s understandable that they would keep turning up if he kept picking them. But the result has been predictably humiliating (including for some who deserve to be remembered much better) and the argument that the next generation was not of sufficient quality will not do. In some cases we won’t know how good they are unless and until they are given a sustained run. And looking beyond the World Cup (as we now must do as a matter of urgency), there is in any case no alternative – unless we plan to wheel out 45-year-olds.
Third, and more intangibly, Osieck has failed to connect with the Australian football public, fostering an awkward, arms-length relationship. It’s hard not to conclude from the evidence on the field that his interactions with the players are similarly clumsy. Commenting on the France match on Saturday morning Frank Leboeuf remarked that Australia had shown little fight or spirit. Those qualities are sniffed at by some, and manifestly are not enough in and of themselves, but they should be the minimum required of any team.
If Osieck’s downbeat persona masked a tactical and psychological genius, it might not matter so much. But given his other shortcomings, the lack of desire and unity in his teams is telling. Not that we want to go back to the days of Frank Arok, but at least you were left in no doubt that defeat hurt him as much as everyone else.
What can we take from this mess? One positive is that expectations for the World Cup are now so low that anything better than rank humiliation will be seen as an achievement. That should mean the new coach can start to think about the years beyond 2014 immediately, rather than aiming to muddle through with the remnants of the old stagers.
That person should be someone with the long-term interests of Australian football at heart, and who gets a brief that goes beyond the next two or even four years. That doesn’t necessarily mean an Australian, but if we’ve learned anything from the disappointment of the Verbeek and Osieck eras, it’s surely that an ordinary European may be worse than a relatively untested local alternative.

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