TWG: What were your biggest challenge this year?
AP: We knew that this year from a World Cup qualification perspective it was going to be a really tough year for us. Because of the nature of the games we were going to play and particularly having three games away from home in tough conditions.
It was always going to be a year where ultimately we couldn’t achieve what we wanted to because the main part of qualifying is next year when we kind of knew we just had to work hard just to get through the matches this year.
TWG: What would you see as your biggest success for the year?
AP: I think our biggest success would be that we got another 12 months of really good, hard international football into players who needed it.
For most of our players this is the first sort of World Cup quailing campaign we’ve been in and we’ve been very mindful that whilst they’re all seeing their careers progressing and they’re all improving the challenges of qualifying are unique and we have to expose them to it.
So players like Maty Ryan, Trent Sainsbury, Tom Rogic, Aaron Mooy, Massimo Luongo, and Mathew Leckie, all these guys we thought it was really important that these guys go through that. So from that point of view I think the year has gone really well.
TWG: People will always look at results and this year you started with a bunch of wins (against Tajikistan, Jordan, Iraq and UAE) and you’ve ended with three draws, the last being the 2-2 against Thailand which the side was very heavily criticised. What do you say to those critics?
AP: Most people, not all, just look at the scoreboard and if you’re winning they’re happy and if you’re not they’re not. But that doesn’t really bother me. I played three years in the national team and it was the same sort of cycle.
But this time last year we’d lost to Jordan away and the same sort of questions were popping up. The year before, it was on the eve of the Asian Cup and we’d only won one game in the whole 2014 calendar and it was the same questions then. I can’t understand that. But is doesn’t really bother me.
For us, we really needed to do certain things this year and lay a foundation for what we know is going to be a big year next year. We’ve got to do that irrespective of whether people on the outside understand it or not.
TWG: There’s been a lot of talk about the Socceroos precarious position sitting in third spot ahead of next year’s qualifications matches. Did you hope to be in a better position at this stage of qualifying?
AP: Like I said, some people just tend to follow the scoreboard but if you look at the make-up of the group and where teams have played their games, home ground advantage is massive in world football. Both the Saudis and Japan have had an extra home game on us and we’ve got that advantage in the back half of the campaign. So if the results are repeated in terms of the home and away scenarios, we’ll end up top of the group. So I don’t worry about that and I certainly don’t worry about qualification because ultimately it’s not just about qualifying for us it’s about creating a team that will have an impact at a World Cup and we’ll only do that if we qualify in the right way.
TWG: Looking ahead to the crucial qualifiers coming up, what areas do you feel really need to be worked on to ensure the result you’re after in those matches?
AP: We don’t have to improve anything, it’s just a matter of us now being able to play the kind of football we want in conditions that suit us. We don’t have to go to any really hot regions. We’ll be playing the Iraq game in Iran but even those conditions won’t be as severe as what we’ve faced. It’s no doubt in the away games we’ve had issued playing the kind of football we’ve wanted in tough conditions but those things won’t exist next year. So we’ll just have to maintain the way we’ve been playing in conditions that suit us and I think opposition teams will find it hard to cope.
TWG: In terms of players you’ve had in the squad this year, there’s been a few fringe players brought back into the fold and some new faces. Who for you has had a break-through year in terms of national duty?
AP: I think there’s probably been a number of them. Probably because of the Asian Cup people misunderstood where a lot of players were at in terms of experience and the World Cup qualifying campaign has the same challenges.
So guys like Maty Ryan and Trent Sainsbury, Rogic, Mooy, Luongo they’re all now just blossoming into really good international footballers and having experienced tough conditions away from home, teams fighting for points every bit along the way. So I think all those things particularly over the last 18 months, will help our guys. But I think the breakout year for all these guys will happen next year and not just those guys, there are others. Guys like Jackson Irvine are really starting to make strides, Brad Smith. So I think there’s a core group now.
This year was always going to be for us about building a really strong foundation and then next year is our big year and I expect quite a few of those guys who have experience they have right now to really make an impact next year.
TWG: On the flipside, is there anyone who didn’t perform how you’d hoped and who you really expected more from this year?
AP: No, not really. We were asking some really big challenges of our guys at the moment and none of them have really let us down in any way. I think the biggest obstacle for a lot of our players this year was more about their club situation rather than their international form. A lot of them obviously weren’t playing regularly in club football and that affected sometimes their condition coming into camp and sometimes they had to miss camp because of it. So I think that’s where the challenges lie for our players. So hopefully in that area next year they’re in a batter space.
TWG: Is there anyone on your radar for next year who people may not be aware of who you’re hoping to get into the fold?
AP: I don’t think so. I’d be surprised if there was anyone outside the guys we’ve already looked at. This year was all about exposing as many players as we can to national duty. But now with next year being a pivotal year it will be about all the guys we have given exposure to to really push on now.
That doesn’t exclude anyone, I’m going to be spending time in Europe and I’ll be watching the A-League closely and following a number of players. So if anyone does stand out they’ll get an opportunity but I’d be surprised if anyone does come too far out of left field to break in.
TWG: Someone like Mile Jedinak, still playing week in week out but now in a mid-table Championship side as opposed to a Premier League side. Is that a concern?
AP: No it’s not a concern. He’s gone to Villa and he’s playing really well at the moment, he’s probably their most important player and I’m sure they’ll be pushing for promotion and his form in the national team has been outstanding. So no I’ve got no concern about Mile. This time next year he could very well be back in the Premier League.
TWG: In terms of Tom Rogic, he’s having a brilliant season. Do you think it could be time for him soon to look at moving on to bigger club in a bigger comp?
I think the key for Tommy is that he just keeps progressing. He’s happy at Celtic. Celtic are a big club, they play in the Champions League this year, they’re doing really well in their domestic league, so they’re likely to play Champions League next year as well. So if that continues and he continues progressing, we’re in no real hurry for him. I think people forget this has been his first real season of any real consistent play. So I think next year will be a big year for Tommy in both club football and the international front and I think he’s ready for it.
We’ve given him some hard tests this year in some pretty tough conditions. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing bit for us it was necessary for him to experience that so he can be ready for what’s ahead.
TWG: There’s always talk that he’s not really quite a 90- minute player. What are your thoughts on that? Do you think he’s still a long way off being able to consistently play the full 90?
AP: I don’t think so. He’s getting there. I think two out of the last three games for Celtic he’s played 90 minutes. It’s just sometimes Tommy is a very offensive player and sometimes in a game he needs to be taken off because the manager needs more a defensive style. But in terms of national team we’ve got no issue with him playing the full 90 minutes. With Tommy the more games he plays the better he gets.
TWG: You’ve got the Confederations Cup next year and are in a really tough group with Germany, Chile and the African champions . What are your thoughts?
AP: It’s great. There’s some big challenges at the Confederations Cup but they’ll be some great opportunities. We’ve earned the right to be there, you have to be champions of your confederation, it’s not an easy tournament to qualify for and we haven’t for the last two cycles. So we’ve earned the right to play against the best in the world and that’s what we’ll be doing and I’m looking forward to it. I know the players will be too. We’ve got three really important World Cup qualifiers beforehand and that’s where our focus will be but come Confederations Cup time we’ll be looking forward to taking on the best in the world and seeing how we measure up.
TWG: Do you look at a competition like that more as an opportunity to test yourself or do you go in really trying to make an impact and go far in the competition?
AP: It’s a competition so you want to do the best you can and that’s what we’ll do but we’ll do it our way. There’s no point us going there and trying to change what we do just so we can get some results. We’ll try and get results, but we’ll do it playing our football and there’s no greater measure than playing against the World champions and the South American champions and the African Champions. We want to see how our football stacks up against that.
TWG: Big news last week that Brazil and Argentina look set to clash at the MCG next year with the Socceroos possibly to have a fixture against one if the sides. How would you feel about that?
AP: I haven’t heard anything officially, so at the moment nothing is locked it. For us we kind of know our program at the moment and we’re working toward that but if anything comes up we’ll look at it. But right now we’re focusing on March and our World Cup qualifiers and the Confeds Cup.
TWG: There’s predictions that you’ll one day end up coaching in the EPL. What are your thoughts on that. Is that a goal?
AP: My responsibilities at the moment lie with the national team but I have stated that at some point I’ll move on and hopefully after a successful World Cup campaign and my next move will be abroad somewhere. But you can’t plan too far when you’re coaching a national team. So we’ll wait and see what opportunities open up and we’ll go from there.
TWG: This is still so far in advance but when you do move on some have mentioned the likes of Kevin Muscat would be a suitable replacement. What are your thoughts on that?
AP: I don’t think that kind of speculation is right at the moment because things change very quickly in football. Kevin has had an outstanding beginning to his coaching career and so has Tony Popovic as has John Aloisi. They’re all fantastic Australian coaches. My only desire is that whoever takes over from me is an Australian. We don’t need to go abroad to find a national coach. So I’m hoping by the end of my tenure people agree with that and go with an Australian again.
TWG: You welcomed your third child, Alexi, this year. How hard has it been to balance work and family?
AP: Yeah we’ve got three now. Alexi is none months. So it’s tough. In international football whether you’re coaching or playing it’s pretty grueling because you’re spending a lot of time away. But my wife Georgia has been fantastically supportive and I guess understands that that’s part of the job.
We’re heading over to Europe, I‘ve got some work to do over there, but I will take the family with me for those few weeks and hopefully get some family time with them while over there. So I’m looking forward to it.