We finally have an answer.
Six weeks of ‘will he, won’t he’ later, Ange Postecoglou has quit as coach of the Australian national team. One of the most divisive Socceroos coaches in recent memory will not be leading the team created in his image at the 2018 World Cup.
To his detractors, the decision vindicates the abundant criticism directed at Postecoglou in recent months. The manager who refused to answer question after question on his future and ridiculed journalists for their persistence is now gone.
Certainly, his infamous appearance on ABC’s Australian Story – “they just want an answer to a question, and I’m not going to give them it” – does not reflect kindly on Postecoglou in light of Wednesday’s announcement.
To his many fans, such criticism is nonsense.
Postecoglou led Australia to a creditable performance at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, won the 2015 Asian Cup on home soil and then navigated the Socceroos through treacherous waters on the journey to Russia.
His team lost just two games during one of the most arduous and lengthy qualification pathways of any FIFA nation – no mean feat. After these successes, Postecoglou has – say his supporters – earned the right to leave on his terms.
Despite all the speculation, and the subdued post-game press conference last week that suggested the writing was on the wall, even some of his most ardent critics held out hope that Postecoglou would stay.
But it was not to be. In his most emotional press conference since taking the job, the enormity of Postecoglou’s decision sunk in among all in the room.
Football Federation Australia boss David Gallop was uncharacteristically unguarded. “I’m disappointed and still a bit puzzled,” he admitted.
Postecoglou will now reportedly seek a managerial job in Europe. No-one can begrudge him that, even if the timing is undesirable.
We may never know the full rationale for Postecoglou’s departure. It has been suggested that he had grown fed up with incessant media criticism. That may have been a factor, but it hardly provides the full explanation.
The structural governance failings across Australian football and the looming prospect of FIFA intervention have hardly helped either. The manager also acknowledged that the immense burden of the national team role had “taken a toll on me both personally and professionally.”
Postecoglou’s exit leaves the FFA with a vacant national team coaching position only seven months before the World Cup in Russia. Following four years of relative stability, the Socceroos again face uncertainty at the helm.
“We will not rush this process”, insisted FFA head Gallop. The lure of a guaranteed ticket to Russia 2018 should be enough to attract a glittering field of applicants.
Gallop and colleagues seemingly have three options. Firstly, and perhaps most unlikely, they could bring in a high-profile foreign manager on a short-term contract to lead Australia at the World Cup and no further. This could give the team a short-term boost, before the FFA re-evaluates the future direction of the national team post-Russia.
Alternatively, the federation might opt for a local successor to continue the change wrought by Postecoglou. Former Western Sydney Wanderers boss Tony Popovic and Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold have both been mooted if the FFA want to retain the domestic flavour, although the latter remains unpopular among sections of the Socceroos faithful.
Finally, and most dramatically, the FFA could immediately commence a global search for Postecoglou’s long-term replacement and a new football philosophy to match. With the clock ticking until the Socceroos fly to Moscow, such a move would be bold and potentially disastrous.
Postecoglou’s departure, exactly a week after the Socceroos qualified for the World Cup, is unorthodox to say the least. But then again, the 52-year-old always did things his own way.
The FFA must now devise a plan for the post-Postecoglou era. How they do this will no doubt influence the mercurial manager’s ultimate legacy.
One thing, though, is certain. The conversation and controversy sparked by Postecoglou, going to the heart of Australian football and the sport’s identity in this country, is not over yet.
That debate may well be his true legacy, Postecoglou’s lasting contribution to the round ball game in Australia.