Socceroos trapped by Australia's great expectations

One of the worst drawbacks of the modern game is that national associations and clubs cannot afford to be patient and engage in long-term planning.


The Australian team lines up in Tehran Source: Anadolu

In the cut-throat world of modern sport, it seems no one will put up with two or three years of failure anymore.

Have a few bad seasons and the sponsors, media and fans would not want to know you.

With so much money directly and indirectly invested in football these days and the rewards for being competitive so mouth-watering, instant success is sought and expected.

It happens around he world and the A-League is no exception.

You wonder, however, if we as a football family in Australia are being similarly impatient with the national team and if we are ready to handle or tolerate a situation where the Socceroos fail to qualify for the FIFA World Cup.

Can the game in Australia afford not to be at a World Cup?

In our eagerness to be part of the big event every four years, are we forgetting that there will come a time when the national team needs a period of rejuvenation without the pressure of having to be at the big table every time?

And has that time for transition arrived?

It is no secret that Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou is determined to leave his mark on the national team by establishing a style of play that will serve it in good stead for a number of years.

The problem is he might not have the cattle with which to implement his lofty idealogy.

His bigger problem is there are not too many alternatives, either.

Hence the series of sub-standard performances of late that have placed the team in a situation where they must win their remaining home qualifiers and hope other results go their way to be able to book an automatic place in next year's World Cup.

And because qualifying for the finals in Russia is seen as a 'must' by one and all, Postecoglou cannot afford to experiment too much and carefully build a team that might or might not reach the 2018 showpiece.

He knows full well that if Australia fail to make the World Cup his position as national coach would be precarious, to say the least.

It is a scenario that may have affected the way Postecoglou's predecessors Pim Verbeek and Holger Osieck approached things.

The Dutchman and German were results-driven coaches and probably could not care less about how they were achieved.

Postecoglou is driven by achievement too - as he should be - but to his credit the 2015 AFC Asian Cup-winning coach also feels obliged to establish a modern winning style that is also pleasing on the eye.
In other words Postecoglou will not be happy with merely winning games like his predecessors were. The matches need to be won in style.

The Socceroos have not reached that stage yet. Forget the style, they are not even winning.

After four consecutive draws, they are involved in a dogfight with Saudi Arabia, Japan and the United Arab Emirates for the top two spots in qualifying Group B that would guarantee participation in Russia 2018.

At this stage it is touch and go whether the Socceroos will make it via direct qualification. A treacherous double playoff looms.

The Australian team is at the crossroads. Because of the specific situation our game is in at the moment, the Socceroos have to juggle the demands of home expectation and also accept the reality that the team needs to evolve without fear of failure.

The football public would not take kindly to an Australian failure to reach the promised land in Russia but - who knows? - elimination might not be as terrible a tragedy as some believe.

It would give the Socceroos time to have a good look at themselves and plan ahead without the added pressure of having to be successful.

Yet it's not doom and gloom. Hopefully the Socceroos will ease the pressure on themselves and beat the UAE.

A period of peace and tranquility might just be what the doctor ordered for the Socceroos as they try to get out of the hole they are in at the moment.

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4 min read
Published 27 March 2017 at 9:40am
By Philip Micallef
Source: SBS