The lowdown on the top Socceroos coaching candidates

As the fight for the Socceroos’ coaching position heats up, we look at the five men who are realistically in the running for the job - and a few more who almost certainly aren't.

Bielsa Arnold Scolari

(Left to right) Marcelo Bielsa, Graham Arnold and Luiz Felipe Scolari Source: Getty Images / AAP

Football Federation Australia claims to have received over 200 applications from around the world, but the truth is that 99 per cent of those applications will go directly into the shredder without a second look. 

For a job such as this, the best candidates almost certainly won’t apply: they will get approached by the nine-man selection panel – perhaps why the panel includes a professional head-hunter in its ranks. 

We look at the few who are genuinely set to be in the running and would be open to taking on what is now the most important job in Australian sport. 

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The Local Legend: Graham Arnold

Pros: With four grand finals to his name, Arnold rivals Ange Postecoglou as the A-League's best-ever coach and his current Sydney FC side are virtually unbeatable. They will surely win the championship this season if Arnold remains in charge. 

Cons: In an online poll, 77 per cent of fans rejected the idea of Arnold becoming national coach. The backlash towards Arnold seems fuelled by his clashes with TV hosts, referees and the FFA. Some fans claim his teams are "hard to watch", despite the goals they score. Memories of the 2007 AFC Asian Cup and 2008 Olympic Games also linger for some. 

The quote: "There's nothing been offered so I don’t even think about that. It’s obviously flattering to be considered for the national team as a proud Australian. But I have a contract with Sydney FC," – Arnold, last week. 



Final word: Remains the favourite and is on close terms with the selection panel. But he’s not enjoying the ongoing speculation. Sydney FC are also rightfully reluctant to release him and he won’t accept anything less than total control. Incorrect leaks about his pending appointment only muddied the waters.

The Man-in-Waiting: Tony Popovic

Pros: Performed miracles with Western Sydney Wanderers, making three grand finals in his tenure. Also showed he could go beyond total-defence to an offensive mindset in the 2015-16 campaign. And he won the AFC Champions League – all in his first job in charge and largely with recycled players. 

Cons: Circumstances conspired against him at Karabukspor, but his win-loss record prior to being sacked is one he won’t be proud of. Some will question whether it's too early in his career for the top job. 

The quote: "I certainly wouldn't rule it out. If I get a call, if I said I'd say no, I'd be lying," – Popovic, last week. 



Final word: Odds-on to be the national coach within the next 15 years and given he’s out of contract, he has to be in the mix. This job isn't beyond him at 44 years of age, but is it worth risking his development now when he’s only going to mature even further in the years to come? 

The Game Changer: Ralf Rangnick

Pros: Named as Germany’s manager of the year this week, Rangnick is at the peak of his powers. His philosophy is highly advanced yet easily understood: intelligently press the opposition, then attack at speed. This has led to an unprecedented six promotions and extraordinary Bundesliga success with Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig.

Pleasingly, he specialises in making average teams out-perform expectations. He could also get Australia access to Leipzig’s new $50 million "trainingszentrum" – considered one of the world’s best facilities – to prepare for Russia 2018.

Cons: He's already knocked back Everton and Belgium. Rangnick this week acknowledged Australia hasn’t tabled an offer, so the selection panel would need to get the wheels moving. His club would also have to approve, but given he's now the sporting director rather than first-team coach, it's not impossible. 



Quote: "Rangnick would be perfect for this team, even if it is just for the short term. Tactically, he is highly astute,” – Ante Jukic, journalist. 

Final word: If you want to see how he'd coach the Socceroos, look at the much-celebrated 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup match against Chile. That’s Rangnick’s blueprint (minus the yellow cards). Few foreigners have a tactical strategy that would align so naturally well with Australia’s best attributes in such a short time-frame. 

The Mad Scientist: Marcelo Bielsa

Pros: Bielsa eats, sleeps and breathes the game with a maniacal commitment. His preparation notes could fill the National Library. His 3-3-1-3 formation has traces of how football might be played 50 years from now. So far ahead of his time that he’s probably under-appreciated now. A brilliant mind. 

Cons: A human volcano capable of exploding anytime, anywhere. Let’s take his last four jobs: sacked as Lille manager after six months. Fought with management at Olympique Marseille during his single year in charge and quit. Poor results at Atletico Bilbao saw him let go after just two seasons. In 2016, he had 48 hours in charge of Lazio – quitting because they didn’t sign any players. He'd also need to take an astronomical pay cut. How could he quickly implement his complex structures with a non Spanish-speaking team? 

The quote: "The question is: is he really as mad as he is portrayed? "No," says Atletico Bilbao forward Iker Muniaín. "He is madder." – The Guardian, 2012. 



Final word: No coach would divide the football community – indeed the entire nation – quite like Bielsa. SBS chief football analyst Craig Foster has already demanded that the FFA call him. Others have warned that he represents a ticking time-bomb. A risk-reward proposition like no other.

The Veteran Star: Luiz Felipe Scolari

Pros: Has won a FIFA World Cup and boasts more big tournament experience than anyone else. Is coming off three league titles in China with Asia's richest club, Guangzhou Evergrande.

Cons: His last major international coaching job saw his Brazilian team fold 7-1 against Germany in the 2014 World Cup semi-final and smacked 3-0 by the Netherlands in the third place play-off. At 69, this would be his 27th senior coaching job. A journeyman who relies on great players - and huge operating budgets - rather than modern tactics. 

The quote: "You need to be able to take the whole country forward. That's what we need. It's not a simple matter to find somebody like that and I very much doubt that's Scolari," – Craig Foster. 



Final word: It got people talking but for the wrong reasons. Scolari's link comes from an ambitious agent in Brazil trying to drum up a story. That’s where the interest should start – and end. 

And the others …

Bert van Marwijk did well to get Saudi Arabia through a tough World Cup qualifying group that included Australia. Made the World Cup final with the Netherlands in 2010 with his controversial ugly-first approach, then went pointless at EURO 2012. Worth examining but for a country that needs inspiration – in tactics and leadership – you won't find it here. Not the right fit. 

Jurgen Klinsmann has some admirers but his managerial ability remains in question. For every highlight, there’s been an equal lowlight. Did take the USA to the quarter-finals in 2014 but his record since then has been extremely poor and after five years, and too many baffling decisions, US fans angrily demanded his sacking. Australia needs better. 



Sven-Goran Eriksson was once the hottest name in Serie A when he did the unthinkable and took Lazio to the Scudetto in 2000. He did reasonably well with England thereafter, but his record in the decades since has never gone even close to those heights and he's never lasted longer than two years anywhere. Not even in remote contention.

Names like Gianni De Biasi, Christoph Daum, Guus Hiddink, Harry Redknapp, Tony Pulis and Slavoljub Muslin have all been linked but appear to be the work of imaginative local media or publicity-hungry agents.


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7 min read
Published 19 December 2017 at 12:36pm
By Sebastian Hassett