Friday, November 23, 2007

When winning isn't enough …

When winning isn't enough.
The past week has bought victories for Australia's senior side as well as its under-23s who booked a berth at next year's Beijing Olympics on Wednesday with a hard-fought 1-1 draw in North Korea. The Young Socceroos, the country's under-20s team, also won three out of four AFC qualifying matches to guarantee a spot in the 2008 Asian Youth Championships earlier this month.

But the heavy shadow darkening Australia's dreams of reaching the 2010 World Cup refuses to lift.

Australia's search for Guus Hiddink's long-term replacement has been rather like watching an English League One relegation scrap. Lots of running through mud chasing endless lost causes only for your star striker to miss a stoppage time penalty with seconds remaining.

This week, after a year-and-a-half's worth of wild goose chases around the major European cities, Dick Advocaat reneged on his agreement to coach the Socceroos.

Depending on who you believe, a written contract to take charge of Australia from February's World Cup qualifiers onwards either was or wasn't broken by Advocaat's decision to agree a yearlong extension with Russian champions Zenit St Petersburg. Tellingly, though, the Russians are expecting a financial backlash.

"Yes, he will remain here in St Petersburg," Zenit director Konstantin Sarsania told the Reuters news agency. "The only matter left to resolve is the compensation package to the Australians but we have our lawyers on the case."

The verbal backlash has already started. More than once since deceitful Dick's dastardly U-turn, Football Federation Australia has been likened to a jilted lover in the nation's media.

Under the headline 'Advocaat turns the stomach', Sydney-based football writer Tom Smithies went further in penning this diatribe: "In Holland they drink the liqueur advocaat as a digestif, which is highly ironic because the contempt that a coach of the same name has shown for Australia has turned the stomachs of even those inured to the opportunism of top-level football".

Strangely, the Advocaat affair might actually be one of the few football stories which unites the rival codes in Australia's oft-disputed sporting battlefield. There are just as many loathers as lovers of the beautiful game here, but no Australian of any persuasion could fathom anyone turning down a chance to be involved with the lucky country. Especially to stay in Russia.

Bankrolled by the personal fortune of FFA chairman Frank Lowy, Australia's second-richest man, the scouring of the global coaching landscape has been as pointless as it has relentless.

Whatever the angle taken by a frustrated and disappointed media, money is rarely the prime motivator for the game's elite. Yes, Advocaat will be earning bigger bucks at Zenit, the biggest spenders in Russian football. But he will also remain to lead the club into the Champions League for the first time.

Perspective can be lost when personal interest is high.

Is the job of coaching Australia, ranked 52nd in the world, two places below Canada, really bigger than coaching a team in the Champions League? Is it more challenging than managing in the Premiership, or in the English Championship for that matter?

The fact that Graham Arnold's audition for the top job failed miserably in Australia's Asian Cup quarter-finals exit appears to have kyboshed his credentials and by default any of his fellow countrymen.

So a foreign coach it is. But why are the names of Jose Mourinho, Jurgen Klinsmann, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard being bandied around. Logically, what are the odds of a top class manager leaving Europe to spend eight months a year in Australia?

Asian Cup-winning Iraq coach Jorvan Vieira and former South Korea coach Pim Verbeek are lesser profile figureheads but without question more attuned to the Socceroos' needs.

They understand the quirks of qualifying through the AFC in a way Mourinho et al do not. They also know that over the course of World Cup qualifying, the A-League will provide a greater proportion of players.

Australia needs a well-credentialed coach willing to spend the majority of his time in Australia scouting local Australia players and passing on knowledge to the local coaching fraternity.

With that in mind the hunt restarts in earnest.

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

Australian Soccer News

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