Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Zany coach to entertain for another year

Jose Mourinho has been a breath of fresh air in the English Premier League. Now meet Miron Bleiberg, the man who has had a similar effect in the Australian A-League. Marc Fox reports.

During his tenure as coach of Queensland Roar - the Brisbane-based club who missed out on a spot in the inaugural finals series by three points - Miron Bleiberg has drawn comparisons with Jose Mourinho. Recent results aside, Bleiberg and Chelsea's self-styled Special One certainly share many similar attributes: a frankness in front of the cameras, a desire to be outspoken and a willingness to opine on any topic. Like Mourinho, Bleiberg too is a sub-editor's dream.

Now, following a tense Queensland board meeting which opened leaning towards sacking the Israeli-born coach, the masses can count on being entertained for at least another season. Bleiberg defied all odds to receive a last-minute reprieve from the Roar management after weeks of speculation linking a high-profile replacement with the job of turning the club from also-rans into playoff contenders.

Pundits agreed that the position looked destined to be filled by former Socceroo coach Frank Farina, a Queenslander who had enjoyed success in the old national league with the now-defunct Brisbane Strikers. But it appears Bleiberg's bubbly personality, his sides' attractive brand of football and long-term term friendship with chief executive Lawrence Oudendyk combined to offer him one final chance.

Supporter groups united in their astonishment. Branded tactically naïve by the club's fans Bleiberg has plenty of convincing to do, even on his own doorstep. During their first season in the A-League, Queensland yo-yoed around mid-table for much of the campaign before falling just short of the playoffs. Home wins frequently eluded the side as did goals, to the obvious chagrin of a sometimes fickle local following.

Bleiberg, a former Navy officer who only started coaching football during a backpacking trip round Australia in the late '80s, did not always endear himself to the fans with his constant chopping and changing of the starting XI. Furthermore, the Roar lacked an out-and-out goalscorer and the pressure mounted on both the coach and his star striker Alex Brosque, the fringe Socceroo whose best position was clearly supporting a targetman. Only when the burden of making the final series receded did the squad - and Brosque in particular - start performing at their true potential.

Bleiberg's engaging nature has been mocked as eccentricity by his detractors. Even at the press conference called by chairman John Ribot to announce the club's decision, the colourful coach couldn’t resist dropping a few more PR clangers. First he stunned the gathered media by comparing being questioned by the Queensland board to standing in a Bali courtroom.

He then surprised Ribot with revelations he had been approached by two rival A-League clubs over recent weeks and that he had "one-and-a-half" job offers on the table. Ribot looked taken aback while admitting that Bleiberg's public pronouncement was the first he had heard on the subject.

Yet despite all that, the chairman still defended the coach's media style. "Miron has played a significant role of getting us to where we are now because of his outspoken and colourful way," Ribot maintained. "And 90 percent of the time it's great."

Meanwhile, Bleiberg summarised his reappointment in trademark fashion.

"Logic prevailed and I'm happy not so much for myself but also for the club," he started. "I think now the public image of the club is good because I'm here. Not because it's Miron Bleiberg but because they fulfilled their agreement and there is stability. They have continued building rather than starting all over again.

"I've put a lot of time and dedication into the club and I'm happy I'll be given the opportunity to complete what I've started.

"I went to the board meeting and I hadn't prepared a speech to say. I told them that if you ask me to summarise the season in two sentences it's very simple.

"My greatest achievement is we put Queensland Roar on the map. All of a sudden look around you and you see that we're there.

"My biggest crime, that I missed the top four."

Us sportswriters look forward to more of the same next season.

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