Au revoir Holger after national embarrassment in Paris

Holger Osieck sacked after Australia hammered 6-0 by France

12 October 2013

One 6-0 loss can be seen as forgivable, especially when it’s against Brazil in Brazil. A second thrashing, especially with national pride on the line, and even if it’s at the hands of one Europe’s better teams, is not. With that 6-0 loss to France, 4-0 at halftime, Socceroos coach Holger Osieck received his marching orders.

Since the mid stages of World Cup qualifiers, the football community has been simmering with a virtual ultimatum that anything less than a reasonably competitive performance against France would be terminal for Osieck. As it panned out, Football Federation Australia harboured those views too, and was swift to act, bidding adieu to Holger only hours after the match.

The Socceroo Realm has been one of the few voices defending Holger, especially with the process and mandate conferred on him. The charter was World Cup qualification. He did that, quite comfortably in the end if you note the points table that qualification came a game ahead of third place, and despite the tougher process both with the improvement of the Asian teams and the early run of away games. The fixtures in reverse would have seen Australia shooting ahead on the table with two wins and two draws from 3 home games and the away match to Japan, and it doesn’t seem so bad. Some of the perception of struggling was merely based on circumstance of the schedule.

Part of Holger’s charter was also to integrate new players into the team. He was right there that he tried this. While maybe not at the speed some wanted, he was constrained by needing to qualify for the World Cup. Those tried mostly failed. It was restoring the experienced players that saw the team qualify, especially when he was able to play them in consecutive games for the first time during the campaign. While that proved sufficient for qualifying, liabilities did emerge, and returning to some of the those older players already discarded or on the decline, was clearly a breach. On a tactical level, liabilities also emerged with the persistence of playing players out of position. To be fair to Holger, this has been intrinsic to the squad since the Hiddink era. While few media make note of it, it’s been a bugbear of this website for just as long.

Two glaring errors were made in this game against France. With Tom Oar injured, to fill the troublesome left-back role, Dave Carney was brought back from exile. Why? He’s passed his best, if his best was ever good enough. He’s been a liability in the past, and was again. He conceded the first goal by throwing his hand in the air and being called for handball. Regardless that he didn’t actually touch the ball, it was the action of an insecure player – one that’s never been a dedicated left-back either – to throw his hand up. For the sake of inches, the ball would have hit his hand. Second mistake, to strengthen the right side that France’s Franck Ribery notoriously exploits, Osieck threw James Holland at right-back and pushed Luke Wilkshire forward. Why? Holland is less of a right-back than Wilkshire is. Wilkshire’s struggling to get a game for his Russian club, so the call to persist with him at the expense of a new, dedicated right-back, made even less sense. Holland, normally a central midfielder, was thrown to the wolves. He was all at sea, and easily beaten for France’s sixth goal. A better option would be to play five at the back, three proper defenders and the two wing-backs. That gives you the cover in defence and the flexibility in attack.

Then there’s the enduring positional error: Tim Cahill as striker. He’s not a striker! He’s most dangerous as a lurking midfielder, as proven by his rush of goals with his New York club from midfiled and the fact his goal-rate has dried up with the national team. Behind Cahill was Robbie Cruse – again wasted. Frank Lebeouf, former French international, gave a commentary in coaching excellence during the broadcast. He noted Cahill needed to be in midfield where his experience could be used to provide poise during the French onslaught. Often Cahill would drop deep to find the ball, which saw the French line higher, instantly pressuring the Australians whenever they received the ball. When France had the ball, Cahill and Kruse were easily drawn forward, virtually allowing a vacant midfield with defensive midfielders Bresciano and Jedinak too deep. France’s third goal was a case in point. Collected direct from a goal-kick, passed to Ribery, a through ball, goal.

Probably the only excuse for Osieck is the calibre of opponents taken on so soon after qualifying. The team had so much time on the ball against the Arab teams, could be lazy with passing, or even expect to win a pass if tightly marked. Not here. Brazil and France stripped them easily, while any dallying on the ball was open sesame to be dispossessed. Lebeouf reiterated this point too, noting later in the game a missed opportunity to cross just “kills momentum”. Instead of immediately crossing, a few little passes were made trying to work an even better option, seemingly a guaranteed option, like you might against a glaringly inferior team. Bad. Best to get it in quickly and keep pressure on by capturing the rebound. You just never saw Brazil or France messing about it. Nor did they treat Australia with contempt by looking for guaranteed chances. They only needed a sniff.

Osieck said post match that nothing tried in training was transferred to the pitch. That’s damning against the coach, suggesting the players wanted remedial action with the coaching situation and possibly took it upon themselves. With the first goal conceded so quickly, it was easy for the team to become disheartened, with the famed Australian “spirit” dormant. When asked if the players were fully behind him, Holger’s response and body language was telling, citing that regardless of being behind the coach, national pride should keep them interested. It should. 

There were some positives from the match. It was 6-0 on 50 minutes, so the team kept France scoreless for nearly the entire second half. Mitch Langerak excelled in his debut as goal-keeper, keeping the score at 6-0 with several superb, reflex saves, and great positioning. While the cynics will say it could have been 10-0, “it could be” any number of goals in any numbers games. That’s the reason for goal-keepers and a low scoring sport. Had Langerak not saved most of those shots, they’d be classed as errors and his debut a failure. As it stood he was at no fault for any of the goals conceded and allowed the team to walk off with 0-0 draw over 40 minutes.

The FFA has wisely announced a thorough review before lurching into another appointment, with chairman Frank Lowy saying…

“The decision [to sack Osieck] is based on the longer term issues of the rejuvenation of the Socceroos team and the preparations for the World Cup and the Asian Cup. FFA has set a strategic objective of having a highly competitive team in Brazil and then handing over a team capable of winning the Asian Cup on home soil in January 2015. We have come to the conclusion that change is necessary to meet those objectives. I thank Holger for his contribution to Australian football and wish him well in his future endeavours.”

CEO David Gallop…

“I have given our new Head of National Performance Luke Casserly and the National Technical Director Han Berger the task of conducting a review of our World Cup planning. The review will include all aspects of the technical and logistical preparations, national teams unit staffing and the appointment of a new Head Coach. The World Cup kicks off in eight months and the Asian Cup is 15 months away. We are determined to make the most of the historical opportunities that these tournaments present to Australian football. FFA will give the highest priority to these projects because the Socceroos are the standard bearers for Australia on the world stage.“

In a way, Holger’s done Australia a favour. He could easily have continued with the “survivor” mentality, of which he was accused by the studio panel, and played lesser teams. He wanted to find the level of the team now and then remedy that during the preparation phase. While you can never really pass up a glamour match like Brazil in Brazil, France might have been too much. The adjustment phase from casual Asia to up-tempo Europe was too great. Again, while you can consider Brazil as forgivable for the many reasons already discussed at the time, the fact virtually nothing was done to address these concerns against France, it was self-crucifying.

Without these games against Brazil and France, possibly Australia finds out at the World Cup itself that it is out of its depth. At least now we go with the knowledge that we are off the pace, and can go with a fresh and more realistic approach. That’s the other positive. Australians too fast had inflated perceptions of our ability. You only need compare the clubs of each teams players. France read as a whose-who of major European clubs. The best Australia had was Kruse and Langerak in Germany. We’re very much third world, and will continue to produce peaks and troughs for decades to come. Mature nations like France, they’ve fallen off the pace since their World and European Cup highs of the 10 to 15 years ago. Just qualifying has become a struggle with Australia warily seen as a confidence boost. Even a middle European team like Belgium, of which we are far off in terms of national league maturity and national team pedigree, have been 12 years in the wilderness until just overnight storming into the World Cup. Remember the Romanian and Bulgarian power national teams of the 90s? Gone. Likewise Colombia, about to return after 16 years, or 3 World Cups, out. Even nations like Holland and Portugal suffer the odd dip. Why? They don’t have the level and depth of domestic leagues like the powerhouse nations of Italy, Spain, Germany and Brazil. Until the A-League reaches that level, so will our national teams be subject to “golden generations” for our international highs.

This reality check is good. The key will be the management of it. Had Osieck remained for the game against Canada on Tuesday, the curtain surely would be called on several players. Wilkshire, Carney, Bresciano – out. Wilkshire backed Holger earlier in the week – often a sign a player is worried about his future at the change of a coach, and never a good sign for a coach. Schwarzer now surely is the reserve keeper given Langerak’s performance. Why would you drop him? Jedinak needs a shake-up. Something not mentally right with him. Maybe elevated to a senior leadership role after the purging of several elder players could do wonders.

Lucas Neill, who was stoic post-match and said the training track is the answer, possibly survives simply on lack of options. If a ban is made against anyone playing in the Middle East (as there should be), Sasa Ognenovski would be out. That would mean the entire defence is out. You do need one or two old heads in the team. With that Middle Eastern ban, out goes Brett Holman, Alex Brosque and the aforementioned Marco Bresciano. It’s bad enough the national team can be bogged down with the more casual and grinding style of international matches against Arab teams, you don’t want it embedded far worse at club level. Harry Kewell, the main older player at A-League level that you’d even consider restoring, unless he really explodes, there’s no compelling reason to pick him again. Archie Thompson, never good enough at top international level, goodbye.

As to the new coach, it’s pointless if it’s someone not willing to flip players. Guus Hiddink, the immediate and nostalgic favourite, most likely would have faith in the older players he already knows. His record since Australia has been inconsistent at best. Would he stay on for the 2015 Asian Cup? He’s more mercenary than man. Is that looking forward? Nostalgia is also fleeting. Fellow Dutchman Frank Rijkaard, who failed to get Saudi Arabia to the final group phase, has been mentioned. Personally, the Dutch experiment is a failure. We don’t have the players to be played out of position. We’re not Spain, or even Holland. They’ve yet to even master their system at the highest level, with it collapsing under extreme pressure. It’s constantly caused Australia problems too. Even the famed 2006 World Cup, conceding goals was a problem. It was even worse in 2010. Holger’s basically persisted with the style deemed successful, and conceded the odd calamitous goal during the qualifiers, not to mention the horrors against Brazil and France. Argentina’s Marcelo Bielso is second favourite among bookmakers and would at least look for different qualities in the personnel and provide a new system.

Ange Postecoglou is favoured among locals. He’s better served sticking with Melbourne Victory, building up his credentials and clout. Graham Arnold, a former interim coach, said it would be an “honour” and seems ever-ready to jump from his A-League role with Central Coast if a top offer comes from anywhere. He may not have the clout, nor did he handle himself well as interim during the 2007 Asian Cup. FFA might be tentative offering anything long-term to him. There’s also a problem with the media, especially SBS, notorious for unfair treatment of Australian coaches. That could be undue extra pressure when least needed.

If FFA eventually go for a short term coach for the World Cup, then go with Ange. No point wasting huge dollars on a big name coach that will oversee a team likely to fair poorly at the World Cup. Since we want to give younger players a go, then surely give a local coach some real experience? The situation can then be reviewed after the World Cup. Until then, Ange could manage both A-League and national team concurrently. There’s only a handful of preparation games during the club season, then come April he’s all clear. If the Asian Champions League becomes an issue for Melbourne Victory, they can use their assistant coach.

These recent drubbings could be the cleansing the sport needs. Clearly there was widespread agitation among the community. Whether it’s from Osieck directly or, more likely, legacy from the Verbeek and Hiddink eras, the mood had become stale. There was more than a touch of the “same old”, almost a cry for change. Much like the recent federal election, the fans decided long ago, and it really was a case of pulling the trigger. That makes it even less logical to return to Hiddink. With the World Cup in South America, the omens suggest to look that way for a new coach, and a new style. At least it would provide fresh hope.

Match report and videos:

http://www.foxsports.com.au/football/socceroos/a-defiant-holger-osieck-says-he-wont-stand-down-from-job-despite-successive-6-0-defeats/story-e6frf4l3-1226738725917

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