Most pundits seem to have calculated the measure of success for Australia at the Asian Cup as a semi-final result at worst, with a grand final appearance deemed as a great achievement.
This is probably a fair assessment of the situation and while not being universally agreed upon there does appear to be some middle ground among most football journalists and experts.
This makes the exciting start by the Socceroos even more compelling as they sit on the precipice of achieving what, a few months back, some suggested was out of our reach. There was skepticism and real concern conveyed through sections of media and despite the credibility of some being questioned by the coach and his assistants, the statistics, losses and experimentation of Postecoglou did build pressure.
Aurelio Vidmar made it abundantly clear post World Cup when he said that failure at the Asian Cup would be a “disaster”. Australia’s resiliency as a football nation would surely see us recover even if that disaster did occur. Our rebuilding after Iran 1997 is a prime example of that and the foothold that now exists translates to even more grit and fortitude.
However, the queue waiting with their mouths, pens and keyboards primed to sink the boot into Ange’s team thrive on comments such as those made by a typically open and honest Vidmar.
The arguments around expectations, selections and performance exist in all sports and codes and will be the source of discussion, odds and reflection ad infinitum. What is perhaps more interesting is the position and thoughts of the coach as he is now within reach of the medium term plan he laid out for his team.
Undoubtedly, there are more far reaching visions and grander ideas he has discussed with his assistants, players and the FFA, yet this tournament was always going to be a measure of his ability to firstly galvanise a team that did appear somewhat fractured and secondly, implement a style of play that used our talent pool to the best of its ability.
I can’t help but wonder what he is thinking as he lunches with his players, watches some footage of South Korea in the lead-up to the final group match and takes a moment or two to look at the broader picture that lays ahead over the coming weeks.
Postecoglou has welcomed the criticisms in the past and respected the right of the detractors to publish them. He always seemed to suggest that he had been around the game long enough and had experienced enough successes and failures to resist becoming super sensitive to the jibes. Yet there was something he said in an interview with Mike Colman on September 9 that seemed to be a cloaked warning to a selected few.
Responding to some of the criticism from Robbie Slater which featured across many of the formats in which his opinions appear, Postecoglou suggested that he had no issue at all with people analysing both the team and his performance. He then said, “As long as they stand by their opinion when the story unfolds”.
This seems to raise two ideas. Firstly, the coach feels he can take the heat when it comes to his job and hopes that the critics will stand by their comments and decisions before, during and after the game just as he does. Secondly, and of more interest, was the unfolding story that he alluded to.
I couldn’t stop from thinking, ‘What is the story?’
We could guess that he was referring to a glorious victory on the final day of the Asian Cup or the knowledge that he knew the team were well prepared and would answer the critics with aplomb. Perhaps he merely meant that the side would achieve the pass mark of a semi-final and then we could move forward towards the World Cup qualifiers that loom ahead.
What interested me the most was the confidence that there would indeed be a story. A somewhat veiled attack which suggested, ‘be careful what you say about my team and me because we are going to do something that might make you eat those words’.
Was this the story of which he spoke?
As the team train, prepare and plan for their third match, I can’t help but think about the delicately balanced situation in which Postecoglou finds himself. The fickle mainstream media see things in much shorter time frames than coaches yet a nation waits to see the realisation of careful planning and a new direction for this team.
Which way the pendulum swings will only be known in time.
Millions will collectively participate in the unfolding of the story. Most will hope and pray that Ange’s story is told in the way he drew it up over the past twelve months. Unfortunately, I fear, there will be others who hope for something else.