Skip to content

Australia fires head coach, but problems likely to persist

Oct 12, 2013, 8:53 PM EDT

Australia's coach Osieck reacts during a friendly soccer match against France in Paris Reuters

Let’s consider the implications of this tweet from Tim Cahill:

That was the Australian international reacting to news his national team had fired their head coach, Holger Osieck. The German boss had steered the Socceroos through Asian World Cup Qualifying but had also been at the helm to two straight 6-0 defeats (to Brazil and France). After Friday’s thrashing, the former Fenerbahçe, Urawa Red Diamonds, and Canadian national team boss was dismissed ahead of a Tuesday friendly against the Canucks.

The decision wasn’t much of a surprise. Holger was asked about the possibility in Paris after the latest loss, ultimately admitting the lopsided results provided “food for discussion.” On Australian television, former Australian international Mark Bosnich said “Holger would do the right thing” and “walk away,” while Robbie Slater, another former Socceroo said “[the Football Federation Australia] need to sack him.”

But back to Cahill’s tweet – a piece of loyal if contrarian sentiment. One implication would be anything that happens on the field after Australia qualifies for a World Cup should be overlooked, a slightly paradoxical sentiment considering the team was disappointed not to have made it out of their group in South Africa. Aspiring to contend for a final 16 spot in Brazil, Australia’s form over the next eight months is fair game. That they’ve been demolished by two likely World Cup teams (France has yet to qualify) hints the team’s not ready to match their federation’s ambition.

Which, as it turns out, is exactly why the FFA let him go:

The FFA Chairman Frank Lowy AC said the long-term interests of Australian football were paramount in making the change.

“The decision 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,” said Lowy.

“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.

It’s difficult to argue Australia was on a path to be “highly competitive” in Brazil. Thus, Osieck was let go, though by that standard, it’s unclear why he lasted this long.

In the 2010 cycle, Australia — debuting in Asian qualifying — surprised many by breezing through qualifying. Under Guus Hiddink disciple Pim Verbeek, the Socceroos won six and drew two in eight final round qualifiers, finishing five points ahead of Japan in Asia’s group A. For a team that was taking a huge step up in competition, moving to the confederation from Oceania, it was an unexpectedly dominant performance. In those final eight games, they only conceded once.

There was something strange about their run, though – something that needed to be corrected before this cycle. In moving to Asia, Australia brought a new, physical, direct style to the region characterized by that’s come to be dominated by Japan and South Korea’s combination of acumen, technique, fitness, and speed. Perhaps underestimating what Australia brought, Asia failed to adjust, a naivete that was unlikely to last beyond a single cycle.

This time around, Australia won only three of their eight final round qualifiers, finishing four points behind Japan. Thanks to four draws (and only one loss), they beat Jordan to Group B’s second automatic qualifying spot, but having allowed seven goals in eight games, their dominance was clearly over. Teams had adjusted.

source: Getty Images

Guus Hiddink, seem here as coach of Russian Premier League club Anzhi Makhachkala, led Australia to the Round of 16 at Germany 2006. The Dutchman is favored to return to Australia in the wake of Holger Osieck’s dismissal. (Photo: Getty Images.)

But if that was the only problem for Osieck, the 65-year-old, Australia could have adjusted. The confounding problem: Australia just doesn’t have the horses. They’re still relying on Lucas Neill (35 years old). Mark Bresciano, Brett Holman, Matt McKay, Luke Wilshire, and Mile Jedinak — all 29 or older — are mainstays, while Tim Cahill (33) remains a focal point.  Though some of these players have regressed from club roles in Europe, they remain key players for Australia.

And as their already limited squad has aged, few new talents have picked up the torch. Players like Robbie Kruse, James Holland, Nikita Rukavytsya, and Rhys Williams have their virtues, but none of them are going to push the team to the next level. Even with somebody like Tommy Oar (21) getting more time, Australia still lacks the individual talents to meet their federation’s ambition. once you factor in the age of the team’s core, the Socceroos look weaker than they did for 2010.

Perhaps that’s the argument to retain Osieck — that Australia just isn’t that good — but the FFA obviously disagrees, creating a no-win scenario for their coach. And in the FFA’s defense, back-to-back 6-0 losses are unacceptable. Even this limited squad should be playing much better.

But if Australia is hoping Guus Hiddink, the man immediately linked with a return to the job, can change their direction, they’re likely mistaken. Not only did the former Socceroos boss ultimately disappoint with Russia and Turkey, but he won’t have a chance to restock Australia’s shelves ahead of Brazil 2014.

Maybe the Dutchman can conjure some South Korea in 2002, Australia in 2006 magic. More likely: He’ll finally give the FFA reason to realize Australia’s limitations.

Latest Posts
  1. Done Deal: Better late than never, Arsenal seals deal with Welbeck

    Sep 1, 2014, 8:09 PM EDT

    Sunderland v Manchester United - Premier League Getty Images

    Manchester United’s Danny Welbeck went away to London for international break, and won’t return to the club after sealing a move to Arsenal.

  2. Americans Abroad wrap: Guzan stays unbeaten, Lichaj & Bedoya thrive

    Sep 1, 2014, 7:26 PM EDT

    FC Nantes v Montpellier Herault SC - Ligue 1 Getty Images

    Nantes, Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa are all surprising early-season teams, and Americans are playing big roles in each club’s success.

  3. Done Deal: Listing all the Deadline Day deals from the Premier League

    Sep 1, 2014, 7:13 PM EDT

    Ajax Amsterdam v PEC Zwolle - Johan Cruijff Shield Getty Images

    The biggest confirmed transfers on Deadline Day including Premier League teams.

  4. WATCH: Bart Simpson joins FC Zenit on deadline day; Greeted by AVB

    Sep 1, 2014, 6:40 PM EDT

    BwcxsXUCAAEscIQ

    If Andre Villas-Boas thought Emmanuel Adebayor was hard to handle, wait til he gets a load of this American character.

  5. Alvaro Negredo signs for Valencia on loan, $40 million deal in place

    Sep 1, 2014, 6:23 PM EDT

    Negredo Getty Images

    Negredo leaves City, heads back to Spain to play for Valencia.

  6. Hull City sign Gaston Ramirez on loan, agree deal for Ben Arfa

    Sep 1, 2014, 5:42 PM EDT

    Austria v Uruguay - International Friendly Match Getty Images

    Hull busy on Deadline Day as Ramirez join on loan, Ben Arfa could follow, late on Deadline Day.

  7. WATCH: Own goal for ages, Zlatan hat trick key PSG win over St Etienne

    Sep 1, 2014, 5:37 PM EDT

    Paris Saint-Germain FC v AS Saint-Etienne - Ligue 1 Getty Images

    In the words of NHL commentator Rick Jeanneret, roll the highlight reel for Ibra, Cavani and PSG, and the lowlight reel for one poor keeper.

  8. Reports: Arsenal to fork over $26 mil for Manchester United’s Welbeck

    Sep 1, 2014, 4:40 PM EDT

    Britain Soccer England AP

    Not a huge risk for Arsenal, but certainly a good bit of business for United. Could Welbeck become the next Daniel Sturridge?

  9. Deadline Day Transfer Rumor Roundup: 11th hour edition

    Sep 1, 2014, 4:18 PM EDT

    1409570021796_wps_117_BURNLEY_ENGLAND_AUGUST_30 Getty Images

    Jermain Defoe, Danny Welbeck and Hatem Ben Arfa all make one last run through the rumor mill as the deadline draws near.

  10. Done Deal: Daley Blind is officially a member of Manchester United

    Sep 1, 2014, 3:49 PM EDT

    _77314123_bwejvymimaacber

    The Dutch international rejoins his World Cup boss for four seasons at “the biggest club in the world.”

  11. Radamel Falcao’s heavy cost to Manchester United is in wages, not fee

    Sep 1, 2014, 3:32 PM EDT

    Falcao AP

    What originally was thought to be a steal is turning out to be quite a hit to Manchester United’s wallet.

  12. Confirmed AC Milan swap deal for Jonathan Biabiany now suddenly off

    Sep 1, 2014, 3:07 PM EDT

    Biabiany Getty Images

    AC Milan made the terrible mistake of confirming a deal before it was complete, and now they’re forced to rescind their confirmation.

  13. Stoke want to keep USA’s Geoff Cameron, Southampton in the hunt

    Sep 1, 2014, 2:50 PM EDT

    Harry Kane, Geoff Cameron AP

    Time running out for U.S. national team star to seal his move away from Stoke.

  14. Tottenham Hotspur offer $26 million plus Andros Townsend for Jay Rodriguez

    Sep 1, 2014, 2:40 PM EDT

    350x AP

    Spurs could be back in for Rodriguez, as third bid made for England international.

  15. Reports place Welbeck at Arsenal’s training ground, but that’s because so is England

    Sep 1, 2014, 1:27 PM EDT

    Photo credit: Squawka Photo credit: Squawka

    Reports are exploding that Welbeck’s location lends itself to a shock move to Arsenal, but we’re not so sure.

  16. Burnley sign young Chelsea midfielder Nathan Chalobah on loan

    Sep 1, 2014, 1:02 PM EDT

    Chalobah Getty Images

    It’s the fourth loan spell for Chalobah, who will get his first taste of Premier League play.

Featured video

Week 3: Saturday Premier League recap