BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Ange Postecoglou cherishes memories of watching the 1974 World Cup on a small black-and-white TV with his dad, recalling how that shared experience when he was 9 helped transform him into an ardent Australia supporter.
Watching those late-night games was rare and precious father-son time in a migrant family struggling to come to grips with differences between their old life in Greece and living in Melbourne.
“It seemed the whole world was in bed and it was just my dad and I watching the Socceroos take on the world,” Postecoglou recently wrote. “We rode every goal, miss and emotion. For me it seemed the greatest time ever.”
That’s why when other candidates may have perceived the Australian coaching job as something of a poison chalice, replacing a high-profile foreign coach after back-to-back 6-0 losses to Brazil and France only nine months ahead of the World Cup, Postecoglou saw it as a fantastic opportunity.
Australia has qualified for three consecutive World Cups, but the expectations have been diminishing with each trip. In Brazil, the Socceroos are grouped with both finalists from 2010 — defending champion Spain and the Netherlands — and Chile. Most critics don’t expect them to earn a point.
“It’s a chance for us to measure ourselves,” Postecoglou told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “From my point of view, we’re going to be very positive.”
That’s Postecoglou’s way, and it’s his interpretation of the Australian way.
“I know the Australian sporting culture,” said Postecoglou, who played for the Socceroos, is a former national youth team manager and the most successful coach in the domestic A-League. “Having grown up in this country, I’ve got an awareness of what the public expects from its national teams. Our players will respond to that.
“We want all our teams to be attacking teams, and our players like to play that way,” he added. “That’s been my philosophy — to play attacking, be aggressive.”
That kind of positivity was evident as an inexperienced Australia lineup raced to a 3-0 halftime lead in a friendly against Ecuador in London in March. The downside was the match ended in a 4-3 loss, with Australia down a man after goalkeeper Mitch Langerak was red-carded for a crude tackle in the second half.
“The philosophy I want to take moving forward — which I believe we need to take — is absolutely crystal-clear now,” he said.
A 1-1 draw against an understrength South Africa squad in Sydney two days before the Australian squad departed for Brazil didn’t inspire a lot of confidence among the 50,000 fans at the stadium, but Postecoglou said he wouldn’t criticize the players because they were in the midst of a physically demanding and intense training camp.
Postecoglou won two national championships with South Melbourne Hellas as a player, then guided the club to two titles as coach. After the national league was scrapped and recreated as the A-League, he won back-to-back titles with the Brisbane Roar before returning to Melbourne to coach the Victory. He wasn’t there long before the Socceroos job became available when Holger Osieck was fired in October.
He watched Australia’s “Golden Age” from the sidelines, inside the stadium when Australia qualified for the 2006 World Cup — its first since 1974 — on penalties in a shootout against two-time World Cup champion Uruguay. He watched the Socceroos’ progress to the second round on TV, unable to go to Germany due to work commitments. Similar story in 2010, where Australia had a disappointing showing after an early thumping from Germany, when the defensive game plan was heavily criticized as being incongruous with Australia’s style.
Very early in his tenure, Postecoglou said that the 2018 World Cup was more likely to be where Australia is again a genuine contender to reach the knockout stages. He thinks being the first home-grown coach in almost a decade might buy him some more time and patience with the Australian public, but he’s not banking on it.
“I’m going to get measured like everyone else, local or foreign — success on the field is paramount,” he said. “I want to build a successful team as quickly as possible. I can’t control the general mood of the public, but if we play in the way I aspire us to play, the public will get behind the team.”