Friday, September 3, 2010
Socceroos hunt for home-grown coach
Frank Lowy is valued at $5.04 billion and on his way to becoming Australia's richest man he has developed a ruthless business streak. It was Lowy who overruled then Football Federation Australia (FFA) chief executive John O'Neill in 2005 to axe Frank Farina and replace him with Guus Hiddink on the eve of the decisive qualifiers against Uruguay.
So when Lowy declares that he wants the next Socceroos coach to be Australian it is evident he is not shooting from the hip.
Current coach Holger Osieck's signed until the end of the Brazil 2014 World Cup campaign and Lowy is hoping to appoint a home-grown product as the German's successor.
"This is an objective and we need to look at it as an objective and it's a strong objective, we hope so," said Lowy, who is a month shy of turning 80 years old. "We're certainly taking the steps towards that, whether the last step happens or not we will see."
While a number of experienced Australian coaches continue to ply their trade in the A-League FFA has diverted its attention to the younger generation.
Former Adelaide United coach Aurelio Vidmar is the early favourite and is being groomed as a successor - he is juggling the Olyroos (Australian under-23 team) job with the Socceroos' assistants' gig. It was an appointment driven by Han Berger, FFA's technical director who rates Vidmar highly.
Osieck's second assistant will also be local, bucking the trends of Guus Hiddink and Pim Verbeek.
"The second assistant will be Australian. There are two or three names but I won't put them on the table because Holger will decide," said Lowy. "Holger might call in a specialist coach at some stage but it's just him and the two Australian assistants. We have a number of young coaches who are in the running to become the second assistant.
"A number of coaches come with a team of three or four, including physios. But when they leave everyone departs with them and you have to start again, so it's very important that we have continuity."
Osieck's brief is much wider than Pim Verbeek's and FFA will lean heavily on the 62-year-old German to share his wealth of coaching knowledge with local tacticians. He's experience dates back to 1977 when he commenced coaching Vancouver Whitecaps and includes a stint as Franz Beckenbauer's assistant when Germany last held the Jules Rimet trophy aloft in 1990.
Having headed FIFA's technical department in recent years, his football knowledge is outstanding.
In his first Socceroos encounter in Ljubljana last month, Luke Wilkshire almost fell off his chair when Osieck recalled him playing for the Olyroos at the 2004 Olympics. Whether that wisdom translates into coaching success remains to be seen, but Lowy said Osieck has no qualms about imparting his trade secrets.
"That was the attraction and that was the objective and the criteria and he accepted it with open arms," Lowy said. "And my discussion with Franz Beckenbauer confirmed that. Franz told me he's very amenable to these things, he likes to educate.
"He was a youth coach and Beckebauer's assistant and coached on his own and to be technical director of FIFA. It's not something to be sneezed at."
A rushed appointment after the stunning backflip from fellow Dutchman Dick Advocaat, Verbeek's brief was simply qualifying for the 2010 World Cup which he did with aplomb. But should he have become more involved, Holger style?
"You do not force someone to get involved they need to want to do it themselves," said Lowy. "He was not living in Australia, he was a resident of Holland so he had to travel a lot and it was not possible for him to do more under those circumstances.
"And frankly that wasn't the condition when we appointed him either - he was a coach and that's it so I don't have any criticism of him.
"And when you look back he had a successful coaching period with the Socceroos. At the World Cup we were unlucky, we finished with the same points as last time and didn't make it.
Lowy rubber-stamped the appointment of Osieck after FFA's five-man selection panel endured an exhaustive interview process which commenced last March when Verbeek announced he would be stepping down after South Africa 2010.
FFA had no pre-conceived ideas and aimed for the stars - England coach Fabio Capello was approached early in the piece and contact was made with Italy's World Cup winning coach Marcello Lippi. FFA was impressed by Paul LeGuen in the early stages but a disappointing World Cup campaign with Cameroon saw their interest cool.
It's understood they warmed to the idea of Marcelo Bielsa after watching him transform unfancied Chile into an attractive, attack-minded and - importantly - youthful side in South Africa. But as obstacles presented themselves Osieck loomed as the best option - available, affordable and affable.
"You see what you get with Holger - straightforward, knowledgeable, experienced and knows the game at many levels," declared Lowy. "There was an extensive interview process, the selection committee set the criteria and we were adamant on certain points such as living in Australia, being a teacher and educator and participating in the game.
"Six were interviewed and there were about 12 names on the list. Some dropped off because they were unavailable others because they cost too much money others dropped off because of timing. In the end I think the process was very healthy and we were unanimous in our decision."
Osieck's honeymoon period will be much shorter than Verbeek's with the small detail of an Asian Cup just around the corner, plus he's expected to usher in the new generation.
But in declaring that he wants to win the Asian Cup, not only has he placed pressure on himself but it appears counter-productive to the 'generation next' plan that FFA's been spruiking.