Sunday Herald Sun - - Front Page -

BE­FORE Craig John­ston blazed the English trail in the 1980s, Aus­tralian play­ers were barely wel­come on trial.

A promis­ing crop of Aussie coaches now faces a sim­i­lar predica­ment in Europe, with mis­trust­ing clubs opt­ing for the “safe” hands of lo­cals or South Amer­i­cans.

The race to be­come the next John­ston or Ed­die Krnce­vic (con­ti­nen­tal Europe) of the coach­ing ranks is wide open, with Harry Kewell re­cently sacked, Tony Popovic back in the ALeague and Gra­ham Arnold locked in with the Soc­ceroos un­til 2021.

Ange Postecoglou signed a con­tract ex­ten­sion at Ja­panese club Yoko­hama F Mari­nos, leav­ing him well placed, while also un­der­lin­ing what sta­ble own­er­ship — City Foot­ball Group has a 20 per cent stake in the club — can do.

Popovic and Kewell have had first­hand ex­pe­ri­ence of trig­ger-happy own­ers — so too Arnold, who left Ja­panese club Ve­galta Sendai af­ter six games in 2014.

“Mate, it’s not easy, be­cause we’re Aus­tralian,’’ Arnold said.

“I’m very happy (coach­ing) the Soc­ceroos. I’ve got am­bi­tions (to go to Europe), but it’s a to­tally dif­fer­ent ket­tle of fish be­ing a trail­blazer as a coach over­seas to be­ing a player.

“In the ’80s when I went away, noone re­ally be­lieved in Aus­tralian play­ers. They had to taste Ed­die Krnce­vic, David Mitchell, Craig John­ston, (Frank) Fa­rina, my­self, (Rob­bie) Slater. We had to do well and once we did and gained that rep­u­ta­tion — that we Aus­tralians could deal with it — (per­cep­tions changed).

“Coach­ing, you just need some­one to give you a chance and be­lieve.

“Like Harry, was do­ing great at Craw­ley Town, then Notts County. He was like a trail­blazer. We re­ally needed Harry to do well. Same as Ange in Ja­pan. It’s great that he got an­other two years. If he does well, he can set the path­way for other coaches.

“But many for­eign coaches will prob­a­bly say the A-League is one of the hard­est leagues to coach in be­cause of the re­stric­tions around the salary cap.

“When Syd­ney FC played Chelsea (in 2015), I got to spend two hours with Jose Mour­inho. He asked me about the A-League. I told him about the salary cap and the mar­quees and he looked at me and said, ‘Wow, I couldn’t coach in this league.’”

Club sta­bil­ity and philo­soph­i­cal align­ment are cru­cial — Postecoglou’s Mari­nos fin­ished just two points above the rel­e­ga­tion zone, but they have com­mit­ted to his at­tack­ing phi­los­o­phy and ex­tended his deal.

Kewell was sold a vi­sion at Notts County be­fore it veered off track, while Karabuk­spor’s en­tire board was over­thrown and play­ers stopped get­ting paid within a fort­night of Popovic’s ar­rival.

Aussie coaches would love to be more se­lec­tive, but the of­fers are barely flood­ing in — hence the im­por­tance of a trail­blazer.

While Popovic has had Asian of­fers, Euro­pean clubs have con­sid­ered him — in­clud­ing his for­mer club Crys­tal Palace, where he was cap­tain and as­sis­tant coach.

Popovic and Kewell, in his pre­vi­ous Craw­ley Town job, op­er­ated on vir­tu­ally the small­est bud­gets in their re­spec­tive leagues.

“Hind­sight is won­der­ful. You think maybe I shouldn’t have taken it. I was con­fi­dent and don’t re­gret tak­ing it, not one lit­tle bit. It’s part of the jour­ney in life and foot­ball,’’ Popovic said.

“Tur­key was a huge chal­lenge. They’ve won one game since I left — win­ning once in 12 months sug­gests the club has prob­lems.

“Hav­ing a taste of Euro foot­ball and what I went through in Tur­key has only en­hanced my am­bi­tion to be the best coach I can be and get as high up that lad­der as pos­si­ble.’’

Postecoglou re­vealed that Yoko­hama chiefs were back­ing his play­ing phi­los­o­phy.

“I knew we’d get some ex­tremes in form. It was a ma­jor shift for this group of play­ers and for the club,” Postecoglou told SEN.

“They’re re­ally keen to keep go­ing down this road. They’ve been in the J.League for a long time, but haven’t won a ti­tle for 14 years or a tro­phy for five years.

“They felt they wanted a dif­fer­ent ap­proach and they could see it was dif­fer­ent. I have no doubt the club will be ex­pect­ing bet­ter re­sults next sea­son. I cer­tainly am.”

Mel­bourne Vic­tory’s Kevin Mus­cat leads the emerg­ing pack of Aus­tralian coaches who are yet to head abroad, but they too could do with some trail­blaz­ing help. [email protected]


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