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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