With Russia 2018 getting closer, it seems blatantly obvious – though not discussed by big media – that Australia will have a new manager for international football post 2018. How seriously the 2022 World Cup in Qatar is taken we don’t know, but the next manager’s role will be defined by our performance in Russia (assuming we get there). If we get past the Group Stage it will be considered a success and hence the new manager will be expected to toe the line of the previous regime, visavis ‘pass & press’. If we don’t move beyond the Group Stage the new manager will have free reign to lay down his own framework for success. On that note some of the names that are likely to be in the running to steer the ship include: Graham Arnold, Tony Popovic, Kevin Muscat, Gerard Houllier, Guus Hiddink and Marcelo Bielsa.
Graham Arnold has already served as manager for the Socceroos, but that was before his experiences at Central Coast Mariners, Vegalta Sendai and Sydney FC. In his short tenure from 2006 to mid 2007, Arnold became the scapegoat for Australia’s failed first Asian Cup performance. The Aussies bombed out in the group stage with Arnold claiming, “There’s some players who seem like they don’t want to be here.” Since then though, success has followed Arnold. His time at Central Coast Mariners saw the battling, low-budget club win its first and only A-League Championship (the major prize in Australian soccer), and add another Premiership to the club’s trophy cabinet.
Before joining Sydney FC and steering them to their record breaking 2016/17 season, Arnold spent a short time in Japan where he learnt that the playing group at lowly Vegalta Sendai would never take to a foreign manager. Barely two months into the season Arnold was turfed. Showing champions qualities, the former Socceroo found a job at Sydney FC for the 2014/15 A-League season and steered the Sky Blues to runner’s up in both the Premiership and Championship. In 2015/16 club made a strong start only for things to go sour in the new year. Arnold, saw the problem and cured the club of the cancer it had been infected with swiftly in the off-season. The record breaking season the Sky Blues are having now is down to the manager’s due diligence in that area and his ability build team morale. Even Harry Kewell one of the player’s known to have had a beef with GA’s management in the 2007 Asian Cup, is singing his praises. The Socceroos legend said, “. . . the manager that he has turned into is phenomenal. The way he has got his teams playing, especially in the A-League is fantastic.”
Tony Popovic has had less time in management but he has shown unlike the current Socceroos manager that he is flexible in the way he approaches games. Popa spent time as second in command at Sydney FC and Crystal Palace, before he was handed the job as Western Sydney Wanderers’ manager for their inaugural season in 2012/13.
Wanderers went on to win the Premiership in their first season. Popovic’s success was built on fortified defence that season, and though the club would fail to win the Championship Final, they scored more success in 2014 when they won the Asian Champions League. Not satisfied with regular success Popa then set about building a new playing style and persona at Western Sydney. The red and black added a Spanish flavour in 2015/16, playing more possession based, with the addition of Spanish coaching staff and players. Yet again Popovic’s managerial moves translated to success. The Wanderers went all the way to the Championship Final, only to fall at the last hurdle.
In 2016/17 Wanderers have found the going tough with the regular roster overhaul appearing to weaken the team’s usually reliable defence. But as this article goes to print Western Sydney have turned a corner and Popovic is once again being hailed by the fans.
Kevin Muscat is still very new to the management game and it’s highly unlikely he would get the nod ahead of either of the aforementioned. Muscat has proven critics wrong, as many Melbourne Victory fans were apprehensive about him getting the nod at the A-League club, after Ange Postecoglou left in a hurry for the Socceroos job.
Muscat famed for his hard hitting, no holds barred defence as a player has proven his playing style was no reflection of his management style. Muscat led Melbourne Victory to a Premiership-Championship double in 2014/15, after taking over part way into the 2013/14 season. The 43 year old has plenty to learn as a manager but his steely determination always obvious in his playing career, has carried over to the management role.
Gerard Houllier has reportedly got many contacts in Australia according to SBS but at the age of 69, the Frenchman’s boat may have sailed. Houllier’s name has been thrown up a number of times, and even as far back as 2004 (pre A-League) just out of his job with Liverpool, Mike Cockerill was speculating about Australian Soccer boss John O’Neill and Frank Lowy meeting with the Frenchman. Houllier currently has a technical role with Red Bull’s global football operations.
Guus Hiddink is the old favourite. Socceroos fans would do somersaults if ‘Aussie Guus’ embraced us in his loving arms again. Hiddink will always be remembered as the man who broke the 32 year drought. Having last qualified for a soccer World Cup in 1974, Guus Hiddink was given the nearly impossible task of taking the Socceroos to the 2006 World Cup. Given the reins in July 2005 he had barely 6 months to transform the team and give them the power to believe they could make history.
Hiddink’s Socceroos won through to the 2006 World Cup in a two legged play-off with Uruguay that went to extra-time and penalties. Not satisfied with that, the team did what no other Socceroos team has done, by qualifying for the knockout stage of the World Cup. For Guus though things went south pretty much from that point. His time with the Russian national team ended badly, as the Bears failed to qualify for South Africa 2010. As well as club postings, Hiddink worked with the Turkish and Netherlands’ National Teams post 2010. His aura seems to have truly vanished since his Socceroos days, at the age of 70 would the Dutch legend want to go round one more time with the Socceroos?
The other foreigner often linked to the Socceroos job is Marcelo Bielsa, who is currently employed by Lazio. Bielsa experienced success with the Argentinean National Team in World Cup Qualifying but unfortunately failed to get the team past the 2002 World Cup group stage. Bielsa took Chile to their first World Cup in three campaigns back in 2010 but moved on in 2011. He is known as a tactical mastermind and has a philosophy that ‘running is everything‘. Also described as chaotic and aggressive, could 61 year old Bielsa be the perfect fit?