Sport

Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou on his dream to conquer the world. By Jack Kerr.
Credit: GETTY IMAGES

Singular goal: Ange Postecoglou, 49, soccer coach

My goal with this group is to knock off a big nation at a World Cup. That’ll be our next step. That buys you the respect and the credibility of the football world, particularly when you are playing in the manner that we have over recent times. But I think we’ll look at ourselves differently, too. We’ve conquered the world in just about every other sport – golf, tennis, the Olympics – but when you get to the top in football, I think you just grow a little bit more as a nation.

Over the past 18 months, we’ve tried to put this group of players and the staff in the most difficult of situations. We hoped that on the other side of it they would thrive, and they have. There were no guarantees: it could have ended up being a disaster in terms of players losing belief through that. Particularly last year, when the results weren’t there. But I think it’s served us really well – because we came through that tough time, and have seen that all these things we are doing are for a reason. 

It’s important for the people around me to see that whatever we are dealing with, I’ve got it under control. When you’re in a leadership role, the last thing people want to see you do is be panicking or scratching your head about what to do. You don’t want the pilot running up and down the plane saying, “I don’t know what to do next!”

Amid the chaos, you try to keep a clear mind. I have an internal checklist that I go through whenever I need to deal with an issue or a problem. And usually when I’ve gone through that process, it has worked out okay. Whatever the outcome, we know that we’ve been through a process. 

I’ve been coaching for 18 or 19 years now, and the most difficult time was an eight- to nine-month gap where I wasn’t. Whatever I face in coaching – and there have been good and bad times – it pales into insignificance when compared with when you are not in the job at all. It was only a small period of time, but certainly it reminded me why I love what I do, and I missed it. I’ve always been happy when I’m coaching, whatever pressure or scrutiny I face. 

It takes a unique personality type to be a coach; you’ve got to be a little bit masochistic. Some of the best times I’ve had were the toughest times, where from the outside people are going: “Why do you do what you do?” But part of you likes that bit. So I think most players, when they begin to get into coaching, they understand that it’s not just a love of the game that will get you there and make you successful. 

I don’t know when I was playing that people would have looked at me as a natural coach. So you just don’t know which of this Socceroos squad will do it. There’s obviously some players – the more experienced ones like Mile Jedinak, Matt McKay and Mark Milligan – who you know would command respect. But it’s a unique occupation. It’s all encompassing, it’s 24/7, and it’s almost a lifestyle choice.

It just doesn’t work for me to be best friends with the players. It’s just not my style. I’ve seen other coaches and other leaders where that works for them, because that’s just their natural personality, but I would prefer to keep a distance. I’ve got to make some pretty tough decisions at times about individuals, in both a positive and negative sense, and I don’t want to be in that position where I’m making decisions and it gets tainted.

I’m not the kind of guy who people want to have a coffee with. I assume. But at the same time, I think, people get some sort of comfort about me leading them and understanding where they’re at, and how
I can get the best out of them. I take the job very seriously and I feel privileged to do it, and I expect the people around me to feel the same way.

Football is probably a step ahead of where the country is. We’ve integrated into Asia and understood that that is where the future is, and I think there is some synergy there with us as a nation. Asia is one of the fastest-growing regions in the world from many aspects, and if we can feel a part of that, a part of the region, then it will continue the prosperity we’ve already had in our country. The Asian Cup was great for us from a professional perspective, but also for the way people embraced all the different cultures.

Now that the team plays in the spirit of what our country is about, I think you’ll find that people really start to relate and want success for the team. And more broadly, want success for us as a nation. There’s probably no sport that’s more representative of what our country is than our game. You look at the cross-section of cultures that are integrated into Australian society today and our football team sort of represents that.

This week's highlights…

• Horseracing: VRC St Leger day 

Saturday, 1pm (first race), Flemington, Melbourne

• AFL: Essendon v Collingwood

Saturday, 2.40pm, Melbourne Cricket Ground

• NRL: Melbourne Storm v Manly 

Saturday, 6pm, AAMI Park, Melbourne

• Super Rugby: NSW Waratahs v Melbourne Rebels

Saturday, 7.55pm, ANZ Stadium, Sydney

• Netball: West Coast Fever v Waikato BOP Magic

Sunday, 12.18pm (AEST), HBF Stadium, Perth 

• A-League: Wellington Phoenix v Sydney FC

Sunday, 3pm (AEST), Westpac Stadium, Wellington

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 25, 2015 as "Singular goal". Subscribe here.

Jack Kerr
is a journalist and documentary maker.