Playing to instinct

I got my hair cut last night and on the way home called up Cheeseboy to check if he was watching the soccer. ”Come over,” he said, “and bring a bottle.”

I went over, and took a bottle with me.

We sat on his couch with his son and got through a bottle and half of red wine and assorted cheese and biscuits while watching the Socceroos take on the UAE in a world cup qualifier. Oz won a scrappy game 2-0 and everyone was happy.

We’ve been doing this for years, watching the soccer from his couch or mine, mostly A League, but often the Socceroos as well. We’ve watched the team evolve and the ups and downs as various coaches took charge. Hiddink was a favourite; Verbeek wasn’t. Postecoglou is great.

What I love about Postecoglou is that besides being a very good coach is that he is an Aussie, and has an Aussie mentality. That’s no small thing. When it comes to sport there is a very distinct Australian culture and attitude which some of the lesser foreign coaches we’ve had in charge never grasped. I think Australians in general, and certainly on the sporting field, are more aggressive. We have an expectation of attacking play. Not for us a passive or defensive approach. That suits us very well in a lot of sports in which we are pre-eminent, or close to, but always more problematic when it comes to sports such as soccer, where we’re mid-ranking.

We’re not as technically proficient as the leading soccer nations and don’t have the dyed in the wool understanding of the game like we do, say, cricket. Because of this Verbeek and Osieck tried a conservative approach when sending us onto the field. Our teams would be told to sit back and absorb our opponents attacks and hope to catch then on the counter-attack. Australian teams are generally well disciplined and they played the game they’ve been told, but it chafes against instinct.

Our strengths are athleticism, mental strength and a never say die attitude. We want to win, and would rather risk losing trying for it than settle for a tame draw. It’s not just the players – it’s the expectation of the Australian sporting public as well. There is no higher compliment than to be seen to have a go. That’s all we ever ask: have a go.

Postecoglou understands that very well, has been vocal about it, and has tapped into it very effectively. He has unleashed the players in his team and encouraged them to be daring and take the game up to our opponents. We’ve always been a great dis-respecter of reputations – it doesn’t matter if you’re ranked best in the world we’ll always rate our chances and will give it a good crack. It’s a great ethos that comes very easily: don’t die wondering.

That’s why I love Postecoglou and reckon he’s the perfect coach for our national team. He’s very astute tactically and prepares his teams well, but most of all he lets us play as our nature demands, and has got the best out of the team. And that’s all we ask too. Strive, and even if we fail then let it be on our own terms.

We won last night and we’re a long way from being world beaters, but it was sufficient for Cheeseboy and I to raise a glass and be thankful to support a team we can believe in.

 

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