For those in this trade the chance to coach against the top European clubs might only come around once in a lifetime. Rare that a coach might ever get the opportunity to coach against one of the big English teams; rarer still that the opportunity would present itself twice within the space of seven days – and perhaps, rarest of all, when the coach is in charge of two different teams.
It is one of the biggest weeks in Australian football history. Both Manchester United and Liverpool will face the A-League All-Stars and Melbourne Victory as part of their pre-season preparations, and Postecoglou will be right at the heart of it. It is nothing less than he deserves for the influence he has wielded over the evolution in Australian football in recent seasons; the fact he was voted by the Australian public to coach the All-Stars is illustrative of the esteem in which he is held.
It all started with a case of drink-driving. Frank Farina’s transgressions and subsequent exit from Brisbane Roar opened the door for Postecoglou to effect his grand changes, stripping down the walls of what he called a “boys’ club” and instilling a new structure from top to bottom. He emphasised possession at all costs, introduced periodization into pre-season and recruited players purely for their ability to fit into his system rather than, as is the norm, for their experience or their resume.
Piece by piece the puzzle fell into place and what a picture it created. What was the high point? The 29-game unbeaten streak, the first title, or successfully defending that crown the next season? No A-League club had ever won back-to-back trophies and no one had ever won it like this before, with such a scintillating brand of football that saw the team from Suncorp Stadium dubbed “Roarcelona”.
Postecoglou’s masterful overhaul of Brisbane set the tone for a seismic shift in the priorities of A-League clubs. There became an incresed focus on building a ‘philosophy’, a widespread desire to appoint coaches that pledged to play “modern” football. In other words, to play like Brisbane – but as is so often the case, no-one did it quite like the original.
It is the Postecoglou trademark that he is always ahead of the curve. Perhaps sensing that his powers at Brisbane were on the wane, in the autumn of 2012 he accepted a lucrative offer to return to his hometown in Melbourne, with the Victory. But crucially, he did not seek to emulate the Brisbane template, but engineered a new game-plan, using two playmakers in tandem as “double false nines” and emphasising attack, rather than possession, at all costs.
Victory produced some of the most thrilling football the A-League had ever seen but could not back it up with defensive stability, a whopping 45 goals conceded culling any hopes of a title. But Rome -and Brisbane – weren’t built in a day, and the navy blue and whites remains a work in progress.
Right now, Postecoglou is busy building the All-Stars, the inaugural edition of a team the FFA hopes to one day make a regular occurrence. But Postecoglou is not letting the players think that the opportunity to face Manchester United rolls around every day, urging them to grasp the opportunity to play against one of the world’s biggest clubs. He would know – for him, it’s been a thirteen-year wait, since South Melbourne lost to Manchester United in the Club World Cup back in 2000.
It has been even longer for the Liverpool fans in Australia, and the feeling is that for Postecoglou, the Liverpool match is the one he will most relish. ”I have been a fan almost my whole life,” the 47-year-old revealed in April.
”I don’t quite remember the 1971 FA Cup final, which we lost to Arsenal, but I began to support them shortly after. Players like Kevin Keegan and then Kenny Dalglish became my heroes, and I read the stories about Bill Shankly and loved the culture and what they represented. I loved the way they played, the passing game.”
There are no surprises when Postecoglou refers to the famed ‘Liverpool Way’. Indeed, both he and Rodgers could be cut from the same cloth, what with their preference for playing out from the back and emphasis placed on the value of possession. It was this that earned both of them new jobs at the start of last season, their steadfast approach towards a “modern” style of football scoring points in their employers’ eyes.
Indeed, Rodgers and Postecoglou might have a few similar anecdotes to share in the bowels of Etihad Stadium post-match, as the latter acknowledged earlier this year: “It’s his first year at Liverpool and it’s my first year at Victory; he has changed the way they play their football and I have done the same here. It would be lovely to have a chat to him to see how he has gone about it.”
It is not just the ‘old Liverpool’ style but also the fierce Shankly mentality that is evident in Postecoglou’s teams – that sheer, unyielding desire to never give up. The 2011 A-League Grand Final is the classic case in point: Brisbane, 2-0 down heading into the second half of extra time, summoned up all their energy for the most remarkable of sporting comebacks, drawing level with the final touch and going on to win the shoot-out.
That extraordinary fighting spirit is surely something that former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson would have appreciated very much. The Scotsman’s absence on Saturday night is a shame but that is no slight on his compatriot and successor David Moyes. As a Liverpool fan Postecoglou might not look too kindly upon the Scotsman’s 10 years in charge at Everton, but personal allegiance will not factor into Saturday night’s blockbuster friendly.
That will have to wait until the following Saturday when Liverpool arrive in Melbourne, the culmination of a whirlwind week that even Postecoglou might have struggled to believe was possible.
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