Why Holger Osiek’s time has comePosted: September 10, 2013
While this is primarily a blog about Brisbane Roar and 99.99% of the posts are on that subject, we all offcourse pay close attention to the state of the national team. In the aftermath of the recent friendly in Brasilia there has been a clamour for the national coach Holger Osiek to be replaced. Im of the opinion he should already have been replaced 12 months ago after the loss away to Jordan- but he’s still here and here we are. Were going to divide this up into 3 areas- results, performances and regeneration.
Part 1: Results
Results are offcourse what managers are primarily judged on, and in truth in this aspect at least Osiek has been successful for the most part. During his tenure he’s lead us to the Asian Cup Final for the first time, guided an inexperienced side to the East Asian Cup Finals, and also navigated a difficult World Cup qualifying campaign. For those requiring a refresher, here’s the results from the Holger Osiek era.
That equals a record from 43 matches of 23 wins, 10 draws and 10 losses, scoring 84 goals and conceding 41. Dig a little deeper however and you can see that the majority of his good results have either come in his first 18 months in charge, and/or against some of the lesser nations within the Asian confederation. If you just look at results against either the top Asian nations, or nations from other confederations you get a different picture.
So, of the 19 matches played either against the other top Asian nations, or nations from other confederations the Osiek lead Socceroos have won just 7 from 19 games- and 2 of those were against New Zealand and Wales. Against our biggest rivals in the Asian Confederation we’ve recorded just the one win from 7 games against them. Overall from a results standpoint you’d have to give him a tick, and say that he’s met the criteria laid out for him
Part 2: Performances
While managers are judged on results primarily, performances and how the team is playing also comes under sharp focus from both media ‘experts’ and fans alike and it has to be said the performances in recent times have been sub-standard.
Things started off reasonably well on this front with Osiek’s narrow 4-4-2 diamond formation leading to some solid showings in the Asian Cup and a impressive second half performance away to Germany leading to a famous win. Things however began to unravel from that point.
As we moved into the first phase of World Cup Qualifying the campaign started here in Brisbane with a positive result, but a performance that left many deflated and expecting more. With Kennedy and Cahill playing upfront together, the Australians resorted to long, hopeful crosses from Wilkshire more often than not, which lead to nothing. For the game 4 days later away to Saudi Arabia, Osiek brought Holman in from the left flank with McKay moving back into his left midfield role and Zullo at left back. The side looked far more balanced and the performance was one of the best in Osiek’s tenure.
Since then however the performances have headed downhill with a disappointing performance away to Oman leading to a loss in qualifying, before another loss away to Denmark just before the final round of qualifiers. That began again away to Oman, and despite it being 0-0, the Australians struggled to create anything. 4 days later at home to Japan, Brisbane had to scrap for a draw after going a goal down and being down to 10 men. The Japanese used their numerical advantage by played some impressive possession football leaving Australia to resort to long balls up the park to use the aerial threat of Cahill and the speed of Brosque- which due to the Japanese being incredibly suspect to the high ball, worked to some extent.
After a really awful showing away to Scotland in a friendly –particularly in a defensive sense- the qualifying campaign continued with away trips to Jordan and Iraq. Jordan thoroughly outclassed the Socceroos in a 2-1 win for the hosts, while it took a late fight back to prevent another loss to Iraq. It was at this point the media first began to question Osiek and the team’s performances, and imo it was the time to replace him. He stayed on, and after an East Asian Cup qualifying campaign that included an extremely poor performance in a 0-0 draw with North Korea, Australia took on Romania in Spain.
The Romanians showed quite clearly the gulf between the two sides, with the Australians exposed again in the defensive third and offering precious little going forward. Between this and the previous Scotland and South Korean friendlies, Osiek had decided that the next generation weren’t ready for action, despite not being given much of a chance to show their worth. Not ideal preparation for the final 4 qualifiers, which started at home to Oman. Having won just one game from four in the final round of qualifying, Australia desperately needed a win to get things back on track, instead they produced arguably their worst effort of the Osiek reign.
After some horrendous defending from Thwaite and Cornthwaite leading to the opening goal, Jedinak gifted the travelling Omani’s a 2-0 lead just after the halftime break. To be fair the fight back from then was impressive, but it doesn’t take away from the fact they were incredibly lucky to get out of it with even a draw- by most objective views, the Omanis were the better side and deserved the win.
That meant Australia had no room for error in the final 3 games away to Japan and home to Jordan and Iraq, and to Osiek’s credit these were the best performances in the last 18 months. The Japanese had all of the ball in Saitama, but they couldn’t find a way through until the death, while Australia tried to hit on the break through Kruse and Oar. The Jordan game was a solid display which left Australia 90 minutes from the World Cup, and up against a young and inexperienced Iraqi side. Despite that Australia struggled to break the visitors down and only booked their ticket to Rio late on with a Josh Kennedy header.
The most recent performances however have been extremely disappointing to say the least with an A-League select squad going to the East Asian Cup and being outclassed in all 3 games and coming home without a win. That brings us to the weekend and what was an insipid effort against Brazil which exposed each and every weakness in the Australian side- weaknesses which have been seemingly ignored over a long period of time by Osiek.
Part 3: Regeneration
This is where imo Osiek has failed and is the most culpable, because the side is hardly any different from the one he inherited back in August 2010. Schwarzer, Neill, Wilkshire, Bresciano, Cahill, Kennedy, Kewell, Holman and Thompson have been in the squad since 2006 and are still key contributors to the current squad nearly 8 years later. In addition to that promising youngsters from when he took over like Federici, Williams, Spiranovic, Troisi, Rukavystya, Kilkenny and Vidosic, who were meant to be apart of the current generation have largely been kept out of the squad. Some of that is due to poor performances and poor movements from players, but even still it’s a poor strike rate.
So which players have established themselves as regular Socceroos under the Osiek reign? The most prominent who fall into this category are Sasa Ognenovski and Matt McKay with the big Ogmonster holding down the central defensive berth alongside Lucas Neill, while McKay has been shifted from a left midfield role where he was performing well to the left back slot where he looks out of his depth. It’s only in more recent times that young flyer Tommy Oar has seen his solid performances for FC Utrecht rewarded with regular playing time. The outlier to all of this offcourse is Robbie Kruse who won the right sided role off Brett Emerton in the 2011 Asian Cup and has been in the side ever since, and is now benefiting with some solid showings in Junes qualifiers.
There has also been an alarming trend with out best players preferring to take the money on offer in the Middle East or China, as opposed to testing themselves at the highest level in Europe. Brett Holman for example has opted to move from Aston Villa to Abu Dhabi in the prime of his career. I have no problem with players opting to maximise their earnings from their careers- but if they choose that option they should no longer be automatic starters for the national team.
Just to wrap this up- lets just dot point the two most glaring failures in regenerating the squad.
Centre back: Rather than persist with Spiranovic, Williams or even give promising youngsters like Luke DeVere or Trent Sainsbury a chance- Osiek has persisted with the aging Neill and Ognenovski, with the error prone Robbie Cornthwaite jumping up the pecking order.
Left back: Despite younger options who are playing regularly in Europe like Jason Davidson and Shane Lowry being available, Osiek continues to persist with Matt McKay playing out of position in the role. Not only is it a poor option in a defensive sense, it also removed McKay from the middle and front third where he was performing well. To be fair, Oar has since gone on to make the left midfield spot his own, but left back is a specialist position, and McKay, while a solid footballer doesn’t fit the bill.
All of this leads to the fact that results aside, under Osiek performances have dropped as have the results and were left with basically the same side which performed with aplomb at the 2006 world cup and there is a fear the side could suffer heavy defeats in the showpiece next June. There’s also the important matter of the Asian Cup at home just 7 months later, and whenever you host a tournament you have a massive chance to wit it. But can the golden generation, who will all be 35 or older by then really rise to the top of Asian football then? I remain sceptical.
So who could a potential replacement be? Well the first two names that have drawn media attention are Ange Postecoglou and Guus Hiddink. For mine, I can’t see Hiddink returning to manage this current side, while Postecoglou would likely lead to drastic changes to personnel and tactics- something most fans would welcome. Others who could be considered and are worthy of a mention are former Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk, ex Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard and former English boss Sven Goran Eriksson. Any of those would provide a big name manager which would gain the respect of the players and the footballing world. There is still time to save the 2014 WC campaign, but the FFA must bite the bullet, and soon.