Holger has to go

Holger has to go

COMMENT - Paul Williams

Enough is enough. Holger Osieck’s time as coach of the Australian national team has to end. Sunday morning’s 6-0 defeat at Brazil was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Holger Osieck's selections continue to baffle some Australian fans

Holger Osieck’s selections continue to baffle some Australian fans

Truth be told the back was creaking, some would say already broken. Australia’s faltering campaign to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup was seven minutes away from disaster, Josh Kennedy’s late header allowing the euphoria of qualification to paper over the Grand Canyon-like cracks in the Australian team.

When the FFA appointed the German in August 2010 we were told they did so because he met four specific criteria – one of them being a capacity to rebuild the ageing Socceroos side.

“Taking over at a stage of natural transition as we start our preparations for 2014 is an ideal opportunity to influence the future direction of the young players and coaches from Australia,” Osieck said at the time.

If that is still the criteria on which he is judged by the FFA then you have to say, on that KPI he has been a monumental failure. While it is true that Osieck has handed dozens of players their first caps, for the most part the Socceroos squad that we see now, which in all likelihood will be the Socceroos squad we take to Brazil, is the same squad Osieck inherited three years ago.

The “natural transition” simply has not happened because Osieck hasn’t allowed it to happen.

The back five is largely the same – Schwarzer is still in goal, Wilkshire is still at RB, Neill, even when he is club hopping his way around the globe, is still the senior central defender and after three years we still don’t have a recognised left back. That in itself is an indictment on the German.

We’re now relying on a left-footed central midfielder for no other reason than he is left footed. All the while 24-year-old Shane Lowry, who plays left back for his club side Milwall in the English Championship, has gone uncapped. Not only that, he hasn’t even been called up for a squad!

Jason Davidson, 22, looked like he might be one to break through and was handed his debut against Scotland last year, unfortunately conceding an own goal on debut. Injury crippled his season which largely explains his absence over the last 12 months. However, this season he has forced his way back into the Heracles side, playing three full games (out of five) at left back.

Now that he is back from injury and playing for his club side his call up should have been a formality given the obvious lack of left back options in the squad. His, and Lowry’s, exclusion continue to puzzle.

Ryan McGowan is rated by most as a highly talented prospect for the future, but his torrid night at right back trying to tame Neymar highlights the flaw in Osieck’s selection over the last three years. Wilkshire is the nominal right back and has started in that position when he has been called up. Osieck’s failure to give opportunities to other players, namely McGowan and Middlesbrough’s Rhys Williams, in friendly games over the last three years left McGowan exposed against one of the best players in the world.

It is the same in almost every position.

Players playing, and in most cases playing regularly, in Europe are often ignored for the status quo. Yes Holger’s job was to qualify for the World Cup, but the FFA explicitly outlined at the time of his appointment that developing the next generation was a key KPI. Yet Holger has looked no further ahead than June 2014, with scant regard for how the squad will look just six months later when Australia hosts the 2015 AFC Asian Cup, and then not long after when qualification begins for Russia 2018.

Once again we will be told about the “natural transition” and yet a number of the senior brigade have flagged their intention to play on until the AFC Asian Cup. Whilst they are legends of the game, they should be told in no uncertain terms, no.

For the good of the national team we have to cut adrift the remaining members of the golden generation and invest valuable time into the next generation – something that was supposed to happen three years ago.

Unfortunately we’re probably too far down the path to do that for this World Cup, although with a new coach in charge with a clear mandate for change it is still possible. It is a conversation we need to have. Just how do we approach the 2014 World Cup?

Do we stick to our guns, hope for the best and aim for damage limitation, or do we take control of our own destiny, put a new coach in charge and view Brazil 2014 as the first step in rebuilding the side with Russia 2018 the end goal?

Using the World Cup as a development exercise will not get overwhelming support. People expect us to take our strongest squad and put our best foot forward, and rightly so.

But as the old saying goes, those who fail to plan, plan to fail. A quick look at the Australian cricket team perfectly illustrates that point, and yet that is exactly the path our national football team is taking. An over reliance on the old guard and no plan for generational change – the ingredients are exactly the same. And look at the Australian cricket team now.

It’s not easy to sack a coach who qualified the nation for the World Cup, but if the FFA want a strong national team with a realistic chance of winning the Asian Cup and qualifying for Russia 2018 then that is exactly what they have to do.

Otherwise expect performances like Sunday to become the norm, if they aren’t already.


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