Opinion

Australian football needs to believe in itself like Postecoglou does

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Australian football was taught a lesson last night by its greatest ever coach.

But the lesson was not in Ange Postecoglou’s tactics, as impressive as they were, the lesson was in self-belief. 

As Yokohama F. Marinos destroyed Sydney FC 4-0, Postecoglou stood on the sidelines calm, collected and in control as his side made the A-League champions look anything but. 

A calmness that can only come from a self-assuredness and belief in one’s own ideas. 

How has a team that narrowly escaped relegation at the end of Postecoglou’s first season become the favourites for the AFC Champions League at the start of his third? 

"The important thing for us is the players now really believe in our football and they play without fear and it makes a big difference,” Postecoglou said after the match. 

You might be thinking that it’s easy to be confident when you’ve won 4-0. 

But what about in his first season? Yokohama lost six matches out of seven, conceded the most goals in the league and were one point above the relegation zone.

He was in a country he had never lived in before and he didn’t speak the language - surely he was starting to doubt himself.

“No mate, never any doubts,” Postecoglou told me in December. 

“They’re the bits I enjoy. People do doubt you, but they can’t actually see what you’re building. 

“There were good signs that we were making progress.”

Postecoglou backs himself. He backs his players. He backs his assistants. He backs his ideas. 

What might be most impressive about Postecoglou is not his approach when Yokohama played Sydney FC - where Yokohama had the superior XI, although not as superior as some will have you believe - but that he continues this approach when he clearly has the inferior players. 

He played with the same philosophy at the 2014 FIFA World Cup when, less than a year into the job, his Socceroos side took the game to Chile, Netherlands and Spain. 

His players believed that they could match it with the likes of Arjen Robben, Alexis Sanchez and Andres Iniesta.

"Ange was probably the best coach I ever worked under. He made you go out on to that pitch and feel like no one could touch you,” Socceroos defender Ryan McGowan said on The World Game LIVE in August last year. 

Postecoglou believed in himself when he took over Brisbane Roar in 2009. 

“At Brisbane I wanted to show that Australian players can adopt an international best-practice playing style, and do it in the A-League - and win by playing that way,” Postecoglou wrote in his 2016 book My Game

“I believed we could do it and that's what I had in my mind would change the way the club game was viewed in Australia.” 

Let me be very clear, do not confuse self-belief with arrogance. Arrogance is not being open to new ideas; not being open to evolving and improving. Thinking you know it all and refusing to learn more. 

Self-belief is the confidence to know that you can adapt to any challenges that come your way, that as the world around you evolves, you can evolve with it. 

Postecoglou himself admits he stopped to watch and learn in between his time with the Young Socceroos and Brisbane. 

“Before Brisbane, I had time to watch and think. Spanish giants Barcelona were playing this unbelievable football. 

“That team had made its mark on football history, that was a legacy.

“They were keeping the ball for fun, against the best club teams and players on the planet. 

“I thought, ‘I have to have a piece of that. We have to do that in Australia.’

“I refused to accept that geography should limit the type of football we try to play. 

“Because these unbelievable players at Barcelona were playing this keep-ball game, the assumption was that you had to be the best in the world to do it. 

“But I took the contrary view, that the roots of that style of game aren’t embedded in extreme technical ability.

“In fact, it taps into the things that are close to Australia as a nation: teamwork, courage, never backing down, never taking a backward step, always being prepared to back yourself and help your mate out.” 

Everything Postecoglou does comes with a strong self-belief that is endowed by an intelligent person knowing they have considered their options, thought about what they are going to do and worked hard to achieve it. 

Australian football must do the same across the entirety of the game. 

The people in charge, at all levels, must be smart, hard-working and selfless and they must believe in the sport. 

We must believe that we can compete with the best in Asia, even despite our smaller resources. 

All around the world, football produces matches every day where the team with less money beats the team with more money. 

Postecoglou won the title with Yokohama last season, despite 10 teams in the J1 League spending more money. 

We must believe that our own league can grow and prosper. We must believe that our league, again - with the right people in charge, can produce quality players and teams. 

The A-League should not be dismissed as a 'crap' league when our teams lose in Asia. Instead, we should follow the lead of Postecoglou and look at where we can improve, how we can improve, how we can squeeze the most out of what we have. 

In the same way that we should not mindlessly hammer the A-League, we shouldn’t mindlessly dismiss any criticism of the league and its teams as ‘euro-snobbery’. 

We must believe that with the right people in charge for the right reasons, a second division can work in this country, that promotion and relegation can work. 

After all, promotion-relegation and a connected football pyramid is a vital characteristic of football around the world. It has worked everywhere else. Believe in the game. 

Believe in active fans which are equally a vital characteristic of football around the world. 

We can make our national league exciting with the best atmosphere in the country. 

Don’t worry about watering it down to please those that don’t believe in our game. Show them by leading the way that our sport can prosper. 

“Worrying about the views of others, however eminent those people may be, is a distraction that only reduces effectiveness,” Postecoglou wrote in 2016.

“Back yourself, back your competition, back your players and back your own ability. It will stand the test.”  

We must believe that the league can work in both summer and winter, maybe one is better than the other for our circumstances - a debate for another day - but we must believe that with the right people it can thrive in either. 

Postecoglou himself has called for Australian football to be bold. 

“Football seems to be in an introspective mood at the moment. We’re head down, dealing with today’s problems,” Postecoglou wrote. 

“The problem with these periods is that you lose sight of the horizon and inertia sets in. 

“There’s no clearly articulated plan for how we are going to get to the light on the hill. 

“Football people can see that place, can imagine what it’s like to get there, yet the brakes are on. 

“The game is waiting to boom and waiting for the leaders to take it, us, into that land of milk and honey. 

“What are we waiting for? Let’s get it done. People will respond if you’re bold and courageous. 

“Conversely, they’ll leave you to wither if you lack the courage required for their game. 

“They believe in it - do you? They want you to drive hard - will you?” 

The great Johnny Warren believed in the game and was driven to do all he could to improve the game’s standards and standing in Australia. 

He knew how big the game could be. He wanted his legacy to be "I told you so" to everyone who said the game could not work in this country, that our national teams could not be successful. 

Postecoglou continues this legacy - I hope we hear him say "I told you so" in the very near future.