Former Socceroos striker David Zdrilic believes the FFA must pull out all stops to sign Red Bull Leipzig sporting director Ralf Rangnick as manager, describing it as a “once-in-a-generation opportunity”.
Rangnick, 59, has been linked with the top job alongside a slew of candidates including Marcelo Bielsa, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Graham Arnold and Tony Popovic.
But Zdrilic has a greater insight to Rangnick than most, having played under the German icon in the late 1990s and now working as a coach with Leipzig’s under-17 team, which at the winter break, currently leads the u-17 Bundesliga by two points.
Currently in Australia on holiday, Zdrilic admitted to The World Game that he was unaware of any contact between Rangnick and the FFA but said the link was hardly surprising.
“Honestly, if you’re looking to get a world-class coach to do the job, who understands the Australian mentality, he’s probably number one on your list,” Zdrilic said.
“Tactically, this guy is unbelievable. There’s only a handful of coaches in the world who are at his level. To change the game in Germany, as he has, and is still doing, is remarkable.
“If he’s available, it’s probably a once-in-a-generation opportunity to have one of the world’s best in charge.”
The style of play – endearingly termed “Ralfball” by the German media – would be easy to implement with the Socceroos, according to Zdrilic.
“Ralf’s style is a fast, attacking, ruthless approach. To me, you could use the same words to describe Australia when we’re playing our most natural and most effective style. We love taking the game on,” he said.
“Without offending anyone here – the difference is that Ralf knows how to make that style of play effective at the highest level.
“Right now, he’s probably in the top three or four football 'innovators' in the whole world. Leipzig were in the fourth division four years ago – and they finished second in the Bundesliga last year, mostly with players that he either scouted, developed or bought himself.
"He loves bringing in young players and has a gift for getting the best out of them.”
However, Zdrilic said it might take some work to get the former Hoffenheim coach – who has been linked to Everton, England and Belgium all in the past year – to be persuaded.
“He’s just extended his contract this month, so he’s clearly not actively seeking a move,” Zdrilic said.
“But everyone has a dream of coaching internationally. And with Ralf, he’s always looked for the biggest challenge. Defying expectations is in his DNA and the Socceroos need somebody like that right now.”
Zdrilic said he was “as surprised as anyone” to see Ange Postecoglou quit his post before the World Cup but said it could produce an unlikely opportunity to showcase Australia's ambition.
“The next coach of the Socceroos should be somebody who can build on what has already been done but then take us to the next level,” Zdrilic said.
“Right now, we need somebody who can lead. This is a difficult time for Australian football but the Socceroos can really unite everyone if they get the right leader in place. The next coach has got to make us dream – and also make us believe.
“When I look at our World Cup group, it's tough but not impossible. A world-class manager could make all the difference.”
Zdrilic said he’d always harboured ambitions of working under Rangnick after spending a season with him at Ulm in 1998-99, winning promotion to the Bundesliga with a style of play that the striker said “took Germany by storm”.
“I think I learned more from him in one week than I’d learned from anyone else in my whole life – and he was only just starting out as a coach back then,” Zdrilic said.
“His tactics were amazing. The detail was mind-blowing but he made it digestible for players. It actually made playing easier.
"We just grew in confidence because of his system and we ultimately scored more goals than anyone else. People were going crazy about what this unknown team from this little city were doing.
“He left us at the end of the year but I always followed his career. I’m not the slightest bit surprised at what he’s been able to do ever since.”