Ange Postecoglou believes in the players he selects. This is as it should be, otherwise why select them. But it has not always been thus.
Over the decades the Socceroos have often been led by men who didn’t believe in them or in their capacity to compete at an elite international level. Jim Shoulder, Rudi Gutendorf, Eddie Thomson, Pim Verbeek and Holger Osieck spring readily to mind.
This lack of belief was usually embodied by negative and reactive playing systems and philosophies. We all remember Thomson’s favoured one-striker (‘lone ranger’) system, Verbeek’s cowardly tactical set-up against Germany (for which, in my view, he should have been sacked at half time) and Osieck’s reluctance to use young players instead of playing it safe by using clapped-out old ones.
We are now, with Postecoglou in charge, as far away as we could ever be from this defeatist attitude.
The tired old governing notion that Australian players are abject third world, who lack tactical sophistication and are devoid of an ability to trap the ball or pass it in a straight line, is not for this man.
This conviction, and Postecoglou’s insistence that he is right, has governed the way he selects players and the way he uses them not just since he became national coach in 2013 but further back, since 2009 when he became coach of Brisbane Roar.
This conviction, which some view as obstinacy, was at the centre of debate over the recent Socceroos performances against Iraq and the United Arab Emirates.
Going into two must-win World Cup qualifiers Postecoglou thrust upon the players a new playing system, 3:4:3, which if anything is seen to be even more attacking than his previously preferred 4:3:3.
This was not an experiment, one must remember, nor a test. It was a full blooded effort by the coach to have the players embrace a playing system they have rarely deployed before.
It showed. Devoid of a double wave of flankers – the two wingers backed by the two wingbacks – the Aussie defensive trio was copping a kicking against Iraq in Tehran. It could have ended up uglier.
Things improved for the second game in Sydney after Postecoglou brought in the solid Trent Sainsbury at centre back and pushed the mobile Mark Milligan forward to accompany Mile Jedinak.
But it was still a struggle. There was still no attacking flow and, once again, the team relied on set pieces and aerial power to get their goals.
Ange said something post-match about the Aussies creating unconverted scoring chances but clearly they didn’t do enough of them.
Let’s face it, the team got through these two critical games by their will and, more importantly, athletic power. I predicted an Aussie win for the UAE game but I placed that faith entirely in Australia’s traditional capacity to physically overpower the opposition.
We will qualify automatically, I say, but again I say that, even in the absence of attacking science, because I believe Australia will have too much power against Saudi Arabia, Japan and Thailand.
This is not as I would wish it and I am secretly hoping that the return of Aaron Mooy and Tom Rogic will bring back the required creativity.
As I say, we will get there but what happens after that is another matter.
If the World Cup draw brings us another Spain, Holland and Chile, sheer physical presence and power will not be enough. The technical beauties of 3:4:3 will by then need to have kicked in.