Opinion

Sorry Arnold, Postecoglou proves A-League needs foreign bosses

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How many A-League clubs would love to hire Manuel Pellegrini? The urbane Chilean may give the dullest press conferences in the world but is also known all around it. Yet he was paid many times more than Li Tie to coach Hebei CFFC in China and did not manage to do any better.

In August 2015 Li, a former Everton midfielder, took the head coach job at the tender age of 38.

He led the team to the top tier for the first time in history and for most of the first half of the season had the northerners in the top four.

A little mid-campaign wobble and he was replaced by the former Real Madrid and Manchester City boss.

Surely, thought bosses, if a young and inexperienced local coach could do so well, what could someone like Pellegrini, already over 60, manage? Not much, as it turned out.

It was a short-sighted and knee-jerk appointment from a club that simply wanted a big name foreign coach.

When the development of young domestic coaches is blocked by overpaid imports then the problem is obvious.

And the remarks by Graham Arnold talking up Australian coaches are understandable.

With three A-League coaches falling by the wayside already in 2020, there are soon going be some new faces and new behinds sitting on benches around Australia.

Being kicked out of a club goes with the coaching territory, always has and always will as long as teams lose games.

The debate about foreign coaches versus domestic is a little newer (Aston Villa appointing Czech tactician Dr Jozef Venglos in 1990 was greeted with incredulity in English football) however, but now can be heard around the world.

"There's only ever been three foreign coaches who've won the competition in 16-17 years," Arnold said.

"Australian coaches, they understand the culture, they understand the Australian way.

"If you have a look at some of the coaches that are coming through - I look at myself as one of the older statesmen now - you have a look at what Uffie Talay's doing, Tony Popovic of course, Kevin Muscat, John Aloisi, Mark Rudan - what he's doing at Western United.

"There's some very good young coaches out there and they're Australian."

Arnold is right that there are some good young coaches out there and he also correct in that he is now one of the senior figures in Australian coaching circles.

He is also the national team boss and so it is natural that he is going to stick up for his coaching compatriots.

He’s wrong, though, in another sense.

Nationality should not be a primary factor when hiring a coach even if it too often is.

If there is a better foreign tactician available and affordable then he should get the job over a domestic candidate.

Problems arise when the international option is no better than the local and adds little value to the Australian football scene.

Understanding the culture and Australian way is not a big deal.

Plenty of coaches in the AFC Champions League have had little clue about either but have managed to repeatedly defeat Australian teams.

What is necessary to know can be learned and the best will change the culture and improve it.

We have seen that with Ange Postecoglou in Japan.

Had Yokohama F Marinos plumped for a man who understood Japanese culture then the former Socceroo boss would not have got a look in.

Fans of the Kanagawa club would never have celebrated a first title for 15 years, players would never have improved the way they did and other coaches would never have been confronted with such a style of play.

And Postecoglou would not also have had that learning experience.

Nobody can have it both ways: have their coaches work overseas and take the jobs of others but not allow others to take jobs in Australia.

As well as Postecoglou, the likes of Mehmet Durakovic, Graham Arnold and Aurelio Vidmar all have, or have had, recent jobs in Asia. 

Admittedly, Australia, relative to its size and importance in football, lacks professional coaching opportunities. There is a small top tier and that’s pretty much it.

Too few foreign coaches however, and the league misses out on new ideas and methods and local lads can get too comfortable.

Too many, and the pathway is blocked. Finding the right balance is the key.