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Oct 14, 2013

Guus the boss?

Guus the boss?

Managers, for better or worse, lose their jobs on a regular basis because of heavy defeats. But despite two successive 6-0 thrashings, it can be said that former Australia coach Holger Osieck was shown the exit door at the weekend for more than results alone.

"We are in the phase of preparing [for the World Cup] and I really picked the best teams in the world to get an idea. Do you think you can go to Brazil and beat them on their own soil by a big margin?," Osieck asked. "Tomorrow [last Friday] we play another top team, do you expect to hammer them 5-0? It's a little bit out of order."

This was the answer of the German to his critics between the losses to Brazil and France.

To answer his question: No. Nobody would expect Australia to destroy two of world football's traditional powerhouses away from home. But the minimum that should be expected is that the national team plays with a modicum of cohesion, motivation and game plan. That, sadly, has not been visible for a while.

Having qualified the team for next year's World Cup, Osieck can certainly feel ill at ease with Football Federation Australia's decision to part ways eight months prior to the showpiece event. Indeed, even his harshest critics must sympathise with him. But, in truth, Australia never looked entirely comfortable during qualification, and certainly didn't offer a challenge to Group B winners Japan in the final phase of qualification, as many had hoped.

The selection -- or not, as was so often the case -- of youth caused ongoing debate over Osieck's reign in Australia. While his persistence with older players -- including David Carney, who returned to the starting line-up having played just six matches with New York Red Bulls after a year without a club -- left many scratching their heads.

In short, Osieck appeared from the outside to show little faith in the majority of the players at his disposal. It's no wonder the team has not played with inspiration, and seem to walk into each match in a negative state of mind. So, with potential embarrassment at Brazil 2014 a possibility, action was taken.

Attention has now turned to his successor.

Guus Hiddink has already been approached by FFA, who must outbid the likes of Poland, Hungary and Denmark to secure his services. After helping Australia reach the final 16 at the 2006 World Cup -- where they were beaten by eventual champions Italy -- Hiddink is remembered fondly in the Antipodes.

However, other candidates have also emerged in the form of Roberto Di Matteo, Marcelo Bielsa and Alain Perrin. A-League coaches Ange Postecoglou and Graham Arnold are also in with a chance if FFA looks to a long-term solution for the national team, which leaves FFA with a key decision to make.

Whoever steps in will need to address the team's morale and mentality as the first point of business. Australia may not have a 'golden generation' of talent to fall back on as they did seven years ago, but there is surely enough quality to compete with any side, if they can re-find their hunger and play as a unit.

That will start with the next coach. Will he be another foreigner hired for a short-term boost heading into the World Cup, or will a local be given control with a view to the 2015 AFC Asian Cup and beyond? With this question in mind, the next appointment could be the most important one yet for the future of Australian football.

Local contenders back in action

The weekend also saw the A-League return after a seemingly endless off-season, and in some style. TV records were broken and over 100,000 fans filed through the turnstiles to attend the five matches of the opening round.

Interestingly, Arnold and Postecoglou were both unable to register a win on Saturday evening, with Central Coast Mariners and Melbourne Victory being held by Western Sydney Wanderers and Melbourne Heart respectively. It's unlikely that news of Osieck's sacking had any influence on the results, but the pair will obviously be looking to put their best foot forward should FFA approach them for the national team role.

Postecoglou says he hopes the best man for the job is appointed, regardless of who is given the nod.

"The only thing I would recommend strongly is to appoint the best person for the job," Postecoglou told reporters. "I don't like this whole 'let's go local as opposed to overseas.' It's our national team, whoever the best person for the job is, that's who should get it."

Arnold, meanwhile, believes he is better equipped to take on the job following his brief tenure as head coach after Hiddink's last departure.

"I do believe Australian coaches are now ready. Probably the criticism a few years ago was right and was correct because I didn't even have a pro licence," he said. "But now I do have a pro licence and the coaching across the board is so much better.

"I do believe that probably an Australian with the passion and the pride to coach the Socceroos would be fantastic, whoever it is, whether it's Ange, Tony Popovic or whoever."

Elsewhere in the A-League, marquee man Alessandro Del Piero stole the show on Friday as he scored one and set up another to help defeat Newcastle Jets 2-0 in Sydney. It was the latest masterclass from the Italian star, who dazzled under the bright lights in the season opener, showing all clubs the value of having a big-name marquee player who can deliver on the pitch.

But perhaps the most intriguing matches of the weekend came on Sunday as nine-man Adelaide United held on for a 3-1 win over Perth Glory, while Brisbane Roar notched victory in Wellington. With temperatures evidently lower for both matches, the players produced the sort of willingness and tempo which should make for the most intense A-League season yet.

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