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Feb 24, 2011

Postecoglou revolution born in hard times

Ange Postecoglou watched on in frustration as the Australian soccer revolution started without him.

For nearly three years a man who considered himself a career coach sat sidelined, unable to get a job in Australia.

Perhaps he was unfairly seen as part of "old soccer" because he coached Australia's under-age teams in the bad old days of the sport's failed administration.

Or because he won two titles as a player and another two as coach with Greek-aligned NSL club South Melbourne.

Or the infamous 2006 television interview with SBS football analyst Craig Foster which degenerated into a slanging match over Postecoglou's failure to qualify Australia's youth teams for their world championships.

Three months afterwards, his national team contract wasn't renewed. He went for A-League jobs he didn't get.

As Dutch orange became the new black at all levels of Australian football, Postecoglou faded to grey.

"People's only frame of reference for me was that interview and the fallout from that interview," Postecoglou said.

"All the stuff I'd done at South Melbourne, all the stuff I'd done with the national teams had all been wiped away.

"I remember when there was a couple of (A-League) jobs for the taking. Speaking to certain people, some people had formed opinions of me based purely on that interview alone."

Now Postecoglou, who finally found an open coaching door at the Brisbane Roar in late 2009 replacing the sacked Frank Farina, is at the revolution's forefront.

The 45-year-old has moved the Australian game's goalposts, and the A-League is more watchable and better than ever as a result of a Roar side he has re-invented.

They are unbeaten in 26 matches - a record in top-level Australian football of any code.

They have been dubbed "Roar-celona", so crisp and continental is the style they play.

So far are the Roar ahead of the pack they have beaten all three of the other remaining finals teams by four goals at some point this season.

A grand final surely beckons. A home one if the Roar see off Central Coast Mariners as expected in the major semi-final in Brisbane on Saturday night.

If so, Postecoglou would book the biggest event in Queensland soccer since the Brisbane Strikers packed the old Lang Park with more than 40,000 in 1997 in winning the NSL grand final.

Even Foster admits he's a fan of Postecoglou's swashbuckling Roar - built on a vision crystallised during the coach's time away from the game.

"Before I got the job I had an idea in my head - it was so clear in my mind what I wanted to do," Postecoglou said.

"My whole emphasis from day one was to play a style of game that was successful, and wasn't being played here."

Postecoglou didn't inherit a blank canvas at the Roar. More like a boxing one.

He found a clique of senior players resistant to change and a culture too comfortable. One by one the recalcitrants were shipped out.

Among them was former Socceroo captain Craig Moore - a proud Queenslander and the face of the club.

Moore fronted the Roar's chief executive Peter McLennan and made an ultimatum - it's Postecoglou or me.

In an era where player power kills coaches daily, the club chose to back in Postecoglou and reverse the truck over Moore.

It upped the pressure on Postecoglou to perform. Twelve months on, the Roar's brave move has brought rewards even the ever-positive coach admits have come far sooner than he expected.

"People don't like change and there were players and staff who weren't comfortable with the new circumstances," said Postecoglou, who spent the off-season shopping for players to fit the system he wanted to play.

"I was absolutely determined and headstrong to do it this way.

"I wasn't going to let anything stop me. The fallout - good, bad or otherwise - I was prepared for it. I didn't at any stage doubt what I was doing."

Postecoglou, whose family emigrated from Greece when he was five, knows all about cultures of success.

An adventurous fullback as a player, he was part of a golden era at NSL club South Melbourne alongside stars like Socceroos Oscar Crino, Paul Trimboli and Paul Wade and was good enough to play four times for his country.

But serious knee problems forced him into early retirement at 27.

At 30, Postecoglou was coaching South, in charge of a sensationally talented group of his peers.

He won back-to-back NSL championships in 1997 and 1998, took South to a date with Manchester United at the Club World Championship in 2000 and was eventually elevated to take charge of Australia's youth teams.

Postecoglou qualified both the under-17s and under-20s for the second stage of world championships during his tenure, including a famous win over Brazil in the group stages of the 2003 under-20 tournament.

After his national teams sacking, Postecoglou had a stint overseas coaching in the often-manic surrounds of lower division Greek football with Panachaiki until the A-League came calling.

Now, as some talk him up as the next homegrown Socceroos coach, Postecoglou is busy making plans for a lasting legacy in Brisbane.

He admires how AFL club Essendon went about things through the 1980s and 1990s, building multiple great sides and a superclub under coach Kevin Sheedy.

"I'm at the stage of my coaching career where I want to build something that's going to last.

"Kevin Sheedy turned Essendon Football Club, which when I was growing up wasn't a big club, into something phenomenal.

"People like Sheedy, Wayne Bennett and Mick Malthouse. They stay at the one club and build something that lasts the ages.

"They're the ones I try to emulate. My intention is to build something here at Brisbane.

"It's a club which has been around for six years, hasn't had any success until this year and the crowd has fluctuated.

"I'd love some sporting credibility in this city. You've got the Broncos, the Lions and the Reds. That's really strong brands, and I'd love us to be held up in the same esteem."

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