Last nights 3-nil victory for the Socceroos over Qatar in the opening FIFA 2010 World Cup Qualifier was a good result for the boys in the Cheryl Kernot canary yellow shirts. It was an even better result for their new gaffer, Dutchman Pim Verbeek.
FFA and Frank Lowy have dodged a bullet with his appointment and last night’s result will relieve the pressure at Headquarters. It is important to remember though just how badly they stuffed it up – and how lucky they are.
Having been appointed to the job a couple of months before qualification and with no access to the core of his squad due to their club commitments in Europe, Verbeek was undertaking a job that most international football managers would have passed up. Mercenaries of the highest order, these blokes are mindful of their reputations first and foremost. Hitching your wagon to a potential train wreck is not high on their list of priorities.
Similarly, Frank Lowy and the FFA had their credibility swinging in the wind as well. After an orgy of self congratulation post Germany 2006, Lowy kept up the search for Guus mark II, a high profile Svengali to make headlines and win games. Graham Arnold was left to mind the shop while it was ransacked at the Asian Cup last year. Meanwhile, there was no A-List miracle worker to be found. Even the B-List Arthur Daley’s of the football world were doing a job on us (Dick Advocaat anyone?).
Verbeek arrived just prior to Christmas and in a short space of time has proved himself to be a straight talking, uncompromising and astute coach and an even better politician. Realising like all good leaders that you make all your hard calls in the first 100 days and your life will be forever easier after, Verbeek got stuck in.
He wanted a series of camps with potential Socceroos plying their trade in the A-League even if it was a disruption to their preparation for any finals campaign. Despite the odd grumble at club level he got his wish.
Verbeek had established the primacy of the national team over the domestic clubs concerns from day one.
His criticism had a touch of political genius about it. He made it quite clear to the FFA that despite the crowds and the growing interest in the game in Australia it needed to work doubly hard to improve the quality of the game. He killed complacency stone cold.
He was blunt with the players and made it quite clear he wasn’t here to make friends. There was no doubting who was in charge and he made it quite clear that egos could be checked at the door.
It also was a message to the overseas stars that their country needed them. Any players equivocating about making the journey back got the message loud and clear from that statement.
The Socceroos had a good win last night, but Verbeek’s victory might be the most significant of all.