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Ange Postecoglou and his search for perfection

In his first interview since he quit as Socceroos coach, Ange Postecoglou says he will continue with his trademark aggressive style of play with new his new Japanese club Yokohama FC

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Yokohama F Marinos' new head coach Ange Postecoglou poses with new players during a press conference in Yokohama, near Tokyo. Photo: Shizuo Kambayashi/ AP

29 January 2018

After enduring a gruelling, yet ultimately successful, World Cup qualification that included 22 games, over 29 months, and over 250,000 kilometres of travel, Postecoglou sensationally left his role with the Australian national team in November.

Towards the end of his tenure as Socceroos head coach, media reports suggested that Postecoglou was dismayed with his treatment by Australian media over his tactics, and that his relationship with the governing body had collapsed.

So it was no surprise that Postecoglou decided to walk away from his coaching role even though the reward of taking the Socceroos to a second World Cup in Russia was waiting for him in June.

In December it was announced that Postecoglou would be the new manager of Japanese club Yokohama FC Marinos. During his first media appearance as coach of Yokohama FC, Postecoglou looked far more relaxed than he did during his final period with the Australian national team.

Yokohama are part-owned by the City Football Group (CFG), an organisation that administers a host of football clubs around the world under the ownership of Abu Dhabi United Group (ADUG).

Speaking from the City Football Academy in Manchester, Postecoglou was confident of not only having success, but doing it with his trademark style of play.

"Everywhere where I have coached, whether at club or national level, that has been my objective – to have success in the traditional terms of winning competitions, but also doing it a certain way and hopefully making an impact," he says.

"I don't think that they are mutually exclusive. One follows the other, that's how I have coached my whole career. I have some pretty firm ideas about how the game should be played and some methodology around it. I've had success in my career because of that. It's not just about trying to play a certain way and it doesn't bring you success. One follows the other."

Many Australian football fans are still disappointed that Postecoglou left his Socceroos post prior to the 2018 World Cup. But the 52-year-old maintains his reasons are complex even though he did point to an eagerness to start a new chapter in his coaching career.

"I guess that's a difficult one for me to explain," he says.

"Plenty of people kind of wanted a silver bullet in terms of an answer but it just doesn't exist. It's just me. It's just me as a person. I've always tended to look to the next challenge. I really felt that in the four years [I coached the Soccceroos] I got the team to where I wanted them to. I wanted another challenge, and part of that was seeing what opportunities were out there for me. I think any manager will tell you it's very hard to plan a career. You just don't know where it is going to take you. I just wanted to make sure that I was controlling my own destiny."

One thing is certain, when Postecoglou looks back at his time with the Socceroos, he is proud of his achievements.

"It was successful because when I took over four years ago, the team had come to an end of a cycle," he says.

"We had a great generation of players that got to the end of their careers pretty quickly. With international football, to try and create a new team is really, really difficult. We went to the World Cup with a fairly untried and untested squad.
"What came out of that World Cup, we didn't win any games, but I thought we gained real belief in playing against Spain, Holland and Chile. We won the Asian Cup. We took the long road, but we got to another World Cup, so I think we ticked that box.
"We created a really good team there that plays football a certain way because it's a generation that is beginning to find their feet both at domestic level and international level."

Since 2008, ADUG has poured billions of dollars into clubs such as EPL giants Manchester City, major league soccer's New York City and the A-League's Melbourne City.

In 2014, Manchester City opened their Football Academy at a cost of £200m and after inspecting the cutting edge training facilities Postecoglou says he was blown away by the complex.

"It's groundbreaking. It's unchartered territory," he says.

"When you walk around the place you get the sense that something bigger than a football club is being built here. The possibilities are just mind boggling in many respects about where it could take the game itself.
"I think a lot of people will be looking on to see how it works. I'm certain it won't be the only model like this. If you love football, and you're the kind of person that is curious always about what is next, this is the kind of environment to walk around in and see the possibilities when people think about what the future of football may look like."

Under the guidance of Pep Guardiola, Manchester City are the runaway leaders of the EPL and Postecoglou says that being able to witness the legendary coach's methods up close inspired him.

"Obviously it's been great," he says.

"They've been very kind with their time. It's a connection. It was great to see firsthand, I managed to get to a couple of sessions, and even watching the team live you get a different perspective. It's very impressive. Not only the success they're having but the football they're playing. You kind of walk away with the ambition to try and create something similar in your piece of turf and hopefully to get people to notice what is happening over there."

Last term Yokohama FC finished fifth in the J-League and runners up in the Emperor's Cup, and ahead of his first season in Japan Postecoglou was optimistic yet cautious about revealing any team goals.

"I haven't set targets because they're almost limitations to what you want to do," he says.

"From my perspective, I always start on the basis that I want the team to play a certain way. When I have achieved that, success has followed.
"That's the main goal this year. When people come and see Yokohoma play, from the first game they will see that we play football a certain way. We want to dominate oppositions. We want to be exciting to watch. If we get that right, the success, whatever that may look like, I am confident will follow.
"The club hasn't won anything in a while, 2013 I think is the last time they won the Emperor's Cup. They're a big club, they want to win things, so you understand that, but the first thing is to get the team to play the way I want."

While his immediate future is known, in terms of his longer-term ambitions Postecoglou is more focused on having his new team strive for excellence than where his coaching future lay.

"I keep looking for the perfect game," he says.

"And knowing that it doesn't exist, it will keep going till I finish I guess. I've had a pretty blessed life. I've dodged having a real job and I am doing what I am passionate about. I wake up every morning feeling pretty lucky. At the same time, I'm very driven and ambitious and I just keep pushing the boundaries and see where it takes me. I certainly didn't think the last 10 years of my career I would have experienced what I did so who knows what the next 10 years holds, but I'm looking forward to it."

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