If you want to find out how the son of Greek economic migrants rose to become one of the most respected coaches in Australian sport, pick up a copy of Socceroo coach Ange Postecoglou’s first book Changing the Game, launched last week.
It provides an engaging account of some of the early forces which shaped his love of football and fascination with coaching. But it also provides Postecoglou’s insights into the state of the domestic game in Australia, youth development and, perhaps most notably, his philosophy of coaching football.
The book, co-written with Andy Harper, gets you in from the powerful opening chapter, in which Postecoglou recalls and reflects upon the forces which shaped him and set him on his special football journey. Central to this is the figure of Postecoglou’s father, whom he describes as a hard-working carpenter who migrated to Melbourne in 1969 with his wife, daughter and five-year-old son Ange, with the purpose of providing a better material life for his family.
In a foreign land and alien culture, the father’s passion for football provided some connection to the culture he left behind and weekly relief from the daily work grind and isolation that he felt. Postecoglou describes his initial attachment to football as “the connection it gave me with dad”. “The desire for my father’s attention and company was the precursor” to his love of the game.
Postecoglou describes himself as a socially introverted youngster, but also someone who showed early leadership traits manifested as a desire to influence and control an environment. He also showed a precociousness for coaching, naturally gravitating to his first coaching role as coach of the U12 Prahran High School football team, which went on to win the state championship.
Postecoglou recounts his early obsession with the game and the childhood dreams that came with this obsession, creating stories of great achievements in the world of football. He says that to take the journey less travelled, and sticking to it through discipline and determination to overcome the challenges, and by providing the vision and communication you can help others join you on that journey. This was a lesson in leadership he learnt from his father’s example.
As the title of the book indicates, one of the fascinating aspects of Postecoglou’s coaching experiences at different clubs and teams, ranging from South Melbourne in the NSL, to Panachaiki in Greece, to Brisbane Roar and Melbourne Victory and then to the Socceroos, is how he effects change in the playing group.
As he says in the book, ‘my job is to change things − perceptions, expectations, values, the status quo. Football teams are the tools of my trade’. In his chapter on coaching, ‘The Coaching Genome’, he writes: ‘There are really only two types of coaches: those who work to get and then keep a job and those for whom coaching is about seeking new horizons.’
Not only is his focus about managing the list of players in the team, but effecting an attitudinal change among the players, getting them to adapt to how he wants them to play the game, without fear or inferiority complex.
It’s interesting to read how such changes set his teams on course for great successes, such as Brisbane Roar’s back to back A-League titles and record undefeated run as well as the Socceroos 2015 Asian Cup triumph. As well as his coaching triumphs, Postecoglou doesn’t gloss over the difficult times in his football journey, following his sacking as coach of the Young Socceroos.
Postecoglou offers insights into his personal style as a professional coach, how he refrains from investing personally in players, how he tries to keep a certain distance from them knowing it enables him to create an environment that keeps the players guessing, prevents them getting complacent or entitled to a place in the team. It also enables him to make a difficult decision when he has to.
Having been a part of what is considered old soccer in the NSL days and the new football of the A-League era enables Postecoglou to provide a balanced overview of the domestic game’s journey thus far and the future direction he sees for it. He gives his views on youth development, the need for A-League expansion and the issue of marquee players in the A-League. The book is well written and easy to read despite bearing the imprint of Harper’s loquacious style. It’s highly recommended for coaches at any level of the game, and anyone else with an active interest in the sport including players, supporters and club officials.
There’s enough in the book to engage non-football fans too, particularly those interested in leadership roles and issues.