After leading Australia to their fourth consecutive World Cup, Ange Postecoglou dropped a bombshell when he announced that he would be stepping down as Socceroos coach.
Postecoglou’s decision not to take Australia to the World Cup in Russia next year coincides with the four-year anniversary of his first ever match in charge of the Socceroos.
Joe Palatsides was with Postecoglou at South Melbourne during the 1991 season when they won the National Soccer League Grand Final and says his former teammate’s coaching methods enlightened the football landscape.
“He has changed the way football is played in Australia,” he says.
“When he came into the national team he made it better and played a different style of football that no-one thought that Australia could ever play.
“When he was at Brisbane Roar he created an attractive brand of football and a winning brand. I’ve got nothing but admiration for Ange about the way he has forged his career through hard times and how he has managed himself over hard times and come back and become a better coach. That is a good lesson for all young coaches.”
Like Postecoglou, Palatsides has been a coach for 20 years with a long stint in Greece that saw him win three league championships followed by two National Youth League titles with Melbourne City.
After starting his coaching career in senior football, Palatsides has spent the past five years developing young Australian male players with many making A-League debuts and being selected for Australian National youth teams.
The seeds for Palatsides’ coaching career were first planted in 1991, when he was part of the South Melbourne squad led by Hungarian legend Ferenc Puskas that won the NSL league title.
Looking back over that period, the 52-year-old says being guided by the ‘Galloping Major’ gave him some valuable tools that prepared him for his future coaching endeavours.
“We’ve all learnt from Puskas,” he says.
“The experience of being around such a great man was probably more valuable than anything else. He was such a big name, he was such a humble person, a gentle person. The experiences we had and winning the championship with him as coach was an incredible memory that we will never ever forget, and we are very honoured and fortunate to have been involved in that era.
“If you look at Ange Postecoglou who is the best coach in Australia; Peter Tsolakis who coaches at Oakleigh; myself, and Mehmet Durakovic who coaches in Malaysia we all would have become better coaches through our experiences with Ferenc Puskas. I’ve held on to a few things and I am sure that Peter and Ange and Mehmet have all benefited from being with that great man.”
After leaving Australia in 1996, Palatsides spent 18 years in Greece including eight years as a player and 10 as a coach. His career as a manager started in the Greek fourth division and it saw him rise to the top division as an assistant.
But it was his time as a head coach in the Greek lower divisions where Palatsides made his name by winning league titles with OF Ierapetra, Zakinthos and Apollon Kalamarias FC. Even though he had success in Europe, finding full-time professional work when he came home was a challenge.
“When I first got back to Australia I was probably more qualified and more experienced than three quarters of the A-League coaches,” he says.
“The problem was that there were only nine clubs in Australia. I’d been gone for 18 years so it was always an issue. I didn’t really know enough people to make that happen. But I was fortunate to get an opportunity with Melbourne Heart as a youth coach and as an assistant to then coach John Aloisi in 2012.”
It was here that Palatsides morphed himself into a successful youth team coach by winning two National Youth League titles with many of his young stars helping fill the ranks of Australia’s National youth teams.
In February this year, Melbourne City youngster Dylan Pierias became the youngest ever player to make his debut in the A-League and the 17-year-old has also captained the Australian Under-20 team.
Another eight of Palatsides’ young charges also made the recent Young Socceroos squad with six other youngsters from his Melbourne City youth system also selected for the Australian Under-17 team.
With players like Ramy Njarine, Ruon Tongyik and Denis Genreau also making senior debuts, the former South Melbourne defender revealed developing young players is more important than winning titles.
“This year Melbourne City will be aiming to win the National Youth League championship through good performances, but it’s also about getting the players into the A-League team and staying there,” says Palatsides.
“It’s more about development than trying to win games so we try and make those players ready for A-League football.
“Melbourne City has the best conditioning program in Australia for these youngsters, and we test them across A-League standards. We find that the youth team are just as good as the A-League players in all the physical testing. Then we also work on their technical ability and make sure they get to A-League standard.
“When I see them play either A-League or for the national team it’s exciting for me because you are like a proud dad who has watched their kid rise through the system.”
Another member of the Melbourne City youth team set up that is earmarked for success is Greek Australian Anthony Lesiotis. Palatsides revealed that former Manchester United youth coach and current Melbourne City boss Warren Joyce has big wraps on the 17-year-old.
“Anthony is a very good player and a character which is what we look for in a Melbourne City footballer,” he says.
“When Warren Joyce saw him play he moved him from the youth team to the A-League squad where he spent a lot of time training with the senior team and did very well.
“He is a very disciplined young player. He’s smart and understands the kind of football City wants to play. His role is in the middle of the park and he is very good technically and that means he is good enough to get out of tight situations with his skill. What Warren likes about him is that even though he is young, he is very aggressive. Combine that with his skill levels he is one for the future and if he keeps working hard his turn to be part of the senior squad will come quicker than what he expects.”
Meanwhile Palatsides has no aspirations to get back into senior coaching just yet – as his current club provides too many enticing advantages.
“I haven’t set any goals for myself,” he says. “Melbourne City are now part of a giant organisation with Manchester City and there is a lot of rewards in that, like being able to have these great resources. I have been able to become a better coach during that period. I have been able to ring up Manchester City in England and find out what the newest tactical drills are and how it’s all done. It’s very valuable as a coach so I’m quite happy to be at this football club.
“In terms of how I want to progress you need opportunities, and if you get opportunities then it’s up to you how you manage and get better and show how good you are as a football coach.”