Holger Osieck fired a tart “I know what I’m doing” barb squarely at his critics after leading the Socceroos to World Cup qualification in June. On Saturday, Football Federation Australia (FFA) decided that was not the case.
Eight months before Australia embark on their fourth World Cup finals campaign in Brazil and, perhaps as importantly, little more than a year before they host the Asian Cup, the 65-year-old German’s four year reign was brought to a summary halt.
The immediate cause of his dismissal was plain - a second successive 6-0 defeat in an international friendly with France demolishing the green and gold-shirted Australians in a Parc des Princes massacre on Friday.
Coming hot on the heels of a similar 6-0 hammering in Brasilia last month, the FFA hit the panic button and will now embark on the search for a replacement - probably foreign, probably with World Cup finals experience.
“Two heavy losses of that extent always provide some food for discussion, I’ve been around long enough to know what can come up, the merits of the past are forgotten, that’s for sure,” a mordant Osieck told Fox TV in Paris after the match.
Aside from the bare fact of getting Australia through to the World Cup finals, the “merits” of the German’s tenure mostly came in the first year when he led the Socceroos to the final of the 2011 Asian Cup, where they lost to Japan in extra time.
A 2-1 defeat of an experimental Germany side in a friendly in Moenchengladbach promised greater things to come and Australia swept through their first round of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup as group winners with five wins in six matches.
They hit the skids in their second round of qualifying with a defeat to Jordan and a 2-2 home draw with Oman leaving them needing Josh Kennedy’s late winner against Iraq in a Sydney rainstorm in June to secure their place in Brazil.
Osieck, though, had been also recruited with the specific brief of managing the rejuvenation of an ageing squad and bringing a new generation of players through.
Having cut his coaching teeth as part of Franz Beckenbauer’s staff on the 1990 World Cup winning German side, he had developed a reputation for youth development in spells with VfL Bochum, Fenerbahce, Urawa Red Diamonds, Kocaelispor and Canada.
The continuing international career of 35-year-old captain Lucas Neill, who had an extremely poor game against France, is an indication that Osieck had made limited progress in that part of his job in Australia.
“The decision is based on the longer term issues of the rejuvenation of the Socceroos team and the preparations for the World Cup and the Asian Cup,” FFA kingpin Frank Lowy said on Saturday.
The Australia national coaching position must be one of the toughest in world soccer with almost the entire squad playing their club soccer thousands of miles away in Europe.
Osieck often complained the youngsters were just not emerging and he had no choice but to back the ageing players of Australia’s “golden generation”.
“I’m definitely a supporter of getting in fresh blood, however I can’t find it at present,” he said last October.
“There are not too many young players who knock at the door and say ‘I want to come in’.
“Right now, there’s no real pressure from other youngsters. Those who play in Europe don’t make the first team and that is definitely what stops their development in a way.”
A sometimes prickly character with a sense of humour that got him into hot water earlier this year when he joked that “women should shut up in public”, Osieck nevertheless retained the affections of at least some of his players.
“Want 2 say Thankyou to Holger for getting us to our 3rd WORLD CUP. Is this a first get us to WC and get the sack. Sad day for Football in oz,” tweeted talismanic 33-year-old striker Tim Cahill.
Australia will face Canada in an international friendly on Tuesday at London’s Craven Cottage.