Selling a long-term vision is one of the hardest things to achieve in football.
Just look how hard it is to sell the "development" vision to some grassroots coaches and clubs, who still rate personal glory (for the coach and club, that is) ahead of player development. But that’s another story…
So when a new coach takes over an established squad and overhauls its playing list, drills in a new playing mantra and loses the opening two games - one against the city rivals, the other a 5-0 drubbing at the hands of his former team - convincing those in the terraces and on the board gets that little bit harder.
But when that coach is Ange Postecoglou, one of Australian football’s most successful, fans, board members and anyone else associated with Melbourne Victory shouldn’t be scrambling for the panic button and calling for change.
If it’s one thing Postecoglou knows how to do, it’s reinvigorate teams. He did it at South Melbourne, whom he led to back-to-back NSL titles in 1997/98 and 1998/99, along with Brisbane Roar, who also successfully defended a championship — the first A-League side to do so.
Like Victory, those two teams he inherited were far from championship-winning material. South Melbourne had failed to qualify for the finals the season prior for the first time since 1989, and it took until Round 6 before Postecoglou registered his first official win as a national league coach.
And while it only took three games in charge at Roar to claim his first A-League scalp, the task ahead proved equally challenging given the radical nature of Postecoglou’s overhaul.
The difference between what Postecoglou did at Brisbane and what he is attempting to do at Victory is expectation.
Up north, Postecoglou — outwardly, at least — appeared a lot less focused on results and more about producing good football. And when they started winning, it still wasn’t all about the runs on the board. “All along we've said we just want to keep playing good football and if that brings us results… then so be it."
Joining the biggest club in the land with a predilection for silverware, however, comes with expectation far greater than improving crowd attendances, as was the case in Brisbane.
So it was hardly surprising Postecoglou’s brooding confidence matched the insatiable hunger for success the club and its supporters crave.
"We've been going for four months so we're more than ready,” he confidently declared ahead of the A-League opener against Melbourne Heart.
Perhaps that’s where the waters have been muddied — not managing expectations.
It’s one thing to play a short-passing game with confidence in friendlies; it’s another thing to do it in front of big crowds with points on the line and a live TV audience watching on.
Implementing a strict possession-based game plan was always going to take time with a side that had grown accustomed to playing out from the back in a more direct, long-ball fashion.
Players need to have the technical skill to be able to absorb pressure and curb their natural instincts to knock it long when closed down.
After the loss to Heart, Postecoglou stated that it wasn’t a rebuilding year. But so what if it is?
This isn’t Postecoglou’s team. Not yet. There are still remnants in the squad from a time many in the club would love to erase; players who appear to be struggling with the technical and tactical capacities of Postecoglou’s philosophy and who may realistically only have a few weeks before the January transfer window to show some sort of improvement.
There are issues all over the park, however it’s the defensive aspect of Victory’s game that requires the most attention, from eradicating ball watching and reactive defending to instilling disciplined organisation. It’s far too easy to point the finger at Lawrence Thomas, as the four defenders in front aren’t exactly doing him any favours.
As Postecoglou once remarked, “if you want to be successful and win championships you need to have a solid defence”.
If it were that easy and quick to implement such a technically-superior, breathtaking brand of football, forget about playing the Roar way - everyone would be playing like Barcelona. But with time, and patience, the vision can - and will - see the light of day.
And there’s no better man to lead the Victory revolution than Ange Postecoglou.
The views in this article are solely those of the author, and do not represent those of Football Federation Australia or the Hyundai A-League.