Postecoglou and the art of unplain speaking

The Socceroos' destiny will be determined over the next 10 days when Australia face Honduras in a play-off to grab one of the final spots at the World Cup in Russia next year.

In any normal situation the debate would be all about coach Ange Postecoglou's squad selections, his tactical approach, the way the games might pan out.

The conversation would focus on Honduras' strengths and weakness, their better players and how conditions in San Pedro Sula will impact on the game.

There would be detailed discussion of how both sets of players will cope with the burden of travel - particularly the Australians, most of whom who will have to travel from their European bases to Central America, play a high-pressure game and then fly back around the world to Sydney for an equally nail-biting second leg.

But this situation is not normal, and it hasn't been so since the day after Australia beat Syria in a tense, extra-time finale in Sydney when Tim Cahill's late header gave Postecoglou's team a 3-2 aggregate victory to take them through to this stage.

And that is all down to the coach, who has become the centre of a media circus in the past three weeks after it was revealed he was seriously considering standing down after the Honduras games, irrespective of the result and whether Australia qualified for Russia 2018.

I was told by contacts close to Postecoglou - not the coach, who had changed his mobile phone number and couldn't then be contacted - that he had done as much as he could for the Australian game, that he had been to the World Cup and helped forged a new Australian identity with the way his team played, brought through plenty of new players, helped change the culture and the way the Socceroos approached games, had won the Asian Cup to create a legacy for his reign and now wanted a new challenge.

He planned, so I - and others - were led to believe, to seek fresh opportunities at club level, probably in Europe, to try to be a pathfinder for Australian coaches and build their credibility in tough and competitive markets in a way that no one else has managed before.

All very laudable - but why now?

Why when the biggest games the Socceroos have faced since the Asian Cup final were just weeks away?

Why create uncertainty in the players' minds, confusion and disappointment for the public when support is needed like never before? Why cast a shadow over everything surrounding the team for the immediate future?

And the most baffling thing is that Postecoglou has never quashed the story, despite having had several opportunities to do so.

He simply refuses to stand up in a public forum and say "it's complete rubbish, if we beat Honduras I want to stay on and take this team to the World Cup and try to do better than we did in Brazil four years ago".

Nor does he confirm it, saying "yes, I do want to go when I have qualified this team for the World Cup. I feel I have achieved what I set out to do and will look for a new challenge. I wish my successor all the luck in the world".

Instead all the public has been treated to for the past few weeks are a series of gnostic utterances, cryptic clues and rambling dissertations asserting he knows who he is and what his future is - but he's not telling.

It is, frankly, tiresome and rather naive.

He gets paid an enormous amount of money by Australian soccer standards (a seven-figure sum), he is the custodian of the hopes and dreams of millions and he is the public face of the game.

To think he can play ducks and drakes, a kind of media peek-a-boo, is absurd.

This isn't about hurting journalists' feelings or leaving us feeling stupid. That happens all the time. This is about taking the football public for a ride.

I have known Postecoglou professionally for some 20 years.

He has been a coach I admire, a football thinker who dares to dream, think the unthinkable and imagine a world where Australia can take on the powerhouses of the global game on equal terms.

He has been intelligent, often intense, company over a coffee or occasionally a beer.

He is a coach with a sense of history, a man who enjoys the essence of the game and sees it in a bigger context - its role, particularly in this country, as a facilitator of social integration and community but also as the strongest sporting link Australia can use to open doors internationally, whether for trade, political or diplomatic reasons.

He has always been a man with a strong sense of self-belief, and because he has got results he has been given plenty of latitude. Everyone loves a winner, and winners get to write their own tickets.

But I have been baffled by the way he has carried on these past few weeks.

He is usually a man who calls a spade a spade, so this obfuscation, these incantations, this mumbo-jumbo spoken in riddles about his future is strange indeed.

I can't buy the idea that he is having a hissy fit because of criticism in the media, particularly from ex-internationals on Fox Sports.

He is an experienced football man and knows that criticism goes with the turf.

After all, didn't he himself encourage what he claimed was a compliant, simplistic media, to step up their analysis and ask harder questions about the game, his players and what was happening around them?

Nor can I accept the conspiracy theory that he is becoming a human shield to deflect the attention away from his players and ease the tension and focus on them in the lead-up to these crucial games.

There are far less damaging ways to do that.

I also don't think his shilly-shallying now is some kind of revenge on Football Federation Australia for the way his employers leaned on him two years ago after he supported the players in a pay dispute and they made him retract his position in a publicly embarrassing back down. Is he really that Machiavellian?

Perhaps we all thought we knew Ange a lot better than we did.

Perhaps his solipsism is far more developed than any of us thought.

Perhaps he really doesn't care, and takes delight in winding up the public and the media to generate so many column inches.

If the Socceroos get through and he stands down he will feel the end justifies the means, and no one will care overly who coaches them as Australia will be going to Russia.

He can then tout himself on the international jobs market with qualification for the World Cup on his CV and leverage that to where it will take him.

If the Socceroos win and he says he wants to carry on, the public will certainly forgive him for the past month and praise him as a master strategist who played the media for fools - usually a popular position.

If the Socceroos lose, it's a dead question. His contract will be up, and he will be gone.

Results determine everything.

But if he fails, his legacy will be tainted by these extraordinary past few weeks and the circus he has presided over as questions will be asked about how much he might have unsettled the team and compromised its preparations by making it all about him.

It's a high-stakes game. But that seems to be how Ange likes it.

This story Postecoglou and the art of unplain speaking first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.