Just over a year into his tenure at the helm of Australia, Holger Osieck has stamped his mark on the team with a fluid passing game that has also translated into on-field success. The Socceroos came within an inch of winning their first AFC Asian Cup in January, and have also notched several impressive scalps during the past 12 months, most notably a 2-1 win over Germany in their own backyard - a far cry from a devastating 4-0 loss against the same opponent at South Africa 2010.
Osieck has enjoyed a rich and diverse coaching career, which included serving as assistant to Franz Beckenbauer as his native Germany were crowned FIFA World Cup™ winners in 1990. Asian pedigree came while helping Japan super club Urawa Red Diamonds to an AFC Champions League victory in 2007, while on the international front Osieck was at the helm as Canada recorded a stunning continental triumph in 2000.
Now the affable Osieck is tasked with taking Australia to a third successive FIFA World Cup. FIFA.com chatted to Osieck about the looming qualifying campaign for Brazil 2014, his preferred brand of football, thoughts on the development of the Asian game and the challenges of managing a Socceroo team in transition.
FIFA.com: Is the team where you want them to be after one year?
Holger Osieck: I have found a good basis to work upon. The group is good and are very committed and determined, with a decent quality of football in all positions. My ideas about football obviously fell on fruitful ground and the players buy into it, which is always good for a coach.
Now that you know the 2014 FIFA World Cup draw, what are your thoughts for the road ahead?
In Asia it is a little different compared to, say, Europe because there are so few spots up for grabs. It is a long stretch and if you qualify you have to play 14 matches so it is a tough road in Asia. It’s very important to have a great start, we should aim to win our home games and go from there.
What are your expectations for the opening qualifiers - home against Thailand and away against Saudi Arabia?
Thailand will be very well prepared so there is no reason to under-rate our opponents. We have a lot of experience in the group and everyone knows what is at stake. Saudi will also of course be very difficult and local conditions will not be very favourable for us. They have an internationally recognised coach in Frank Rijkaard and they qualified for this round with two impressive performances.
What kind of style do you like your teams to play?
My style of football is that we want to play positively, we want to have a passing game and variations up front with off the ball running. When it works it is very attractive football and we have played several games that look good to me.
How have you enjoyed the role on a personal level?
Australia is a beautiful country that is for sure. It is a holiday destination for many people so I am privileged to work here. I have a very good working environment and the people are very relaxed and cooperative and they even accept my sense of humour!
Have you come to terms with living in a country where football is far from the No1 sport?
I knew what I was facing when I came here. OK so it’s not like in Germany but I still enjoy it here. If we have success as a team then it will help the entire football development in the country so I am trying to give my share to help lift the game.
What do you think about Harry Kewell signing for Melbourne Victory and playing in the A-League?
From my point of view Harry’s signing should be a great boost for the Victory, and the A-League in general to have one of the most prominent players the country has ever produced in the competition.
How do you see the strength and growth of Asian football across recent years?
There has been tremendous progress. Some countries have made enormous strides. When you see how many players are at top teams in Europe that is a clear indication that Asian football has developed tremendously.
Do you think Asian football and its recent growth is given enough global recognition?
If I look at my home country, the Japanese players are rated very highly. Players like [Shinji] Kagawa, [Makoto] Hasebe, [Hajime] Hosogai really have painted a very good impression of Japanese football. The Koreans too have many excellent players. When Cha Bum Kun was first at Frankfurt (in the 1980s) he was considered exotic but now it has become more and more a regular thing.
Australia had one of the oldest squads at South Africa 2010. How confident are you about successfully managing a transition within the playing group?
I have already started that process of introducing younger players if you look at the squads over the last year. In order to raise the standard of these players they need more international exposure to gain the necessary experience. On the other hand I am fortunate to be able to call on many experienced players who are still performing, so I feel we have a good mix at the moment.
Do Australia have promising players coming through the ranks that will be ready should you qualify for Brazil 2014?
I have a good idea now about the upcoming generation. We have many promising players coming up but of course they need to gain experience and playing time. We cannot have too many new faces for every game and now that we are heading for a World Cup campaign there is not so much room for experimentation.