A long-held dream became reality for Ange Postecoglou when he was appointed Australia's senior coach soon after the Socceroos secured their spot at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. The 48-year-old coach is now readying himself for his first ever taste of the tournament, having previously overseen campaigns at both the FIFA U-17 and U-20 World Cup.
Celebrated for his success in mentoring Australia's youth teams for many years, Postecoglou is now hoping to steer the Socceroos into the knockout phase at Brazil 2014, four years after they fell at the first hurdle under Dutch coach Pim Verbeek.
FIFA.comcaught up with the former defender to talk about his early experiences at the Socceroo helm, the advantage of knowing many of the players when he took on the role, and his return to Brazil 13 years on from his last visit.
FIFA.com: As a player, you appeared at the 1985 FIFA U-20 World Cup, but you never got the chance to contest a senior World Cup. Just how arduous was qualification for your generation?
Ange Postecoglou: It was very difficult, yes. Australia took part in the 1974 edition but experienced a number of disappointments after that. We fell just short several times despite having huge hopes of going through, and that added to the disappointment. Speaking personally, I don't think I was up to the level required to play in a FIFA World Cup.
Our qualification in 2005 was very important because it brought that period of failure to an end, but it was far from easy. Some really excellent players missed out on the chance to appear in that competition during those years. That's why I think the legacy left by a generation which qualifies is to make sure the next one does even better. Always.
Will taking part in a World Cup in Brazil represent a dream come true for you?
All my childhood daydreams seem a little pathetic compared to what I'm going through right now. I'm in charge of the national team and we're going to Brazil – it's surreal. But when I look back, I see that I've given everything in every job I've had, and you can never tell what the next five or six years will bring. That's the beauty of football, and the beauty of my own country.
You are widely known for your success in charge of Australia's U-17 and U-20 youth teams. Notably, you led the two teams into the knockout rounds at several U-17 and U-20 World Cups. What do you remember from those tournaments?
That was a fabulous experience. I spent seven years coaching youngsters in different age categories, and I had the privilege of voyaging all over the world and taking part in six international tournaments with the U-17s and U-20s. We took on the most prestigious nations around and players who have since become stars of the game. All of that was beneficial for the development of football in Australia.
I think of those seven years as a sort of doctorate, during which I elaborated my playing philosophy. Afterwards, I was able to apply what I'd learned, both at club level and with the senior team. That period also gave me a glimpse into the standard of international football, which means I'll be relaxed heading into the coming tournament.
We believe in our ability to beat anyone, whatever the sport and whoever the opposition.
Do you think a similar achievement is possible with the senior team?
Australians have a tendency to unite in adversity, especially in sport, and they never give up. We believe in our ability to beat anyone, whatever the sport and whoever the opposition. The most important thing when you take part in a big competition is to improve, and for that you need to have faith in yourself and to forget any apprehensions. That's the attitude you need if you want to pick yourself up after a setback and move closer to your goal.
You travelled to Brazil with South Melbourne for the 2000 FIFA Club World Cup. What do you recall of that experience and what has changed in the last 13 years?
That's another wonderful memory and it was an immense honour to play in the legendary Maracana stadium against great teams like Manchester United and Vasco da Gama. The state of Australian football was very different at the time, though.
The club I was coaching and the championship as a whole were semi-professional, although that didn't prevent us from winning respect and recognition. The players had very few reference points and just wanted to measure themselves up against the elite.
Today, with the advent of professionalism, there's more maturity to how we play, plus we go into competitions with greater ambition.
I'm convinced that Australia will surprise everyone, not this summer but in four years' time.
Most of your squad played under you at youth level as well. How beneficial is that, given that the players you coached as youngsters have gone on to become the stars of the senior team?
It's a huge source of pride to see the youngsters I had under my wing become great players with successful careers. Obviously, there was hardly any need to make introductions during our first get-together. We all know each other and the players are familiar with my way of working. That makes things easier.
All the great national teams are made up of players who grew up and progressed together in the youth sides. Australia has some excellent generations of players who are going from strength to strength and who, with a little experience, are capable of putting in quality performances. I'm convinced that Australia will surprise everyone, not this summer but in four years' time.
This is your first experience as a national team coach at senior level. Did the experienced players help you when you took over from Holger Osieck?
Experienced players are essential, both for clubs and national teams. In Brazil, I'll have players who've already been to one or even two final tournaments, and who have a deep understanding of international competitions. I'm certain they'll be able to look out for the youngsters and help them in any situation.