Local coaches due respect

Some are already sniping at Frank Farina's appointment as Sydney FC coach but the former Socceroos boss deserves plenty of credit and respect.

What do Graham Arnold, Ange Postecoglou, John Kosmina and Frank Farina have in common?

They were all punching bags for the "snobberati" when they held various national team positions during a difficult era for the game before and during the set-up phase of the Hyundai A-League.

It's funny how things have panned out.

Kosmina, Arnold and Postecoglou are currently in charge of teams occupying the top three places in the competition, and now Farina has re-joined them in the Hyundai A-League after Sydney FC took the distinctly un-PC decision to resurrect his coaching career. Maybe, just maybe, they were never as bad as they were made out to be.

Perspective, sadly, is an all-too rare commodity when it comes to the debate about the merits, or otherwise, of local coaches. It's why the game needs to process through a phase of positive discrimination.

But in the process it's important to remember where we've come from in order to understand where we need to go. In that context, the appointment of Farina represents another important signpost.

Sydney FC have had the guts to stare down their own fans and make a decision they think is the best. Now that's progress.

During 27 years of the old NSL, homegrown coaches were an oddity. Club officials routinely appointed foreigners on the assumption they knew better.

This presumption percolated through a coaching program that advanced the claims of foreign-born coaches almost by default.

Back in 1999, Farina became a circuit-breaker when he was given charge of the Socceroos, with Arnold as his assistant. It was a huge detour from tradition. Australia's only other homegrown coach had been Joe Marston, and he lasted just one game.

Farina's appointment was met with howls of disapproval, and it rarely let up.

The emerging internet gave keyboard warriors the forum to vent their spleen and people who should have known better from the coaching and playing ranks were quick to join the chorus.

Postecoglou was caught in the crossfire when he was appointed national youth team coach, as was Kosmina when he was later made Arnold's assistant for the 2007 Asian Cup.

The debate inevitably fermented into an argument. You were either in the local camp, or the foreign camp. No in-between.

Farina's failure to qualify for the 2002 World Cup after a gut-wrenching defeat in Montevideo was seized upon by the detractors.

The circumstances around the play-off against Uruguay - the short gap between fixtures, the fact that the second leg was on the road and the Socceroos had to scramble on a commercial flight to get to Montevideo in time, only to be spat on and abused on their arrival - were hardly given any consideration.

When a year later Farina failed to win the Oceania Nations Cup in New Zealand, he copped an even bigger kicking.

Never mind the game's governing body was broke - forcing Farina to pick a squad of economy-class players from the NSL bar Scott Chipperfield, who paid his own airfare from Zurich to Auckland. The die had been cast.

Truth is, Farina achieved some amazing results in the circumstances. I'll never forget being in South Korea for the 2001 Confederations Cup and watching the Socceroos beat France and Brazil within the space of a week - at a time when they were ranked one and two in the world. There was also a first-ever win against England on their own soil.

Nonetheless, without the structure behind them, Farina, Arnold, Kosmina and Postecoglou were always destined to be the fall guys.

So in came the foreigners again - chartered flights, five-star hotels, monster salaries, huge support staffs and the rest - and due credit to Guus Hiddink and Pim Verbeek for getting us to the last two World Cups. But you can't compare apples and oranges, and maybe it's time we stopped.

Has the professionalism of football in Australia changed, and developed, for the better since 1999? Of course it has. Has the standard of coaching improved in the slipstream? Absolutely. But have the likes of Farina, Arnold, Postecoglou and Kosmina contributed to that evolution? You bet.

The court of opinion, thankfully, seems to be edging towards a more balanced view. But the sniping surrounding Farina's appointment is a reminder there is still a long way to go.

The fact is, the two most influential coaches in the Hyundai A-League's eight-year history have been the much-maligned Postecoglou and Arnold.

Kosmina, who's won one minor premiership and is in pole position to claim another, isn't far behind them. Those that are slowly coming around the view that local coaches might have some ability usually draw a line in the sand. They've got to be under 40 to be any good. Wrong.

You'd hope rookie coaches like Tony Popovic and John Aloisi appreciate that without the beating the likes of Farina, Arnold, Postecoglou and Kosmina have taken on their behalf, they'd still be at the back of the queue.

If there's a common denominator between the four battle-scarred veterans it's their toughness. They've needed it. And Farina will need it again. On that score alone, I wish "Cranky Franky" all the very best.

The views expressed in this article are purely those of the author and do not reflect those of FFA or the Hyundai A-League.