Australia's coach Osieck reacts during a friendly soccer match against France in Paris

Australia fires head coach, but problems likely to persist


Let’s consider the implications of this tweet from Tim Cahill:

[tweet width=280]

That was the Australian international reacting to news his national team had fired their head coach, Holger Osieck. The German boss had steered the Socceroos through Asian World Cup Qualifying but had also been at the helm to two straight 6-0 defeats (to Brazil and France). After Friday’s thrashing, the former Fenerbahçe, Urawa Red Diamonds, and Canadian national team boss was dismissed ahead of a Tuesday friendly against the Canucks.

The decision wasn’t much of a surprise. Holger was asked about the possibility in Paris after the latest loss, ultimately admitting the lopsided results provided “food for discussion.” On Australian television, former Australian international Mark Bosnich said “Holger would do the right thing” and “walk away,” while Robbie Slater, another former Socceroo said “[the Football Federation Australia] need to sack him.”

But back to Cahill’s tweet – a piece of loyal if contrarian sentiment. One implication would be anything that happens on the field after Australia qualifies for a World Cup should be overlooked, a slightly paradoxical sentiment considering the team was disappointed not to have made it out of their group in South Africa. Aspiring to contend for a final 16 spot in Brazil, Australia’s form over the next eight months is fair game. That they’ve been demolished by two likely World Cup teams (France has yet to qualify) hints the team’s not ready to match their federation’s ambition.

Which, as it turns out, is exactly why the FFA let him go:

The FFA Chairman Frank Lowy AC said the long-term interests of Australian football were paramount in making the change.

“The decision is based on the longer term issues of the rejuvenation of the Socceroos team and the preparations for the World Cup and the Asian Cup,” said Lowy.

“FFA has set a strategic objective of having a highly competitive team in Brazil and then handing over a team capable of winning the Asian Cup on home soil in January 2015.

“We have come to the conclusion that change is necessary to meet those objectives.

It’s difficult to argue Australia was on a path to be “highly competitive” in Brazil. Thus, Osieck was let go, though by that standard, it’s unclear why he lasted this long.

In the 2010 cycle, Australia — debuting in Asian qualifying — surprised many by breezing through qualifying. Under Guus Hiddink disciple Pim Verbeek, the Socceroos won six and drew two in eight final round qualifiers, finishing five points ahead of Japan in Asia’s group A. For a team that was taking a huge step up in competition, moving to the confederation from Oceania, it was an unexpectedly dominant performance. In those final eight games, they only conceded once.

There was something strange about their run, though – something that needed to be corrected before this cycle. In moving to Asia, Australia brought a new, physical, direct style to the region characterized by that’s come to be dominated by Japan and South Korea’s combination of acumen, technique, fitness, and speed. Perhaps underestimating what Australia brought, Asia failed to adjust, a naivete that was unlikely to last beyond a single cycle.

This time around, Australia won only three of their eight final round qualifiers, finishing four points behind Japan. Thanks to four draws (and only one loss), they beat Jordan to Group B’s second automatic qualifying spot, but having allowed seven goals in eight games, their dominance was clearly over. Teams had adjusted.

source: Getty Images
Guus Hiddink, seem here as coach of Russian Premier League club Anzhi Makhachkala, led Australia to the Round of 16 at Germany 2006. The Dutchman is favored to return to Australia in the wake of Holger Osieck’s dismissal. (Photo: Getty Images.)

But if that was the only problem for Osieck, the 65-year-old, Australia could have adjusted. The confounding problem: Australia just doesn’t have the horses. They’re still relying on Lucas Neill (35 years old). Mark Bresciano, Brett Holman, Matt McKay, Luke Wilshire, and Mile Jedinak — all 29 or older — are mainstays, while Tim Cahill (33) remains a focal point.  Though some of these players have regressed from club roles in Europe, they remain key players for Australia.

And as their already limited squad has aged, few new talents have picked up the torch. Players like Robbie Kruse, James Holland, Nikita Rukavytsya, and Rhys Williams have their virtues, but none of them are going to push the team to the next level. Even with somebody like Tommy Oar (21) getting more time, Australia still lacks the individual talents to meet their federation’s ambition. once you factor in the age of the team’s core, the Socceroos look weaker than they did for 2010.

Perhaps that’s the argument to retain Osieck — that Australia just isn’t that good — but the FFA obviously disagrees, creating a no-win scenario for their coach. And in the FFA’s defense, back-to-back 6-0 losses are unacceptable. Even this limited squad should be playing much better.

But if Australia is hoping Guus Hiddink, the man immediately linked with a return to the job, can change their direction, they’re likely mistaken. Not only did the former Socceroos boss ultimately disappoint with Russia and Turkey, but he won’t have a chance to restock Australia’s shelves ahead of Brazil 2014.

Maybe the Dutchman can conjure some South Korea in 2002, Australia in 2006 magic. More likely: He’ll finally give the FFA reason to realize Australia’s limitations.

Kroenke: “Very high” on Wenger who is “very hard” to replace

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LONDON — Arsenal remains “very high” on Arsene Wenger and it will be “very hard” replacing the manager who is in the final year of his contract, owner Stan Kroenke told The Associated Press on Monday.

Wenger this month celebrated 20 years in charge of Arsenal and has offered no indication whether he wants to sign a new deal into next season.

The 67-year-old Frenchman became the Premier League’s longest serving manager when Alex Ferguson retired from Manchester United in 2013. United is now on its third manager in three years and has not competed for the Premier League title since Ferguson’s departure.

In a rare interview about Arsenal, Kroenke noted the tricky post-Ferguson succession at United while discussing the challenge of eventually replacing Wenger.

“You see it (at United), you bring up a comment like that,” Kroenke told the AP after Arsenal’s annual general meeting. “It’s very hard. He’s a great manager.”

Wenger signed his last three-year contract extension in 2014.

“We will sit down and discuss the future at the appropriate time,” Arsenal chairman Chips Keswick told shareholders at a meeting where Wenger didn’t address his contract situation in his speech.

Although Wenger has won the Premier League three times, the last success came in 2004 – a drought which frustrates fans.

“He’s been a wonderful influence on the club,” Kroenke said. “We are all very high on Arsene. We are (joint) top of the table right now.”

Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool are only separated on goal difference at the summit. Despite Wenger only winning the FA Cup twice since 2004, the team is in the lucrative Champions League for the 19th successive year thanks to its runner-up finish last season. Wenger is yet to win European football’s top prize.

“I know a number of (sports team) owners that are very successful that say the same thing – the hardest thing to do is be consistently competitive at the top of the league,” said Kroenke, who also owns the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams. “Arsene has always done that and Arsenal has always been in that position. We have always been competitive.

“We may not always win the things we want to win. We are very focused on winning for sure the league. Arsene’s been consistently at the top and I will tell you – it’s very, very hard to do if you look around sports.”


2016 MLS Cup playoffs bracket in full

TORONTO, ON - MAY 07:  Michael Bradley #4 and Jozy Altidore #17 of Toronto FC celebrate a goal by teammate Tsubasa Endoh #9 during the first half of an MLS soccer game against FC Dallas at BMO Field on May 7, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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With Major League Soccer’s Decision Day 2016 in the books, we now know who will battle it out for MLS Cup.

[ MORE: Who will win MLS Cup? ]

Up first on Wednesday and Thursday are the four knockout round games, then the Conference semifinal first legs kick off this weekend.

We get into it thick and fast.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage

The PST crew already selected their picks for the postseason and filled out their bracket. You can see that by clicking on the link above. FWIW, I have Toronto FC beating the Seattle Sounders in MLS Cup…

[ MORE: Ranking MLS playoff teams ]

Below is the MLS playoff bracket in full so you can make your picks and let us know who you went for in the comments section below.


MLS Playoff bracket, 2016

MLS Playoff bracket, 2016

Arsenal AGM: Wenger’s future; points target to win title set

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02: Arsene Wenger, Manager of Arsenal looks on during the Premier League match between Burnley and Arsenal at Turf Moor on October 2, 2016 in Burnley, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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Mystery continues to shroud Arsene Wenger‘s future as Arsenal manager.

[ MORE: Ballon d’Or shortlist ]

The Frenchman, who celebrated his 67th birthday on Saturday and 20 years in charge of Arsenal earlier this month, has yet to decide if he will remain in charge at the Emirates Stadium beyond this season.

Wenger’s current contract runs out next summer and at the club AGM on Monday it was revealed no talks have been held between the manager and directors about a new deal.

Key figures such as majority shareholder Stan Kroenke, chairman Sir Chips Keswick and Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis spoke, as well as Wenger himself who didn’t address his future and instead talked about the points target Arsenal must reach to win the Premier League this season.

Via Jeremy Wilson of the Telegraph, who was at Wenger’s AGM, below are some of the key quotes which surfaced.

Overall, the mood of this AGM was much more relaxed compared to previous years where many shareholders called for Wenger to leave and/or Arsenal to send more money amid a lack of success on the pitch.

Wenger on how he sees Arsenal’s title chances

“We have gone through periods where we had more selling of players. The amount of selling was a big part of our income. I think we have survived quite well that period. Now, in the last three or four years, we have reinforced by strengthening. We are much more competitive today than five or six years ago to fight for the championship. After nine games, the first trend is set. It is about 20 points which means the championship will be certainly decided at 82 to 86 points. Our challenge is to compete for absolutely everything. I think we have the squad of the first time that is more mature and better equipped for to compete for all the challenges. I am absolutely committed to give my best.”

Chairman Sir Chips Keswick on Wenger’s future

“We will sit down and discuss Arsene’s future at the appropriate time. We all recognize the fantastic contribution Arsene Wenger has made. He continues to have huge energy passion and desire. We are confident in his ability to take us forward. Our current focus is continuing our strong run and competing for trophies.”

Majority shareholder Stan Kroenke on Wenger’s legacy at Arsenal

“One of the main reasons we got involved is the values and traditions of the club and no one has represented them better than Arsene. You have always shown dedication, commitment and energy. You brought a new style to English football and our club. Amid a world subject to great scrutiny and pressure, you have always handled yourself with great class. We are excited about the club and season. We know we will compete for trophies and we would like nothing better than to see you win the Championship.”

Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis on Ozil and Sanchez’s future

“We have a good track record in recent seasons of retaining players as a result of a lot of hard work. I can’t get into discussion on individual players but can say we will apply the same diligence and focus to our existing squad. I think you can see our direction of travel.”

Jurgen Klopp on Liverpool title talk: “I don’t care”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 22:  Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool applauds the fans following their team's 2-1 victory during the Premier League match between Liverpool and West Bromwich Albion at Anfield on October 22, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
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Jurgen Klopp isn’t having any of your title talk.

[ MORE: Ballon d’Or shortlist ]

After Liverpool beat West Bromwich Albion 2-1 on Saturday at Anfield and Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester City and Manchester United all dropped points this weekend, plenty of people are talking up Liverpool’s chances of winning the Premier League title this season.

With nine games of the season gone, Liverpool sit joint-top with Arsenal and Man City on 20 points with Chelsea and Tottenham just behind them on 19 points.

It is tight at the top but whatever people are saying, Klop isn’t bothered.

“I don’t care. It is normal in football that when you are in a good position people start talking a little more positive. I don’t recognize so much what everyone is saying about us but of course I recognize the mood, I said it already, around LFC it is good. But we are still in October… unfortunately. There is a long way to go,” Klopp said. “Nothing to say about this. Hopefully you can ask these questions through the whole season and everything is good but at the moment I have no answer for it. It is good up until now. Not more but good. Let’s carry on.”

Liverpool’s attack has been mightily impressive this season with the fluid movement of Sadio Mane, Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino ripping teams apart. Klopp’s side are the highest scorers with 20 goals thus far but the one issues many have about them being genuine title contender is their defensive play. Klopp’s side have kept just one clean sheet in their nine PL games so far this season and they’ve conceded the most goals in the top six.

Klopp’s right, there’s a long way to go. But plenty are also correct to be positive about this Liverpool team.

Challenging for the PL title this season may just be beyond them but securing a top four finish certainly isn’t. Klopp is pushing Liverpool in the right direction. Any of us can see that, even if he doesn’t want to admit it.