What Ange Postecoglou’s move to Tottenham means for Australian sport

Australia has long punched above its weight in the sporting world. For a nation which has never held a seat at the top 50 most populous countries table, it proudly boasts a Tour de France winner, US Masters champion, the greatest cricketer of all time, and ranks 10th for total summer Olympic games gold medals. For all the success and accolades, however, Australia has struggled immensely to establish a substantial footprint in the professional coaching realm. Until now.

Ange Postecoglou’s appointment as Tottenham Hotspur manager is an unprecedented Australian sporting achievement. It’s a landmark milestone for a country rich in sports history and tradition. Postecoglou has broken through ceiling upon ceiling to not only become the inaugural Australian to land a managerial job in the Premier League, but also the first person from Down Under to be offered a head coaching opportunity in one of the world’s five major sports leagues (NFL, MLB, NBA, EPL or NHL).

Spurs could have selected just about anyone on the planet to become the next face of the club, following in the recent footsteps of two of football’s most highly credentialed coaches in Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte. Yet chairman Daniel Levy settled on 57-year-old Postecoglou, tasking him with the daunting challenge of shaking the perennially underachieving “Spursy” tag and finally, after decades of heartache, delivering some sustained success.

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The magnitude of Postecoglou’s remit should not be understated. He will soon step into the most-watched sports league in the world, taking the reins of the ninth most-valuable football club, and with the brand-new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, one of the most upwardly mobile. It’s a club which has a greater social media following than every AFL and NRL team combined. A club which as an entity would comfortably sit amongst the 100 most profitable companies on the Australian Stock Exchange.

It’s just reward and sweet vindication for the Greek migrant who honed his craft in the little-known northern suburbs of Melbourne and has spent the bulk of his coaching life in Australia. Like many football coaches in this country, Postecoglou was forced to toil away, scrap and fight for the limited positions available at the professional level, always required to prove his worth and often forced to justify his unorthodox methods.

But from the Whittlesea Zebras in National Premier League 2 to Brisbane’s “Roar-celona,” the Australian men’s national team, to Japan, to his most recent role at Celtic, Postecoglou never wavered in his brave philosophy of empowering youth to play an attractive brand of football, doing so with joy and freedom. At every stop, his nurturing yet no-nonsense approach has allowed him to extract every ounce of production from his personnel, something which has garnered widespread respect and admiration, filled trophy cabinets, and converted sceptics into believers.

Postecoglou’s latest achievement is just that — his achievement. But it signifies so much more for Australia.

To put it plainly, the world has never taken Australian football seriously. Even seeing the likes of high-class exports Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka and Tim Cahill excelling abroad wasn’t enough to alter the perception that Australia was only a part-time player in the sport. Our men’s team has never sniffed the top 10 in the FIFA rankings and, in competition play, we have forever embraced the underdog tag, far more likely to be someone’s “second team,” a feelgood story, as opposed to a nation that’s feared and respected.

In many ways it’s a by-product of how Australians have historically treated and valued the game. Football has always been consigned to the shadows of the nation’s other major codes, only ever taking centre-stage, and eliciting excitement, for a brief four-week period every 1400-odd days when a men’s World Cup rolls around. It’s meant there are fewer and fewer Australian household names at the professional level, which, in turn, has seen interest levels in our domestic leagues wane. Establishing any sort of affinity and connection towards the national teams has also proved challenging.

And when Australian football isn’t an afterthought, it’s often been clouded in controversy. The last few years alone we’ve witnessed the unceremonious sacking of former Matildas coach Alen Stajcic and the saga which followed, the unfavourable headlines created off the back of the A-League selling its Grand Finals to New South Wales, and the barbaric pitch-invasion scenes at AAMI Park last December.

Postecoglou’s new-found standing in the sport — along with the Women’s World Cup that Australia and New Zealand will host in July — will be the catalyst behind the long-overdue rejuvenation football in this country has desperately been crying out for. His appointment will be more significant than any marketing or promotional tool ever conceptualized in the boardrooms of Football Australia. The hysteria surrounding him will dwarf anything Kewell experienced at Liverpool or Cahill at Everton. He is now the face of a “Big Six” club, as opposed to a face within a club. He is one of just 20, not one of 500.

It will immediately give Australia a sense of global footballing credibility, altering not just how the world views us but how we view us. Having someone in a position of such prestige and power will make us proud. It will make us care about the sport, cherish it, and be far more accountable. It will shine a light on football in Australia, from grassroots right up to the professional level, something Postecoglou has always taken tremendous pride in, frequently speaking at length about how desperate he is for it to succeed and be taken seriously. He knows as well as any that there remains an abundance of unearthed talent in our own backyard, and now, there will be greater opportunity for those who in another era might have been lost to the sport.

But, perhaps most importantly, Postecoglou is challenging the very stereotype of what it is to be an Australian in sport.

Australians, particularly those abroad, are often viewed as scrappy, heart-and-soul battlers. Athletes that not only relish the underdog tag, but succeed because of it. We are admired for our grit, hustle plays and “Aussie spirit” — whatever that is — as opposed to pure athleticism, skill, nous, or craft. You simply cannot make that lazy connection with Postecoglou and the path he’s forging for himself.

In many ways Postecoglou is a trailblazer. A pioneer. He is proving that something we have forever seen as an impossible and improbable feat is anything but. His signing at Spurs should be celebrated by every single Australian and viewed through the lens of the nation’s greatest sports moment, not just achievement in sport.

After all, he might just be our greatest sporting export.