Pim Verbeek

Verbeek pulls plug

Pim Verbeek

Marc Fox

If Australian journalists were looking forward to a deserved few days off after the longest A-League season in the competition's history, they had to think again.

With most pressmen gearing up for a holiday after Sydney's win over Melbourne in last weekend's A-League grand final brought the season to a close, those plans were placed on hold after checking their Monday morning emails.

It's perhaps curious why Football Federation Australia chose that precise moment to confirm Socceroos coach Pim Verbeek would step down after June's World Cup to pursue a club coaching career.

The news of Verbeek departing the Socceroos setup had been circling in the media for weeks, with many seasoned hacks having already broken the story.

The Dutchman, like the FFA, maintained that it was actually a "good time to make this announcement so we can now focus completely on preparing everything perfectly for the upcoming World Cup in South Africa."

"We will do everything right to prepare for this tournament to get the best result possible," he said.

FFA chief executive Ben Buckley added: "I think, if anything, the constant speculation, the constant innuendo and the constant rumours that might have abounded would be much more distracting than dealing with the issue and being open and honest about it."

The question though is how Verbeek's imminent departure will affect the Socceroos in South Africa.

The lesson of Jacques Santini in 2004 springs to mind (Santini resigned from his position of France national coach in the lead-up to Euro 2004 after which his side were surprisingly bundled out by eventual champions Greece in the quarter-finals).

However, virtually the same group of players had to contend with a similar scenario four years ago when Guus Hiddink made it clear he would not be extending his short-term deal after the 2006 World Cup and the Socceroos still excelled in Germany.

It's questionable whether Verbeek has enhanced his coaching credentials during his two-and-a-half year tenure, but he certainly has done his prospects of a club coaching job no harm.

He has led Australia to the World Cup and the 2011 Asian Cup and enjoyed a better win/loss ratio than predecessors Terry Venables, Frank Farina and Hiddink despite the move into the more competitive Asian confederation. He is, however, still to play at a major tournament.

The FFA wanted Verbeek to remain as coach until the 2014 World Cup, but - officially at least - the stress of the constant travelling between his family home in Holland and Australia appears to have taken its toll.

The Australian football public took its time to warm to Verbeek after being spoilt with Hiddink and promised other big names such as Philippe Troussier, and never quite fell in love with his pragmatic approach.

To detractors, the 54-year-old Dutchman has coasted on the coattails of a buoyant side packed full of players with significant European domestic experience.

Although he has handed out 33 new caps in 27 international games, it's hard to pick out one name that is certain of a place on the plane to South Africa.

Indeed, personnel changes since the successful 2006 World Cup have been minimal. Mark Viduka's international retirement aside, virtually the same group of players will take the field against Germany as did against Japan four years earlier.

If anything Verbeek has made little progress in solving the Viduka conundrum, and appears to be heading towards playing Harry Kewell in an unfamiliar lead striker's role with Josh Kennedy - a 2006 back-up - and unproven Scott McDonald in reserve.

The problem with coaching an expectant sporting nation such as Australia is that the coach seems too often to be backing a loser.

The Socceroos (23rd in the world) are now by some distance the predominant side in the AFC, well clear in Fifa's rankings from Japan (46th) and South Korea (53rd), and are now expected to compete at the highest level.

But many feel they will still struggle to progress from a group comprising Germany, Serbia and Ghana, and Verbeek is savvy enough to know that sweeping retirements after South Africa will decimate the spine of side.

After Mark Schwarzer, Craig Moore, Harry Kewell and Lucas Neill all potentially call time on their international careers, the next generation of players will have a massive job on their hands as they build towards Qatar 2011.

At least the new Socceroos coach will have a full four years to qualify and then prepare for Brazil 2014. While Verbeek, who counts J-League side Omiya Ardija as his previous club coaching job over 10 years ago, might have one final crack with a leading European club.

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

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