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What Bert can learn from Guus

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What Bert can learn from Guus

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Bert van Marwijk is an outstanding appointment as Socceroos coach.

 

Now, as the real work begins, he could do worse than take a leaf out of Guus Hiddink’s book.

 

For Football Federation Australia to recruit a coach with so much experience at this late stage is brilliant. Van Marwijk is proven at this level. He took the Netherlands to the World Cup final in 2010. And he qualified Saudi Arabia ahead of Australia for this year’s tournament. He has first-hand knowledge of our team and what he is getting into.

 

But this is just the start. Now van Marwijk – like Guus did with us back in 2006 – needs to demonstrate to the players that this isn’t just an opportunity for him to stand on the World Cup finals stage again, stamp that on his CV and head off to whatever his next job might be.

 

He and the players are probably not going to be together for long, because it looks like a new coaching appointment will be made after the World Cup, but he still must prove he cares about them as people, as well as players.

 

You can’t fake that. His interest in the welfare of the players – what makes them tick, their hopes and aspirations – has to be genuine, or the partnership won’t work and the results won’t be as good.

 

That was Guus’ secret with us.

 

I’m very optimistic Bert will make it work this time around.

 

 

 

GUUS’ GREAT GIFT

France. Denmark. Peru.

 

Our draw for Russia is as good as you’re going to get at a World Cup. We’ve got to be aiming to advance from that group. There’s a great opportunity there.

 

Guus knew how to make it work quickly. He knew how to pull the players and coaching staff together. I loved his approach and I’ll never forget what he did for me. He showed great faith in me at a difficult time in my career and then used his influence to help me get a kickstart all over again.

 

I had started playing Premier League for Middlesbrough as a 20-year-old, but in my third year there I wasn’t getting much football and I needed to change that or my career was going to take a dip. I had ambitions and I was determined to realise them. I had to be playing regularly.

 

I joined Bristol City in League One. I played every week. But, when I look back, I’d have to say it was the worst three years of my career in terms of happiness. It was tough. I had a couple of not so great – I’d even say bad – managers to deal with at the club.

 

I broke into the Socceroos under Frank Farina in 2004, so there was a lot on the line for me – the chance to be a part of the first Australian team to make it to the World Cup finals since 1974. Then Guus took over in 2005 and got us there.

 

Guus had the ability to look inside a player. It didn’t take him long to find out what was in their hearts and minds, as well as what they were like with the ball at their feet.

 

Bert’s interest in the welfare of the players – what makes them tick, their hopes and aspirations – has to be genuine, or the partnership won’t work and the results won’t be as good. That was Guus’ secret with us.

 

He decided to make Mark Viduka captain. Dukes came out of himself and produced his best-ever form for the national team. People on the outside may have thought he was a bit reserved to be captain, but you don’t have to have a big mouth or a big personality in front of the cameras to do the job.

 

You have to be able to get players to respond to you. Dukes did that. He was an inspiring leader and Guus saw that potential in him. It was a great choice.

 

When Guus was first appointed, he took a 25-man squad to Holland for a training camp and I was in it. Graham Arnold was his assistant.

 

I heard Guus was very positive about me as a player and thought it was important to help get me into a higher league. The feedback I got was that he was saying ‘Who’s this young guy playing for Bristol City? League One in England? We’ve got to get him out of there. It’s not the place for him.’

 

You’ve got to have someone believe in you and Guus believed in me. I know Arnie did as well.

 

Your turn… #GoSocceroos

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THE DARK DAYS

Towards the end of the 2005-06 season, I didn’t want to sign a new contract at Bristol and the coach put me out. I was on the bench for the reserves team, not getting any game-time heading towards the World Cup.

 

I was still a young player, 24, and although I’d been in the squad for the national team I hadn’t played a lot. The coach at my club was doing all he could to put me down.

 

I was doing extra training on my own and I still had that determination and belief but, as much as I knew Guus rated me as a player, I was worried I’d miss out on the squad because I wasn’t playing.

 

But sometimes things happen for a reason, and I learned very early on in my career that you’ve just got to roll with the punches and carry on. Something good will happen if you deserve it.

 

Guus picked me in the squad and then played me as a starter in two huge World Cup games against Japan and Italy.

 

Guus’ former assistant at PSV Eindhoven, Fred Rutten, had gone on to coach FC Twente. Guus basically said to him, ‘Look, I’ve got a player for you, you’ve got to take him.’ I ended up there after the World Cup and it was great for me. It propelled my career forward, got it back on track.

 

It was Fred who converted me from a midfielder to a right-back.

 

This is what I’m talking about with Guus. He was ultra-professional, but it was also very personal with him and that’s why he was able to make it work with the Socceroos, coming in late. He gave my career a great boost, both at club and international level.

 

It’s going to have to be a quick transition with van Marwijk because they’ll have one camp before some games in March and then another camp before the World Cup, so he’ll need to be confident enough to back himself and make quick decisions that are good.

 

He must be able to establish a relationship and understanding with the players immediately, but a good coach with the ability to quickly assess a situation and get his point across clearly can do that.

 

I don’t know him personally, although I twice played for the Socceroos against the Netherlands when he coached them in 2008 and 2009, but looking at everything on paper I’ve got a lot of faith in this appointment.

 

The players are desperate to succeed, so they will aim to quickly adapt to the new man’s plans.

 

 

 

THE ITALY GAME

The players who made up the core of those Australian teams I was in came to be known as the ‘Golden Generation.’

 

It’s not how the players refer to themselves. It’s for other people to come up with descriptions like that. But it’s not a bad label. It’s nice to hear how fondly people remember the players who represented the country during that era.

 

The atmosphere playing for the Socceroos was one of great camaraderie and pride in performance. Bottom line: we always worked hard for each other.

 

Senior players like Mark Schwarzer, Craig Moore, Scott Chipperfield and Tony Popovic drove it. Guus immediately tapped into that mentality and knew he had to protect it and further encourage it.

 

This is what I’m talking about with Guus. He was ultra-professional, but it was also very personal with him and that’s why he was able to make it work with the Socceroos, coming in late. 

 

I still have trouble finding the words to describe what it felt like to play in the World Cup finals. They are the moments you dream of and they live with you forever.

 

After we beat Japan in our opening match of the group stage, we started to believe the possibilities were endless, that we had a massive chance to go deep in the tournament.

 

When we made the round of 16 and played Italy, the way the game was going I really thought we had them and that it was just a matter of time.

 

The boss had his plan to bring on Josh Kennedy up front. He was holding out for extra-time, but that was all taken away from us when we conceded a penalty deep in added time.

 

For sure, we felt we had Italy on the ropes in that game. It was a very tough result to take. But that’s football at the highest level.

 

 

 

THE BIG CALL

That was the last time Australia advanced out of the group stage. I believe they can do it again in Russia.

 

To do so, van Marwijk must be able to pull the playing group together. That’s the only way he’ll get the performance and keep them coming.

 

Our team spirit, our camaraderie, that’s what matters most. It’s always been like that. The new coach has got to connect with the players that way – and vice versa.

 

The guys I played with for the Socceroos – as good a team as it was – weren’t the best players in the world and everyone knew that. But we were a hell of a team to play against. No one liked playing against us.

 

We knew how to get results and that showed in the FIFA world ranking the team had.

 

Terrific players like Aaron Mooy and Trent Sainsbury are among the driving forces in the current team, but everyone has to be on the same wavelength.

 

It’s going to have to be a quick transition with van Marwijk because they’ll have one camp before some games in March and then another camp before the World Cup, so he’ll need to be confident enough to back himself and make quick decisions that are good.

 

Australia went through a long and tough qualification process and was able to grind out results and advance. They went to some very difficult places to play, where you’ve just got to somehow find a way to win or at least get a result, and that experience makes you tougher as a player.

 

I went through the same process.  You grow from that.

 

Yes, the previous coach departed and they had to find a new one. But they’ve done that. Now you move on. Coaching turnover is no different to the turnover of players. It’s natural, it happens. We adapted to that and this team is good enough to do the same.

 

It’s a tough group of players who have shown they can win under pressure. That’s what it’s all about at the World Cup. 

 

 

 

THE NEXT CHAPTER

I will be keeping a close eye on the tournament in Russia.

 

I fell in love with the country and met my wife, Kristina, there during my time with Dynamo Moscow. We have two children and I converted to the Russian Orthodox faith so we all felt comfortable in the same religion.

 

I’m concentrating on Sydney FC now. We’re top of the table in the A-League and we’re getting ready for the Asian Champions League. I’m content.

 

All the players are delighted Arnie has said he’ll definitely be at the club at least until the end of the season. There’s no doubt he’d make a great Socceroo coach, but no one here wants to see him leave the Sky Blues.

 

 

 

 

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