SYDNEY (Reuters) - If Australia’s defence was as obdurate as coach Ange Postecoglou, it’s a fair bet the Socceroos would have long since booked a ticket to a fourth successive appearance at the World Cup finals.
The 52-year-old faced a media pack on Tuesday for the first time since reports he would step down next month regardless of whether his team qualified for Russia.
At a news conference ostensibly called to discuss his squad for the decisive World Cup playoff against Honduras, which begins with the away leg next week, Postecoglou instead fielded a barrage of questions about his future in the job.
After 20 minutes of questioning, no one emerged from the room at Football Federation Australia’s headquarters any clearer about his plans.
“We have to qualify first,” Postecoglou replied to the first question.
”I have said all along that’s where the focus is. My energy is to make sure we are going to get over the two games and qualify for a fourth successive World Cup.
“Nothing beyond qualifying for the World Cup and getting the team ready to do that is important to me.”
Postecoglou said he refused to discuss “hypotheticals”, with the media or his players, reiterating that the only certainty about his position was that he would lose it if Australia failed to beat Honduras.
“If we don’t qualify, which no one seems to care about in this room, my future is certain,” he said.
“My contract doesn’t run until the World Cup. It runs until the end of the World Cup. It could have been 18 months ago if we didn’t beat Jordan.”
Australia thrashed Jordan 5-1 in March 2016 to ease into the third round of Asian qualifying but from there their campaign got bogged down and they missed out on an automatic spot in Russia.
A 3-2 aggregate playoff win over Syria earlier this month earned them a playoff against the Hondurans and it was the day after the decisive second leg in Sydney that the story broke about Postecoglou planning to walk away for a club job.
The coach has not only declined to clarify his position but also to enter into any discussion at all over why he might countenance such a move.
Some in the media have suggested it might be that he was sick of the questioning of the three-man defensive formation he has introduced, others that it was born of a broader distaste for the disrespect some pundits showed for him.
On Tuesday, he maintained that the media criticism did not hurt him, even if some of it reminded him of the racism he experienced earlier in life as a child immigrant from Greece.
“I’ve been called ‘Con Postecoglou’ because Con and Ange are obviously easily misinterpreted, they’re both ethnic names,” he said.
”I’ve had my surname twisted in headlines to something really clever and funny which took me back to my primary school days.
”I’ve been called ego-centric. Selfish. There’s been calls for me to get sacked. But you know what? I‘m still here. I won’t change who I am and what I believe in.
”It doesn’t hurt me. That’s how people want to define me at this present moment after 30 years of football in this country.
“If I start changing the way I am after that kind of stuff then I’d be tarnishing my legacy.”
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Ian Ransom