Australia – Dick dastardly strikes again

Nor for the first time, Dick has been dastardly. Advocaat has turned his back on Australia despite signing a contract to coach them to the 2010 World Cup, leaving the Socceroos in the lurch. Matthew Hall reports

In November, Dick Advocaat guided Zenit St Petersburg to their first league title since 1984 with a win over Saturn Moscow. The Dutchman was thrown in the air by celebrating players and came back to earth with a bump and an offer for a one-year contract extension worth $4 million (£2m) after tax. Considering the offer, Advocaat did what many men in his position might have. He switched off his mobile phone

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, a number of Australians were trying to call Advocaat. To offer congratulations, but also to firm up plans for the next seven days, during which the former Rangers manager would be officially unveiled as Australia’s new coach before their friendly with Nigeria in London. Three months after Advocaat signed a contract to lead the Socceroos to the 2010 World Cup, Football Federation Australia were eager to make public the worst‑kept secret in Australian football.

But Advocaat’s phone stayed off. And off. And still off. The only person willing to talk about an increasingly uncomfortable situation was Zenit’s technical director, Konstantin Sarsania, who was sure that Advocaat would not be heading for Bondi Beach any time soon. The $4m a year on offer from a club sponsored by state gas utility Gazprom, double what the Australians would and could pay, would solve that.

As late as Friday lunchtime before the Saturday game against Nigeria, officials were claiming Advocaat was still due to arrive. Later that afternoon, however, the conversation between players at the team hotel was that Advocaat had officially been renamed “Dastardly Dick”. The players had it right. Australia were left coachless heading toward the start of World Cup qualifiers.

Advocaat’s snub came on the back of an embarrassingly lame Australian performance at this year’s Asian Cup, where the team bowed out in the quarter-finals after losing to Iraq and failing to beat Oman. “The World Cup had a huge impact on the players, the supporters, and the nation,” captain Lucas Neill explained. “It really made soccer popular in Australia. However, after the Guus Hiddink era, we’ve plateaued and possibly even gone back a tiny bit… We want stability, continuity, and cohesion. As a player, you want to be settled. You want to know what is right and wrong. In all football, whether you agree or disagree with it, so long as a coach has a style you know that if you’re doing what he tells you to do then you are doing the right thing.”

After the World Cup, Australia lost ­Hiddink to the riches of the Russian national team, so Graham Arnold, an assistant to both Hiddink and predecessor Frank Farina, led the Socceroos – sort of.

The Asian Cup came with divisions within the camp – unusual in a squad that had previously prided itself on unified camaraderie. Post-tournament, many players privately said Arnold, who had spells as a player in Holland and Belgium, was not up to the task of managing a team with experienced players at European clubs. He has since been put in charge of the Under-23s, who will play at the Beijing Olympics after qualifying victories over Iraq, North Korea and Lebanon.

Football Federation Australia officials, meanwhile, spent the week after Advocaat’s snub criss-crossing Europe speaking with potential new candidates.The wish list (official and unofficial) ran from José Mourinho (he’s unemployed) to Jürgen Klinsmann (FFA technical director Rob Baan named the German as a contender), from Fabio Capello (he has privately said he would meet with Australian officials) to Jorvan Vieira (he won the Asian Cup with Iraq), to a call from one local flag-waving journalist to reinstate Arnold (most feel no Australian is up to the task).

At the time of writing, as FFA negotiate a compensation package from Zenit, Australia can take some solace in knowing they’re not alone in being jilted by Dastardly Dick. In 2005, Advocaat quit his job with the United Arab Emirates to take over South Korea, leaving his car keys with his hotel reception and catching a cab to the airport for a flight to Seoul. His UAE bosses didn’t know he’d left them until they read about it in a newspaper.

From WSC 251 January 2008