Guus Hiddink, the retiring coach of Australia's Socceroos, wants to leave a legacy to the country of enduring football success. Frank Lowy, the president of the Football Federation and the nation's richest man, believes the plans are already being formulated. Terry Butcher, the new coach of Sydney FC, says the potential is immense.
Had a Spanish referee called Victoriano Carrasco shown more mature judgement in the final minute of the Aussies' second-round match against Italy last Monday, all three would have been even more confident of ultimate success for their vision. A country with no time for losers could hardly have ignored a place in the last eight of the World Cup, with at least an even chance of making the last four. But Snr Carrasco's rash decision to award a penalty against Blackburn's Lucas Neill, who could not even see the opponent he was supposed to have fouled, allowed the Italians a 1-0 victory that their exhausted side, down to 10 men and with three substitutions already made, could not have been optimistic of claiming had the game gone to extra time.
An Australian win and Hiddink would have been entitled to fancy his chances against Ukraine on Friday, offering him the rich possibility of a third successive semi-final, to follow his achievements with Holland and then South Korea.
As it was, he was forced within a few minutes of that penalty kick to consider the lasting effect of his 11 months in charge, his conclusion being: "The important thing is not just that the team made a very good impression in this tournament against big teams; the momentum has to be used to establish football now in Australia. I think it's become the number one sport regarding attention, and they have to use that now to make sure they're there in 2010." Having been moved, after much lobbying, from the Oceania confederation to Asia, that should mean an easier route to qualification as one of the four Asian representatives rather than facing the traditional play-off against South American opposition.
The Football Federation of Australia has been revolutionised by the dynamism and the money brought to the party by Lowy, a Czech refugee who now sits very comfortably in the world's top 200 richest men, his companies heavily involved in building London's Olympic Village and White City shopping centre. He was the driving force behind last year's launch of the Hyundai A-League, a national competition with eight clubs that has now attracted serious television coverage as well as the sort of controversy surrounding Test cricket in England; the contract went to a network available only on satellite, bringing A$120 million (£50m) into the sport but severely limiting the number of people who could watch it.
While delighted by comparative success at the World Cup (Australia had never won a match at the finals before, let alone reached the knockout stage), the FFA were careful to announce a review of their strategy for the future a week before the tournament began, using the slogan "Germany is only the beginning". Information on the identification and development of talent is to be gathered from other Australian sports as well as football associations from around the world, and a full report will be presented to the board in October. John O'Neill, the chief executive of the FFA, said: "We will be working to develop and implement an affordable plan which will allow Australia to become increasingly competitive over the coming years, and to fulfil our great potential as a sporting nation in the arena of international football."
In the short term, the hope is for an immediate spin-off from the World Cup, both in terms of finance and general interest, in a country where - despite Hiddink's claim - Aussie Rules rules, along with rugby league and union. Initial signs are encouraging, though: Sydney FC, where the former England captain Butcher will be coaching Dwight Yorke in a few weeks' time, and Melbourne Victory have already increased last season's totals of members and season-ticket holders. Tim Parker, the Sydney chief executive, said: "The response has been phenomenal. When the A-League season starts again [26 August] then I think people will remember what they've seen, a lot of new people will have been brought in, and the faithful will be flocking back."
Butcher, having resigned as the manager of Motherwell, is excited by the prospect of working in the Land Down Under. "They've got the right aims and ambitions, just like the J-League in Japan did after starting with only eight teams," he said from his hotel in Germany, where he has been working as a pundit at the World Cup, withering in his criticism of the England side. "Obviously I was working over here, but by all accounts Australia went mad. A lot of people will be excited by Australia's efforts and will want to have a look. With the number of expats plus people from nationalities like Croatia and Italy who've got a history of football, it's a chance for the game to peg a bit back in terms of the other sports."
As for the national side, believed to be targeting the former Argentinian Carlos Bilardo as their next coach: "There are about 120 Australian players with European clubs at the moment, so they can still do it that way. But there were also two A-League players in the squad this time and young kids can progress through the League, so that's another route. They're putting down great roots for the future."Reuse content