How Bert got Roos WC job without even applying
FOOTBALL: When Ange Postecoglou stunned Australian football last year by walking out on the chance to lead the Socceroos to Russia, Football Federation Australia had a massive decision to make.
Do they stay local? Do they go long term? Do they hire a pinch hitter?
With the backdrop of anxious supporters and high profile criticism demanding a swift appointment, the roof body recalibrated.
Indeed, the decision to bring in external voices from the likes of Socceroos legends Mark Schwarzer, Mark Bresciano and Stan Lazaridis turned the tide of opinion.
Where a knee-jerk reaction might have seen a new long-term boss immediately handed the reins, three players who rode the wave of the 2006 World Cup success had a massive influence in ensuring that all of Australian football's focus remained on extracting the maximum out of this current crop in Russia this June. After a young team was exposed in 2014, it was imperative not to waste the 2018 World Cup after the strides made over the last four years.
Despite the reports that swirled through December and January, where another day saw another high-profile candidate thrust forward in the media, Bert van Marwijk was not actually a name that approached Australian football.
He was headhunted.
Once the decision was made to go for short-term impact, the Dutchman, who steered his country to the 2010 World Cup final against Spain and Saudi Arabia to the 2018 finals ahead of the Socceroos, catapulted to the top of the list, fast-tracking a decision ultimately made earlier than the mid-February deadline.
He not only ticked every box in the criteria that was designed. He got top billing.
His role as Saudi Arabia boss meant he had intimate knowledge of the Socceroos' players and the teams' current pros, cons and style.
He didn't just have World Cup experience, he'd made a tournament decider. And his CV demonstrated the ability to make an immediate impact in a short space of time.
Unlike other luminaries bandied in the media or on the final list, van Marwijk's ability to extract the maximum out of his Saudi Arabia side held massive sway.
He is not a manager whose career has been built on being at a club, or managing a country, laced only with world-class or high-profile talent.
While his Bundesliga records are an asterisk on his CV, his track record shows an adaptability as well.
The Netherlands have only slid backwards since that 2010 tournament, while for all the talk of brutal pragmatism in his management - symbolised by Nigel de Jong's shocking World Cup final kung fu kick - his Saudi Green Falcons unit scored more goals than Postecoglou's Socceroos during Asia's third round of qualifying in Group B.
Indeed, on the road to the infamous 2010 World Cup final in Johannesburg, where the Dutch added a violent and robust aggression to their game to try rattle Spain, they were actually involved in hugely-entertaining victories over Brazil and Uruguay.
All of that weighed into FFA's thinking when it came to head-hunting their No.1 target.
For all the talk of the Socceroos shortlist, only four foreign names made a final list that were interviewed on the phone or via video.
Van Marwijk was the only candidate who FFA officials flew over to meet face-to-face, speaking volumes of their desire to make him their man.
That meeting saw the FFA - via head of national performance Luke Casserly, and then CEO David Gallop - dealing with van Marwijk's manager: The high-profile super agent Mino Raiola, fresh from brokering Henrikh Mkhitaryan's sensational move from Manchester United to Arsenal just days earlier.
"Of all the names recommended to us, Bert wasn't one," Casserly revealed to foxsports.com.au.
"He was one we sought out ourselves and said we'd really like to talk to. First conversation I had, it was clear he had detailed knowledge of our playing group and had already had a pretty clear plan on what he'd like to do heading into the World Cup.
"I got a real sense he wanted to do it for the right reasons, and he worked so hard to be at the World Cup (before departing the Saudi Arabia job) he wanted to still be there … and (he thought) that he deserved to be there."
Casserly admitted that inviting the trio from Australia's 'Golden Generation' was a game-changer, playing a role to "challenge our assumptions and convincing us to think in a different way".
"They were adamant we owe it to the players, staff, and fans to get someone in with demonstrated success at World Cup level," he said.
"Then worry about longer term.
"That started to shift my thinking. Get someone in with demonstrated success at World Cup level in short space with a clear strategy and high impact."
While Raiola - who also looks after the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Mario Balotelli - is renowned for mega deals, extracting every extra cent for himself and his client, that wasn't what FFA experienced.
The deal, which runs until the end of the World Cup and does not involve an agent's fee, was thrashed out last week, with Casserly admitting relief to getting the man they settled on as the best fit to "take us to the next level".
"You've got one of the biggest names in world football sitting next to (van Marwijk) but they were incredibly helpful and clear on what they wanted and needed to be successful with us," Casserly said.
"It all went pretty smoothly. I was delighted and thrilled to see it all come together and see it work out that way with our key target."
Van Marwijk arrives in Australia this week and will address the media on Thursday, but will then return to Holland, where he will remain during his tenure. Given the Socceroos play in Norway and London in March, and the bulk of the contenders for the squad remain in Europe, remaining in Europe was not seen as a deal-breaker, particularly given Ante Milicic will remain in the set-up as a conduit between the past and present regimes and with a vast knowledge of the A-League. He has already bunkered down with van Marwijk - who will bring two assistants and an analyst of his own to the Soceroos - for a full day briefing in Holland.
Casserly, who admitted FFA were already "concurrently working on the longer term play post-World Cup", dismissed the idea that van Marwijk's appointment makes him the anti-Ange, adding he was fully aware of the gravity of the appointment and its implications.
"For me, I really enjoyed the process but certainly the responsibility and enormity wasn't lost on me," he said.
"I feel like I had a really big responsibility to the country throughout and that wasn't lost on me."
Postecoglou weighed in on his successor this week, and feels the roof body has turned to a pragmatist to follow-up his reign, but Casserly sees it differently.
"The best reference point for me was Saudi Arabia against us," he said.
"The transition was so effective, that wasn't a team that parked the bus and was pragmatic.
"The tactical flexibility he has shown was something that impressed us and hope he can take us to the next level."