The countdown to the 2018 World Cup has well-and-truly begun, with 32 nations from across the globe making preparations for the football showcase in Russia.
While most countries have continuity in place after qualifying for the tournament, Australia are one of the few competing sides that are in transition and that need leadership.
The Socceroos booked their place at a fourth consecutive World Cup by overcoming Honduras in the final qualifying hurdle back in November, but the elation of qualification was quickly accompanied by the bemusement of Ange Postecoglou’s resignation.
The 52-year-old ended his four-year tenure in charge of the Australian national team shortly after ensuring the team’s place in Russia, with internal politics believed to be behind his decision to walk away.
As Australia will now need to hire a new head coach less than six months before the tournament starts, World Cup 2018 odds do not favour the Socceroos making much of an impact in Russia.
Football Federation Australia have confirmed that a shortlist of candidates has been drawn up, with a new man set to be in place by mid-February.
While it is vitally important that the selection committee opt for the right option, the delay in naming Postecoglou’s successor only makes the job at hand more difficult.
A host of names have been banded around in the press as potential candidates, with the appeal of leading a proud national team at the World Cup clearly a drawcard for coaches.
The likes of Marcelo Bielsa, Slaven Bilic and Guus Hiddink have all been mentioned as possible appointments, but Dutchman Bert van Marwijk is the current favourite to land the job.
The 65-year-old has a venerable managerial record, having taken charge of European powerhouses Borussia Dortmund, Feyenoord and Hamburg over the years.
Van Marwijk’s international record includes coaching the Netherlands national team and most-recently leading Saudi Arabia to the 2018 World Cup.
He oversaw 13 wins in 20 games as the Saudi head coach – but walked away from the role days after qualification due to contract negotiations stalling.
Australia find themselves in a strong position to hire a coach with experience and tactical acumen, and someone like Van Marwijk would bring real calibre to the Socceroos post.
However, whoever gets the job will have a sizeable challenge on their hands to meet the expectations of the passionate Aussie fans and will need to work quickly.
The Socceroos have been drawn in a competitive-looking Group C for the tournament and games against France, Denmark and Peru will test the side.
The French will go into the pool as overwhelming favourites and rightly so given the calibre of their squad; as such Australia will hope for positive results against the other two sides to make it through to the round of 16.
The Socceroos have only ever made it out of the World Cup group stage once in their history, with a controversial exit at the hands of Italy in 2006 ending their most-successful campaign on the biggest stage.
However, the difference from then to now is considerable, with a golden era of Australian football meaning the side in the tournament in Germany contained star players such as Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka and Mark Schwarzer.
The current squad is a mix of players plying their club trades around the globe and has obvious strengths and weaknesses.
Australia showed in qualifying that there is a togetherness in the playing group, while in the likes of Mile Jedinak, Tim Cahill, Robbie Kruse and Mark Milligan they possess experienced heads with a solid standing in the game.
Despite this, if the Socceroos are to get out of Group C, it will be the next generation of rising stars that will need to spearhead the team’s progression.
Aaron Mooy, Tom Rogic, Matthew Leckie, Mathew Ryan and Jackson Irvine all play their club football in Europe and at a median age of 25 will be the core of the Australian team for the next couple of tournaments.
The new coach will need to make the Socceroos a more defensively-solid team if they are to be competitive in Russia, with the lack of a leader at the back something of a concern.
At the other end of the pitch, the reliance on 38-year-old Cahill for goals is less than ideal and Postecoglou’s successor will need to make a tough decision on whether the veteran is the right man to lead the line for Australia.
With the celebrations of World Cup qualification already a distant memory, all eyes are looking forward to the showcase in Russia – with hopes that Australia’s new coach will lead the Socceroos to a successful campaign.