Former Australia defender Ljubo Milicevic believes under-fire coach Ange Postecoglou is being unfairly criticised amid questions over his future as the country vies to reach a fourth successive World Cup.
While preparations have begun for Australia's inter-confederation World Cup play-off against Honduras in November, Postecoglou's future is dominating headlines after it emerged the Asian Cup-winning boss will walk away following the two-legged tie – regardless of the result.
Postecoglou refused to deny those reports on Wednesday, less than 24 hours after the Socceroos kept their Russia 2018 hopes alive thanks a 2-1 extra-time win over Syria in Sydney, with the 52-year-old's philosophy and approach to the national team criticised in recent months, especially after benching Huddersfield Town midfielder Aaron Mooy for the return leg of the AFC play-off at ANZ Stadium.
Ex-FC Thun and Hajduk Split star Milicevic – an eight-time Socceroo who was part of the squad that beat Uruguay on penalties to qualify for the 2006 World Cup – feels Postecoglou is targeted for being different, telling Omnisport: "For me he's been our best coach to date. Definitely our best home-grown coach.
"We all talk about 2006 and qualifying for the World Cup, but let's not forget we needed penalties against Uruguay. So it's not like we all off a sudden started playing great football as a team. That was a great bunch of players produced by the Australian Institute of Sport predominantly, which the FFA in all its wisdom has decided to close down.
"What Ange has had to use as far as players go and what he's produced, I think he's done brilliantly. He won the Asian Cup, which we've never done before. We're playing a brand of football that we can be proud of, or at least enjoy watching.
"At times they haven't executed but by no means would I level the blame at him or even the players. They are in the hunt to qualify. Sure, it wasn't the direct route but that happens sometimes.
"Does it matter how you get there? Does it actually matter as long as you're there? Even if you don't get there, is it more important to get there playing a certain way like we did 20 years ago or even longer when there was no real direction from the coach? Or are we happier now that we have a coach who has beliefs and sticks to them, and because he doesn't get swayed by the media or selects his team according to what the media thinks so now we should lambast him?
"Being an ex-player at that level, I would have always loved to play under a coach that encouraged football like that."
— Caltex Socceroos (@Socceroos) October 11, 2017
Milicevic suggested Postecoglou's detractors have taken issue with the former Brisbane Roar boss' willingness to be "different".
He explained: "You look at life and society in general, anyone who dares to be different is shot down. Look at what we did to Jesus. Apparently, we put him on a cross. Now everyone worships him.
"Throughout the history of time, humanity has an operant nature to criticise those who dare to be different. Ange dares to coach in a different way and now all of these guys are criticising him when they were signing his praises not long ago."
There have been calls for Football Federation Australia to replace Postecoglou before the games against Honduras, with Sydney FC head coach Graham Arnold earmarked as a possible replacement, but Milicevic warned against it.
"It would be completely stupid to sack him before these two games," he said. "We did it once with Guus Hiddink, but we fluked it. Uruguay should have scored more goals in both matches. If it wasn't for Mark Schwarzer saving those penalties, John Aloisi would never have had the chance to score his.
"So let's not pretend that hiring Hiddink was a masterstroke. We still fluked it with our so-called best group of players."
|Everton 1 Lyon 2: Koeman feeling the heat, while Williams brawl overshadows spectacle|
|AC Milan 0 AEK Athens 0: Frustration mounts for Montella in dour draw|
|Giroud promised special winner, Wenger reveals|
|Former Croatia striker Klasnic undergoes third kidney operation|
|Red Star Belgrade 0 Arsenal 1: Giroud´s special winner lights up drab encounter|
|Shakespeare: Leicester will ´pull away´ from Premier League danger|
|Robben yet to hold talks over new Bayern Munich contract|
|Bilic denies West Ham have discipline problem|
|Benteke progressing ´ahead of schedule´|
|Ancelotti to Leicester unlikely, says Clement|
|Dyche not aware of any approach amid Leicester speculation|
|I love you, take my watch! – How Arnautovic earned a special gift from Mourinho|
|´Surprised´ Appleton calls for Foxes focus after Shakespeare sacking|
|Brighton boss Hughton feels ´unacceptable´ behaviour remains in football|
|Benzema ´very happy´ at Real Madrid amid Arsenal rumours|
|Azpilicueta admits to low mood in Chelsea camp|
|Bacca: I played for the worst AC Milan in history|
|Aluko ´100 per cent´ in England contention, says interim boss|
|Injured Napoli striker Milik hints at loan move|
|Dortmund not expecting Reus exit|
|Neymar plans to emulate Messi by mentoring Mbappe|
|Mourinho still unclear on fitness of Pogba and Fellaini|
|Heynckes happy with Muller form|
|Kane describes Ronaldo as ´role model´ following shirt swap|
|PSG star Mbappe: Monaco need time|
|I have full support of Everton board, claims Koeman|
|Wilshere: Arsenal´s character can´t be questioned|
|No-one can compete with Messi – Bartomeu|
|Man United risk losing identity under Mourinho – Bellamy|
|Valverde hopes Messi scores 200th European goal this season|
|Stop worrying about Chelsea – Conte hits back at Mourinho|
|Roma better than Chelsea, says Nainggolan|
|Basel coach Wicky demands more focus|
|Heynckes calls for patience from Bayern´s reserve stars|
|Emery calls for PSG improvement despite perfect start|
|Pique handball instinctive, says Barcelona boss Valverde|
|Dzeko was born to score – Di Francesco|
|Lemonis rues Olympiacos collapse against 10-man Barca|
|Rodgers: Individual class inhibiting Celtic|
|David Luiz experiment failed, admits Conte|
|Allegri not impressed despite crucial win|
|Svilar risks a lot – Mourinho was aware of Benfica youngster´s shortcomings|
|We played better against Atletico – Hazard|
|Job done for Mbappe and PSG after another big win|
|Simeone maintains ´absolute´ belief in Atletico despite Qarabag draw|
|CSKA Moscow 0 Basel 2: Xhaka, Oberlin do the damage|
|Juventus 2 Sporting CP 1: Late Mandzukic intervention saves wasteful Bianconeri|
|Bayern Munich 3 Celtic 0: Hoops outclassed on Heynckes´ return to Europe|
|Chelsea 3 Roma 3: Hazard brace rescues Conte´s men after Dzeko double|
|Anderlecht 0 Paris Saint-Germain 4: Mbappe takes one record as Cavani closes on another|
|Barcelona 3 Olympiacos 1:Ton-up for Messi as Pique sees red|
|Benfica 0 Manchester United 1: Rashford goal settles poor game after woeful Svilar error|
|Messi joins Ronaldo in European 100-goal club|
|Good results are on the way in the league - Salah|
|Algeria restore Madjer to the helm|
|Griezmann eyes qualification despite Atleti´s Qarabag stumble|
|FA chief Glenn denies Aluko´s ´bordering on blackmail´ claim|
|Mbappe surpasses Kluivert as Champions League´s highest-scoring teenager|
|Ozil is a warrior - Pires sympathises with Arsenal star|
|Benfica teen Svilar breaks Casillas´ Champions League record against Man Utd|
|Balotelli can improve even more - Favre|
|It was special to face role model Modric, says Winks|
|Robben named for Champions League century|
|You can´t question Arsenal´s character - Wenger hits back at Deeney|
|Qarabag 0 Atletico Madrid 0: Simeone´s side in trouble after shock draw|
|Guardiola´s Catalonia stance dismissed by Spanish minister|
|Oldham appoint Wellens over Scholes, Seedorf|
|FA apologises over Sampson remarks to Aluko and Spence|
|Montella willing to accept ´exaggerated´ Milan criticism|
|Napoli confirm Insigne adductor strain|
|Urawa Reds 1 Shanghai SIPG 0 (2-1 agg): Rafael Silva books Al Hilal decider|
|Not a tragedy if Italy miss World Cup, says Zola|
|Hummels: Bayern players contributed to Ancelotti´s sacking|
|Dzeko considers Chelsea among Champions League contenders|
|Cavani doesn´t need to be friends with Neymar|
|Ozil and Sanchez committed to Arsenal, Mertesacker claims|
|Don´t stress it - De Bruyne relaxed over initial Man City contract talks|
|Nagelsmann´s path will lead to Bayern, says Heynckes|
|Stones satisfied with strong Manchester City showing|
|Redknapp: Spurs boss Pochettino could manage Real Madrid|
|That will be hard to beat – Klopp revels in record win|
|Spurs showed they can compete with elite - Pochettino proud after Madrid draw|
|Ballon d´Or? We all know Messi is best, says Valverde|
|He´s getting better – Zidane backs Benzema|
|Napoli star Insigne unsure if he´ll be fit to face Inter|
|Manchester City can win Champions League, says Napoli boss Sarri|
|Berizzo plotting Sevilla´s revenge after Spartak Moscow humiliation|
|Porto boss Conceicao defends Casillas omission|
|We know it´s difficult now, admits Dortmund boss Bosz|
|It´s tough but it´s not over - Van Bronckhorst|
|Monaco know it will be difficult to qualify now, says Sidibe|
|I don´t know what happened - Sarri bemused by Napoli´s slow start|
|We are growing consistently, insists upbeat Zidane|