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."
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."
|All Blacks skipper Read to undergo back surgery|
|I live day by day - Buffon ponders Euro 2020|
|Remarkable Rohit smashes third ODI double-century|
|West Ham eyeing Wilshere swoop in January|
|Bairstow up to six in unchanged England team|
|Klopp reveals hamstring scare for Liverpool star Salah|
|England can still win Ashes as Hoggard urges Root´s men to smarten up|
|Vuelta champion Froome asked to explain drugs test|
|FFA refuses to speculate on Scolari amid Socceroos interest|
|Mavs spoil Leonard´s season debut, LeBron enjoys career-high night|
|Ronaldo hoping to play with Benzema and Bale again|
|Smith: Pitch conditions in Perth to determine Handscomb fate|
|Packers star Rodgers cleared to return against Panthers|
|Mourinho takes aim at reporters as Man United boss leaves news conference|
|You can put the kickoff back at the 30 – Hester announces retirement|
|Roberts confirms Dodgers were ´very in tune´ with Stanton, Ohtani|
|Fleury set for Golden Knights return after two months in concussion protocol|
|Dodgers All-Star Seager set to avoid elbow surgery|
|´Bull****´ to suggest Chelsea can catch Man City – Conte|
|Pordenone would´ve deserved Coppa Italia progression, admits Spalletti|
|Azarenka granted wildcard for Australian Open|
|Root urges England to stand up and put things right|
|Man City haven´t won anything yet – Gundogan|
|Pierre leads Dinamo Sassari past Pinar Karsiyaka|
|Willian: Chelsea will keep fighting for Premier League title|
|Burnley aren´t the real deal – Dyche|
|Stoger wants to bring best out of BVB after breakthrough victory|
|Conte praises contribution of Hazard, Willian and Pedro|
|Inter 0 Pordenone 0 (AET, 5-4 on penalties): Nagatomo spares Serie A leaders´ blushes|
|Hodgson keeping Palace grounded despite dramatic late win|
|Zouma injury led to Turf Moor defeat – Hughes|
|Guardiola steers carefully around Mourinho criticism after United v City flashpoint|
|Guardiola considering January signings to bolster Manchester City squad|
|Get me in the mix – Ricciardo wants to join Vettel, Hamilton rivalry|
|Crystal Palace 2 Watford 1: Sako, McArthur stun Hornets|
|Huddersfield Town 1 Chelsea 3: Willian sparkles as Conte´s side return to winning ways|
|Burnley 1 Stoke City 0: Hosts go fourth after late Barnes winner|
|PSG escape punishment as LFP gives Lille transfer ban|
|Mainz 0 Borussia Dortmund 2: Stoger´s tenure begins with much-needed victory|
|Need to wrap a golf club for Christmas? Don´t ask Dustin Johnson for help|
|Ten Cate: Al Jazira will park three buses against Real Madrid|
|Gremio 1 Pachuca 0 (after extra time): Everton stunner sends Brazilians into final|
|Zidane focused on Club World Cup despite looming Clasico|
|Ibrahimovic brands Guardiola ´immature´ over Barcelona row|
|Gayle´s 18 sixes a new T20 record|
|Pogba has no regrets over rejecting Real Madrid|
|Gattuso denies contract rift with AC Milan goalkeeper Donnarumma|
|Where you at? Cleared Fury calls out Joshua|
|Pochettino: Alderweireld out until February|
|Wydad Casablanca 2 Urawa Red Diamonds 3: Marvellous Mauricio double proves decisive|
|Cardona given five-match ban for ´discriminatory´ gesture against South Korea|
|Fury clears comeback hurdle as UKAD proceedings resolved|
|Knee injury rules Wales´ Faletau out of Six Nations|
|James still settling at Bayern, says Heynckes|
|Pistorius bruised in alleged prison assault|
|Manchester City captain Kompany out for ´a short time´|
|Klopp: Liverpool need Lallana ahead of busy period|
|Spurs list Leonard as probable for season debut|
|It was diversity in education – Mourinho addresses derby fracas|
|I encourage City to celebrate - Guardiola defends players after Old Trafford controversy|
|I´m no actor – No regrets for Klopp over heated interview|
|Anderson: Duckett incident a non-event|
|Shingler commits to Scarlets|
|Everton were like United at Liverpool - Allardyce defends Anfield approach|
|Paulo Bento hired as Chongqing Lifan head coach|
|Wolfpack and Toulouse to make Magic Weekend history|
|Ramsey hamstring injury ´not a big one´|
|Watford´s Zeegelaar gets three-match ban as appeal is rejected|
|Struggling Northampton sack Mallinder|
|Matthaus raves about Spurs star Kane|