As he had planned all along, after leading the Socceroos down their 250,000-kilometre road to World Cup qualification, Ange Postecoglou will step back for a week or two and consider his future.
Postecoglou’s decision is at once straightforward and heart-wrenchingly difficult.
The 52-year-old career coach must decide whether to finish the work he started more than four years ago and take a team now infused with his attacking DNA to the World Cup finals in Russia.
Or, alternatively, walk away with his reputation enhanced to the international club job he has long coveted, and where he hopes he will have the support of like-minded football people.
Before reaching his decision Postecoglou will ask some difficult questions of himself and, when he meets with his employers at Football Federation Australia next week, of those now (suddenly more) eager for him to stay.
Essentially, after an exhausting four years in which he has carried an onerous burden as Australian football’s coach, figurehead and champion, he will demand to know one last time whether the FFA shares his strong and adventurous vision for the sport.
He will ask if the FFA is truly committed to unlocking Australian football’s potential — even as the FFA fights its own battles for legitimacy with FIFA — or whether he would be spending another frustrating seven months cutting against the grain.
Backslappers had called for Postecoglou’s head
Media player: “Space” to play, “M” to mute, “left” and “right” to seek.
Postecoglou’s reluctance to go to the World Cup is hard for most ticket-buying fans to fathom.
Even allowing for the now long-ago character-shaping experience when he was thrown on the scrap heap after being sacked as national youth coach, you suspect the coach sometimes finds his instincts as perplexing as others.
In the wonderfully uplifting final minutes of the Socceroos’ 3-1 victory over Honduras, it seemed simply unfeasible — perhaps even to Postecoglou — he could walk away with the World Cup within clear sight.
But to understand Postecoglou’s mindset, consider standing as he did in a quiet corner in a bar on Wednesday night with his family and friends nursing a celebratory beer while a conga line of well-wishers came to pay their respects.
There were players, allies and supporters with whom he shares a mutual debt of obligation. These were the people Postecoglou said he had not thanked enough during an intense past eight months.
Then there were the backslappers who had second-guessed his tactics, called for his sacking or — perhaps worse — failed to take his corner when he was under relentless media bombardment.
When Postecoglou said after Wednesday night’s game that he felt he would always be an outsider in Australian football, most scratched their heads.
The man who has won four national titles, an Asian Cup and has now taken the Socceroos through World Cup qualifying would seem to be the ultimate insider.
But the lack of support for Postecoglou’s vision for the game and his team and the constant attacks on his reputation have made his grip on Australian football feel weakened, even undermined.
In retrospect, the taunts seem childish. Postecoglou was called “Con” Postecoglou by a sportswriter who then asked him on Nine’s Wide World of Sports if he would resign if he lost the next match; he was labelled Ange “Whingecoglou” by a respected newspaper columnist and ridiculed by some lightweight observers.
It was not the barbs themselves that hurt. It was the lack of staunch defence by those in authority.
In the coach’s mind, this lack of support — and, worse, the connivance of some of the media figures who were ridiculing him — was symptomatic of Australian football’s lack of self-respect.
Of how those charged with the responsibility of upholding the game’s good name have historically failed to mount a passionate defence of the sport itself.
Perhaps the most bizarre aspect of Postecoglou’s heavy-handed treatment was how badly those demanding he declare his intentions misunderstood his relationship with his team.
Former players now working in the media mistakenly believed the white noise of their opinion-driven world would penetrate the dressing room walls and “distract the team”.
This might have been the case if the players did not have a genuine belief in Postecoglou’s methods.
But the post-match comments of players lauding the coach’s methods on Wednesday night emphasised the strong bond the team shared.
Australia’s loss would be an international club’s gain
Should Postecoglou walk away there will be some in the sport, and particularly in the media, who are relieved, even joyous.
They should ask themselves some questions too: Do they want the very best coach for the Socceroos and for the game? Or do they want a dancing bear?
Do they want a coach whose sole objective is to squeeze results out of a team destined for long-term mediocrity?
Or one who wants to use the Socceroos as a means of changing the way the sport itself is played and perceived?
They only have a few days to make up their minds. Postecoglou’s agent’s phone has been ringing.
In real estate terms, the coach would be wise to sell high with his reputation enhanced by Australia’s World Cup qualification.
Should the Socceroos perform poorly in Russia, he might not get the same offers again.
This might seem a cynical motivation.
But with cries for his sacking still ringing in his ears, who would now deny Postecoglou the right to ask those hard questions and shape his own future?