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One of the masterminds behind Aston Villa’s rise in the English Premier League was overlooked for Football Australia’s technical director position three years ago as the governing body prepares to make a long-awaited full-time appointment in the crucial role.
The Herald and The Age can reveal Johan Lange, who has been Aston Villa’s sporting director since mid-2020, was considered by the then-FFA administration in 2019 to become Australia’s technical director, tasked with setting the country’s overall football direction and reviewing and maintaining youth development pathways.
Aston Villa sporting director Johan Lange with manager Steven Gerrard.Credit:Getty
Sources familiar with the process said Lange, who was technical director at FC Copenhagen in his native Denmark at the time, was impressive and thorough in his interviews, already familiar with some of the major problems within Australian football, and was eager to make the move along with his wife, who is from Sydney.
FFA instead opted for Rob Sherman, who had not formally applied for the job and had to be convinced to take it on because of his misgivings over the culture of the organisation. Sherman only lasted nine months, resigning in frustration and criticising the “dominant political, bureaucratic and administrative mindset” of the sport and FFA on his way out.
Lange, 42, has since become recognised as one of the brightest young minds in the backrooms of the Premier League, with his recruitment nous and forward-thinking approach to data and analytics helping Aston Villa progress steadily up the table after narrowly avoiding relegation in 2019-20.
Leon Bailey, Emiliano Buendia, Danny Ings, Ashley Young, Bertrand Traore, Morgan Sanson and Matty Cash are among the players Villa have brought in under Lange.
It is not the first time Australia has opted against installing a highly regarded foreign candidate as technical director, with Croatian Romeo Jozak – credited with helping develop the generation of players that got them to the 2018 World Cup final – canvassed for the position in 2014. But FFA went for Belgian Eric Abrams, who had little impact on the game in his four years in Australia.
FA chief executive James Johnson says Trevor Morgan can’t be both a youth national team coach and the country’s technical director.Credit:Nine
Jozak is now technical director of Saudi Arabia, one of Australia’s main rivals in Asia, and a nation widely regarded as on the rise in world football.
Football Australia has not made a full-time appointment to replace Sherman, but Joeys coach Trevor Morgan has served as interim technical director for the past 18 months. Morgan also took charge of the Olyroos for a camp in Spain last year, but chief executive James Johnson told this masthead that Morgan would soon have to choose which role he wants to retain, with FA planning on resurrecting youth national team programs, which have been largely dormant through the pandemic.
“Given there has been little youth national team activity during COVID, Trevor Morgan has stepped into the TD role,” Johnson said.
“However, now youth national team activity will begin again, it’s not possible to expect Trevor to be a TD and at the same time coach youth national teams. He cannot do both. Trevor is good on the pitch and in the office – it is a good problem for him to have.”
Johnson said it would be a “priority” in March for FA to return teams like the Olyroos, Young Socceroos, Young Matildas and other age-groups back to competitive action.
“They’re probably not going to be going abroad too much for obvious reasons, but they’re actually going to start playing and preparing, and we’re going to invest in standing them up and having them play, getting them into camps, etc. That means we’re going to need to invest in more youth national coaches to run those teams,” he said.
However, sources have indicated FA has already missed out on a strong Australian coaching option with recent experience in Europe.
Former Socceroo David Zdrilic, who previously worked in the youth grades of Red Bull-owned German club RB Leipzig and MLS outfit Chicago Fire, was in talks with FA over becoming Olyroos coach through to the Paris 2024 Olympics. However, he chose to stick it out in Europe and is now an assistant coach at Italian Serie A side Genoa.
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