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.
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"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."