Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Kossie's Final Step, Part 2
As John Kosmina walks away from another finals series without a championship after Sydney's minor semi-final loss to Queensland, it extends a far more concerning streak in finals football.
Kossie's full record as a coach in competitive knockout matches can be found here. At home, the form has been mediocre, winning two games (four if you count penalty shoot-out victories) but drawing too many and not quite scoring enough. Away from home, however, it's plainly disastrous. The loss in Brisbane this month was Kosmina's eighth in as many away finals games in charge of Brisbane, Adelaide and Sydney, in which his teams have conceded a whopping 3.375 goals a game and have a scoring rate of just 0.375.
There have been several constant factors shown by Kosmina and his players in finals football, particularly away from home; poor disclipine, poor composure, an easily caught square defence, a revelment in a self-destructive backs-to-the-wall mentality, arrogance and denial. Come the pressures of knockout football, an improved and potentially progressive coach takes a habitual turn for the regressive worse, failing to simply concentrate on playing football or rectifying his team's weaknesses.
The poor results began in April 2002 with a 2-0 loss away to South Melbourne while in charge of the Brisbane Strikers, although that result was perhaps somewhat harsh. The problems really began appearing two seasons later when Kosmina had returned to Adelaide. Up 3-0 from the home leg against a normally offensively-weak Brisbane, his side came extraordinarily close to throwing away their lead in the return leg by conceding four goals - three in the second half - but sneaked through with an away goal, not to mention a significant amount of luck provided by referee Matthew Breeze and Brisbane's poor finishing.
Adelaide completely lost their shape following Brisbane's first goal just before half-time, even after Carl Veart's vital second half away goal. Retreating as if they only had half a team left (they were only down to ten for the last ten minutes after Elias Demourtzidis made foolish use of his elbow), the South Australians put themselves under a near suicidal amount of pressure. "It was shit. Print that," said Kosmina on his team's performance.
After progressing to the preliminary final in Perth, United were outclassed 5-0 by the Glory with the likes of Damian Mori, Bobby Despotovski, Tom Pondeljak and Wayne Srhoj expertly piercing through and capitalising on a static and panicky defence, while Ross Aloisi was very fortunate not to receive a straight red card for an altercation with Mori. Not for the first or last time, Kosmina had seen a deficit blown out when his team were put under the pump by aggresive, sharp, cohesive and penetrative attacking from the opposition.
It has happened a further two times against A-League opposition. Defeated 4-0 in the semi-finals of the May 2005 qualifiers for the Club World Championship later that year, United again had gaps exposed in their defence by an adroit Central Coast, and subsequently struggled for composure with goalkeeper Daniel Beltrame in particular losing the plot and the faith of his defenders for the two final goals.
Then the humiliating loss to Melbourne in last season's grand final...it perhaps best outlined in a single match so much of what was wrong with Kossie's approach to finals away from home. There was the poor, dull-witted and over-reliant offside play, resulting in four (arguably five) of the six goals conceded and as many additional clear-cut chances for the Victory, who caught United embarrassingly square all across the backline (not just the much discussed area of fill-in left-back Greg Owens in the first half). There was the loss of composure and discipline, and severely so; a frustrated Ross Aloisi picked up two yellow cards inside 34 minutes (both for inexcusable, red-card worthy challenges), Michael Valkanis vented his frustration at a linesman in the most vocally irate way possible, while Kosmina laughed in the post-match press conference after Veart said that "three blind mice could have done better" in reference to the officials.
With Kosmina setting an increasingly volatile example to his team after calling preliminary final referee Breeze a "f--king cheat" a week earlier and, following his subsequent sideline ban for the grand final, making the now laughable boast that Adelaide were so well drilled he could coach them from a coffee shop, it was clear that the whole affair boiled over in the most self-destructive and shameful of manners. "We have been on an emotional rollercoaster ride for some time now and circumstances of the game may havegot the better of some of us," admitted Kosmina dayslater.
When the finals results away from home in the last few seasons haven't been disastrous, it's been undone by Kosmina's apparent strategy for home legs. As premiers, he curiously opted to play the home leg of the 2005-2006 major semi-final first and the second leg away. More bewildering still was his team's second half effort in the home leg in which Adelaide seemed to stop playing and were content to take the 2-2 half-time scoreline to Sydney. Ultimately, it probably cost them, with the 2-1 away loss generally not a bad away leg result in itself.
The situation repeated itself in 2006-2007 when Adelaide lost 2-1 in Melbourne after a cagey 0-0 draw at Hindmarsh Stadium, and now Sydney's 2-0 loss in Queensland in tough circumstances after another cagey 0-0 home draw in the first leg. Kosmina bemoaned his luck in all three of those away legs, but while things do tend to go against you more away from home, it's hard to be sympathetic when home advantage hasbeen somewhat forfeited. Three months after the 2006-2007 grand final loss, Kosmina said: "I've had a lot of time to reflect - I don't want to dwell on the past but in retrospect there were situations I didn't deal with in the best way. I've learned that sometimes my behaviour was questionable and that can reflect on others."
There wasn't much sign of a positive influence come the next finals series Kosmina was involved in. There was the petulance of both captain Tony Popovic (on the awarding of Queensland's penalty) and Mark Milligan (on being substituted) as well as the row between team-mates Adam Biddle and Clint Bolton. Again, there was post-match arrogance and denial when Kosmina and Popovic smugly asserted that even with an extra man, Queensland supposedly couldn't create much and only got their second goal with the award of an "under-sixes penalty". This was in a game that would've surely ended in another finals blowout for Kosmina had the Roar not been badly let down (as usual) by their composure in front of goal and with Sydney struggling throughout. Indeed, ominously, it appeared not much had been learned taking in mind Sydney's apparent strategy for the tie in general.
Early days yet for Kossie at Sydney, but where to from here? It may become clearer in the next year or two whether or not Kosmina can ever conquer the finals series. Will the move to Sydney bring about another step in the right direction as a coach, or will he take a step backwards without the home-town and stable environment of Adelaide?
The most disturbing thing is that Kosmina is often seen as a future NT coach, or at least his name has been bandied about in terms of future Aussie bred possibles.
The fact of the matter is that Kosmina does NOT handle pressure well; as you've said, this is when all of his less than desirable characteristics - arrogance, paranoia, inability to show tactical flexibility, poor discipline - all seem to spew forth simultaneously. How on Earth can the likes of Mike Cockerill suggest him as a potential NT coach if he's such a loose cannon in pressure situations? The NT coaching job description would only multiply the pressure by about 10, so he could quite easily start WW3 if we were playing Iran!
One other negative with Kosmina is his general reluctance to use young players, which shows a lack of courage IMO. It takes a bit of guidance to develop a youngster, while Kossie has shown that he prefers frankly ordinary veterans such as Robertson and Renaud, who probably require less coaching than a Tsattalios. They just do their job and Kossie knows what he's getting.
Until he can change these behavioural traits when it matters most, Kosmina should NEVER be considered a serious candidate for any of our national teams.
In fairness though, Kossie was the one who gave Burns and Djite their chance with Adelaide in 06/07.
True, although if memory serves me correctly, they had a few injuries (Qu, Rech, Petta, Giraldi) for this to occur. And Burns was often employed as a left-winger, although to be fair, both Petta and Spagnuolo were injured at that stage.
On the whole though, he hasn't developed too many young'uns since his days at Newcastle and Brisbane, where he seemed to take more risks in that regard. I dunno, maybe he felt more compelled to develop teams at smaller clubs, as opposed to having more pressure to obtain results at more professional clubs. Well, that's assuming SFC can be described as professional. ;o)
Considering the budgetary constraints he was under in his first two jobs, he had a reasonable eye for talent in his earlier coaching days. Come to think of it, Farina might have been the one who introduced the likes of McKain, Stefanutto, Laybutt et al at Brissie.
What he should have (which i know he will never want because there is so much arrogance in the A-league) is perhaps a technical director that can work tactics etc with the players