A new spark: Is Rudan the man to lead Australia into the future?

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For years, Australian football has been missing something in our national coach.

We’ve had six of them since 2010. They’ve all been qualified; they’ve all been safe.

It may be harsh, but they’ve been lacking a spark. Lacking something to get people seriously talking about the Socceroos around the country.

Look where it’s got us. The Socceroos have been largely irrelevant for most of the decade in comparison to some of our other national teams, the only significant win coming in the Asian Cup of 2015.

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There have of course been a variety of reasons for this. But purely from a coaching perspective, something’s got to give.

Most, if not all, have not been great media personalities. While clearly being strong candidates for the role, they don’t offer much difference, don’t strongly engage with their supporters, and they don’t appear as if they have got something special about them, something that gives enormous hope to fans.

Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, however the trends we see in other sports such as Cricket and the AFL suggest this might be an outdated method.

However, there’s one coach in the A-League who breaks the trend, and can lead the Socceroos in a new direction. After Graham Arnold’s stint, this man thoroughly deserves to be right in the selection mix.

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He is Western United’s Mark Rudan.

He’s got all the best attributes from the men who’ve come before him, yet he also offers something new. Like Postecoglou and Arnold, he’s built up a strong A-League managerial record in the little time he’s been a part of the competition.

He’s brought in important recruits, delivered multiple finals berths, and all-in-all been an outstanding manager for the past two years, similar to the aforementioned two. But he’s also done what those two did not achieve, breaking down stereotypes of the managerial role.

The man is involved with the fans, and clearly passionate.

His exchange on the bench last Saturday night with City counterpart Patrick Kisnorbo is a fine example of why Australians would all love to be behind Rudan as national coach.

Many social media commentators were upset at Rudan’s exchange, but truth be told, this is because these people aren’t supporters of his and of Western United.

A fundamental aspect of the Australian culture is standing up for your mates, for your players in this situation. If Rudan pulled a similar stunt on the national stage, one could certainly expect the media coverage to be a whole lot more positive, and appreciative for standing up for basic Australian norms.

Rudan also hinted afterwards that perhaps it was a little bit dramatised in how in how it was portrayed, saying the incident was “all good fun, all good entertainment.”

This is the spark Australian Football has been missing. The courage to lay his reputation on the line for his players and the game is something unrivalled in the modern age. Perhaps it’s an unpopular opinion, but I absolutely love it.

It shouldn’t be too much of an ask for a coach to be himself, to show some personality; yet for the vast majority it is, and for it, the game suffers.

Rudan keeps it simple and reaps the rewards for it. His fans love him, and on the national stage he would be adored by many more.

Not to mention that Rudan’s players have an incredible respect for him too. This interview with Lachie Wales from last month showcases the respect and admiration he has when dealing with his players.  And this came before Ivan Vujika scored his first goal for Western in their derby last week and immediately ran to Rudan to celebrate, a special moment not just for those two, but for the game in general.

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Rudan praised Vujika for keeping the faith in his post-match address, yet there’s a clear two-way relationship between the two, as is evident between all his players.

Perhaps I haven’t been watching closely enough. But the way I sense Rudan is with his players is better than anything we’ve ever seen before. In due time, once careers have finished and drinks have been had, I suspect we’ll see players back this up.

Rudan’s appointment would usher in a new era of Australian Football. An era that would spark an unprecedented level of interest and debate over the sport, and one that would entertain and interact with a new wave of fans for the game.

Feature image credit: Ngau Kai Yan

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Seb Mottram
Sports nut studying Media comms and Marketing at Monash.