Verbeek with defender Lucas Neill after the Socceroos were eliminated from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Picture: Getty Images
Verbeek with defender Lucas Neill after the Socceroos were eliminated from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Picture: Getty Images

Former Socceroos coach Verbeek dies

It will be the tea and cake that I recall most fondly about Pim Verbeek, the former Socceroos coach who has died aged 63.

Cups of tea and cake at their Manly apartment epitomised the private warmth and hospitality of Verbeek and his wife Anneke during the nearly three years he spent living and working in Australia.

Cancer has taken a dignified and principled man of warm humanity, whose public candour - and outspoken views on the standard of the A-League - rather belied his sense of humour.

He loved to talk football, but also to engage in the world around him as he coached across the globe and at three World Cups, over almost 40 years.

Though his coaching style with Australia was the source of considerable debate, especially at the 2010 World Cup, he carried an air of decency in a sport where too often the chancers thrive.

 

Pim Verbeek during a Socceroos training session.
Pim Verbeek during a Socceroos training session.

Undoubtedly his style was conservative and pragmatic, but it's worth recalling the circumstances of his appointment in late 2007, just weeks before Australia's World Cup qualifying campaign was due to begin.

Dick Advocaat had signed a deal to be Socceroos coach, but reneged after being promised inconceivable amounts of money by Zenit St Petersburg in Russia.

In a panic FFA officials sought an available replacement, and Guus Hiddink among others mentioned Verbeek - his assistant coach with South Korea at the 2002 World Cup, when they reached the semifinals. Ironically he performed the same role under Advocaat four years later.

Verbeek was duly appointed Socceroos coach just eight weeks before the first World Cup qualifier, and I recall him standing in the foyer of the team hotel in Melbourne in February 2008, greeting players for the first time just two days before that first game in charge.

 

 

Verbeek with defender Lucas Neill after the Socceroos were eliminated from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Picture: Getty Images
Verbeek with defender Lucas Neill after the Socceroos were eliminated from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Picture: Getty Images

Australia was still getting to grips with the practicalities of playing in Asia, and there were question marks over how many of the senior players would be able to return for the qualifiers.

Verbeek's solution was to rely on home wins and a defensive mindset in away games, often played in oppressively hot and humid conditions. Some critics called it "unAustralian", whatever that meant, but the result was the Socceroos becoming only the second team to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, a full year out.

By the time the tournament came around he had already announced that he would be moving on, and a humbling 4-0 defeat to Germany in the opening game sparked fury among some commentators at his defensive tactics.

 

 

Pim Verbeek at the Asian Cup in January, where he coached Oman. Picture: Getty Images
Pim Verbeek at the Asian Cup in January, where he coached Oman. Picture: Getty Images

Yet Australia ended up with four points, the same as in 2006, and only missed going through on goal difference. As a little context, also, that Germany team would go on to put four past England, reach the semifinals and win the World Cup four years on.

If in truth Verbeek could not be categorised as one of Holland's top-level coaching exports, he moved comfortably in their company - counting the likes of Louis van Gaal among his friends thanks to years helping to steer the Dutch coaching union.

In private, he was very easy to like. In 2009 he wrote some columns for News Corp and answered readers' questions, each time asking my help to draft them.

It was there that the tea and cake were provided, and at one point a reader asked about a player who Verbeek had never selected despite public pressure to do so.

Verbeek showed me two messages he had sent to the player asking for a chat, neither of which were answered. When I suggested he might reply to the reader with that, he declined - doing the dignified thing always more important to him than winning a cheap popularity contest.