Billionaire businessman Frank Lowy is taking a calculated and expensive gamble to get Australia to next year's World Cup finals in Germany by head hunting master Dutch coach Guus Hiddink.
The calibre of the appointment underscores the desperation Australians have to break a 32-year hiatus and play at their first World Cup since their sole finals' appearance in Germany in 1974.
Lowy, the second-richest person in the country behind Kerry Packer with an estimated wealth of almost US$3.8 million, is used to getting his way in business.
Faced with rebuilding the fragmented, quarrelsome code that had hampered the growth of football in this sports-mad nation, the 75-year-old shopping centre magnate has moved heaven and earth to get Australia accepted on to the world football stage.
As part of a federal government review of the calamitous game, football-loving Lowy was offered the chance to use his business expertise to give the struggling sport credibility through proper governance, funding and management.
The Lowy-fuelled revolution has already seen Australia granted future World Cup qualification through neighbouring Asia from next January and a revamped, structured eight-team A-League, due to kick off next month.
But all the reform hinges on the stimulus a World Cup finals' campaign next year in Germany will have on the local game and Lowy is leaving nothing unturned in his quest to make it happen.
Lowy, a Czechoslovakian-born Israeli commando who emigrated to Australia in the 1950s and who built up his fortune from humble construction worker origins, made a big call in late June when he sacked national coach Frank Farina following Australia's wooden spoon performance in the Confederations Cup in Germany.
Australia were without a national coach four months out from an anticipated home-and-away showdown with a yet-to-be determined South American team, but Lowy knew who he wanted for the Socceroos' job.
"Obviously, there were a number of candidates we were considering, but without doubt Guus Hiddink is the outstanding candidate, he is an internationally-acclaimed coach and we are all very excited that he has taken this position," Lowy said via a video link-up from Europe (he was on business) at the unveiling of Hiddink as coach last week.
"The most urgent task, our highest priority is to prepare the Socceroos for the 2006 World Cup campaign.
"The appointment of Guus Hiddink is, we believe, the cornerstone of our World Cup efforts and the best response we could make to our most urgent priority.
"There are many things in Australian football that are outside of our control.
"We can't control the fact that Australia is remote from the home of football in Europe, we can't control where our players even play, we can't control who are opponents will be, but we can control who will lead our team and in Guus Hiddink we've made a world-class appointment.
"I can safely say he is the best possible appointment. He has a distinguished career, his record speaks for itself and I'm sure he will devote his energy, his experience and his leadership skills to do whatever it takes to give us the best chance."
Hiddink, who has taken The Netherlands and South Korea to the semi-finals of the last two World Cups, is on a hiding to nothing with his Australian challenge and he said it would be a miracle if Australia played in Germany next year.
"To be honest, the outside football world does not think that Australia has any chance of qualifying," 58-year-old Hiddink admitted at his Sydney press conference.
"But I think this is a good challenge, in a very short time to try and make the impossible, possible. And that's qualifying for Germany 2006.
"Hopefully, we can make that miracle to go to Germany."
Australia's recent tilts at the World Cup have ended in tears. They had to conquer two-time World Cup champions Argentina in their 1993 playoff and four years later they went down to Iran on away goals after leading 2-0 with 20 minutes left in Melbourne.
At the last World Cup, the Socceroos took a 1-0 lead to Montevideo only to go down 3-0 to Uruguay and miss out again.
Now Australia's hopes rest squarely with Hiddink. It's a very tall order, but the Dutchman believes he has a chance.
"It's important to me that the team knows how to play and that you can control then dominate an opponent, and play with a lot of initiative. That's the way I like my teams to play," he said.
"If there is more balance in the way Australia plays and their commitment, then I think we can make progress."
Source: China Daily