Pragmatist and realist: our new Socceroos coach

Having plumped for a local hero in Ange Postecoglou as coach of the Socceroos in 2013, the FFA have reverted to their default position and "gone Dutch" once more by hiring Bert van Marwijk as Postecoglou's replacement.

Like Postecoglou, van Marwijk parted company with a team that he qualified for the World Cup before the event, although the circumstances, at least publicly, were rather more acrimonious.

The Dutchman took Saudi Arabia to the finals - finishing ahead of Australia on goal difference, condemning Postecoglou and his players to the play-offs - but found himself dispensed with after coming out of contract last September.

It was not a happy denouement for the 65-year-old, a native of the provincial Dutch city of Deventer, given he had succeeded in doing something several predecessors had failed to do since the Saudis' last World Cup appearance in 2002.

But Saudi Arabia's loss is Australia's potential gain, even if, for the time being, van Marwijk's appointment is only for this World Cup campaign - a fact that will increase speculation that Graham Arnold, who ruled himself out of contention this week, is earmarked to take over for the Asian Cup in 2019.

So who is the grey-haired Dutchman? The former midfielder who won one cap for his country and who now holds the soccer destiny of this nation in his hands? And is he the right choice?

He certainly is a practical choice. At the very least, he is more familiar with Australian players than any of the other foreign candidates, having coached Saudi Arabia against the Socceroos twice during the qualifying campaign.

He will know a lot more about the capability of players like Tom Rogic, Mat Leckie and Aaron Mooy than Roberto Mancini, for example, who would have come into the job cold.

And he will have an advantage when making one of his first big decisions - how to handle the Tim Cahill conundrum.

The veteran striker is Australia's talisman and his goals against Syria in that crucial qualifier in Sydney ensured Australia qualified for the final play-off against Honduras, but he hasn't played for about two months, and still does not appear to have found a club.

Van Marwijk might know all about Cahill and the threat he poses, but he will not have any sentimental attachment to an ageing hero, particularly if he thinks he is not match-fit enough to play a meaningful part in the Russian campaign.

Van Marwijk is not a glamorous figure like some of the others in the running - Jurgen Klinsmann, Slaven Bilic and Mancini. And many would have liked to see the FFA continue with an Australian at the helm.

But while van Marwijk will have a PR function to fulfil, his main job is to craft an Australian team that will be competitive in a tough World Cup group (France, Denmark and Peru) and seek to emulate the feat of one of his Dutch predecessors, Guus Hiddink, in taking the team out of the group phase.

The latter was an avuncular figure, charming, quick-witted and a master of playing the media.

Hiddink's successor, Pim Verbeek, who led Australia to the 2010 World Cup, was a far more upright figure, not as bothered with the PR side of the game.

Van Marwijk, on all the available evidence, is a pragmatist, a man who gets results, for whom the end justifies the means.

His greatest achievement as an international coach was undoubtedly with his native country, leading the Netherlands to the World Cup final in 2010 in South Africa.

He had a team that was a mixture of good international players sprinkled with some top liners - Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder, Dirk Kuyt and Arjen Robben in particular - whose biggest achievements came in the quarter-finals, where they beat Brazil 2-1, and in the semi, where they saw off Uruguay in a five-goal thriller, 3-2.

But all the goodwill they earned on the way through was squandered in the final against Spain, where their over-physical approach won them few friends as they kicked and body-checked the talented Spaniards.

The Dutchman will bring structure, order and discipline to his Australian team. Whether that is enough and Australia have what it takes to get out of the group phase remains to be seen.

We will get some clues in March, when he takes charge for the first time in matches against Norway in Oslo and Colombia in London. It will be a fascinating few months.

This story Pragmatist and realist: our new Socceroos coach first appeared on The Age.