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Leijer coaches exclusive: Why he rates Postecoglou ahead of Crystal Palace boss Hodgson

Adrian Leijer, former Melbourne Victory captain and Socceroo, has had a long career spanning all across the globe. One of the advantages of having such a durable career at the top level is the opportunity to work with some great managers. Throughout his career, Leijer has worked with some of Australia's and the world's most impressive coaches.

Speaking with Tribal Football, Leijer has shed some light on his experiences with the likes of Roy Hodgson, Ange Postecoglou, Ernie Merrick, Kevin Muscat and Graham Arnold, comparing and contrasting their various approaches and what he found most effective.

Starting at the very inception of his footballing career, Leijer spoke highly of his mentor Ernie Merrick, two-time A-League Coach of the Year and two-time A-LeagueChampionship winner.

"Ernie has had a massive influence on my career" said Leijer, "He coached me from the age of fourteen. I was lucky because I was in the institute program under Ernie and got the education of the Victorian Institute of Sport. (He) taught me how to be a professional and I learnt how to train like a professional pretty early."

Another Victory man who played with Leijer under Merrick and later went onto coach, was former Socceroo, Wolves and Crystal Palace star Kevin Muscat.

Leijer and Muscat had a dynamic relationship which professionally spanned over 10 years. Speaking on Muscat's new job as technical director for Belgian Pro-League side Sint-Truiden, Leijer commented: "He has got a job in Belgium and I think he's got a fantastic opportunity.

"Hopefully the club that he's gone to supports him and gives him every opportunity because I know how driven he is. I was fortunate to see that as a team mate, saw that with him as my captain, saw that with him as my assistant and then my coach."

Speaking on the personal side of their relationship, Leijer discussed the various struggles of managing their ever-changing football dynamic: "It got challenging towards the end there when he was my coach because we had a friendship and that sort of had to subside.

"But look since then, since I left the club (I) pretty much straight away went overseas. I returned and he's still a good friend today and I still speak to him quite a lot now."

Another one of Leijer's managers, probably the most high-profile of his long career, is current Crystal Palace manager, 72-year-old Roy Hodgson. Playing under him during his spell at Fulham, Leijer reflects: "It was a fantastic experience playing under him. A very different coach, a very structured coach.

"There wasn't a hell of a lot of fun in training, it was always organisational shape and things like that, but look he had a lot of success there and he's gone on to have a lot of success elsewhere."

Hodgson is still battling it out in the Premier League with Crystal Palace with his longevity clearly playing a major role in his sustained success at the top level.

Commenting on Hodgson who post-Fulham went on to coach Liverpool, West Brom and the England national side before his current role, Leijer commented: "I'd imagine how stubborn Roy was, I don't think he would change the way he does things a lot.

"He tends to have a lot of the same people around him still, even from those days when I worked under him, so I'd imagine things would be pretty similar. The fundamentals would be the same, but obviously as times change you have to adapt."

On his return to Australia, Leijer had the opportunity to work with one of Australia's most successful managers, Ange Postecoglu, the man who won the Asian Cup with his nation in 2015 and lead the Socceroos to qualification for the World Cup in Russia. More recently, Postecoglou has had the success of being crowned J1 League champions with Yokohama F. Marinos.

Speaking about Postecoglou, Leijer enthused: "Ange is the best coach I've had, I really enjoyed working under Ange.

"The environment he creates is tough, it's really hard work but he gets the best out of you and I suppose as a coach that's your number one job. I'm not surprised he's had that success in Japan because his belief in himself is so strong.

"Sometimes, as we've seen previously, that gets some people offside but I think Ange won't stop there. Another successful season or half-successful season and someone from Europe will come snapping.

"For me, for all Australian coaches, it's been great to see him succeed and hopefully that's given a couple more guys even like Kevin Muscat (opportunity). Maybe the team in Belgium has seen he has worked under Ange on his CV and that would definitely help him, so that's good for everyone."

Lastly, a manager that Leijer worked with who broke the mould of the highly disciplined and tough style is the current Socceroos boss Graham Arnold.

"He was very different to Ange and he has had a lot of success as well. Arnie was always quite friendly and quite chatty to everyone and made the environment really relaxed which is good for some players and not great for others."

Recently across world football, there has been a rise in this more relaxed managerial style, often personified by the 'new young manager', such as RB Leipzig's Julian Nagelsmann and Bournemouth's Eddie Howe. This new footballing philosophy is posing a compelling alternative to the traditional uncompromising ways of Hodgson and Postecoglou. This approach has been bolstered by the success of the player-centric and visibly caring managers such as Jurgen Klopp.

Commenting upon this situation and that of his managers, Leijer, who has thrived best under tough managerial characters commented: "Every coach is different and every coach has their way. All the individual players have different wants and needs now, and yeah the world is always changing.

"Ange, Musky, Roy, Ernie, (Arnie), they are all very different people and have very different ways they go about things.

"I think what was sort of seen in our successful coaches from Australia, like Ange who I put at the top of that list, he is so determined to succeed that it just happens. And then I see guys like Kevin Muscat and Tony Popovic who are of the same mould and that's why those guys have had success too.

"I think they just create a winning environment, create a winning mentality across the group and that's why they have success. That goes with Arnie as well, he might be a more relaxed figure but he has that ability to create that environment and still make that a winning culture."

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Eli Rubenstein Sturgess

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