Ange Postecoglou is a formidable character, who is reviving Australia

Ange Postecoglou gets the whole outsider thing. He's had it since he was a kid, when his parents emigrated to Melbourne from Greece.

"You'd go to school and everybody would open their packed lunches," he tells me. "So everybody had their Vegemite sandwiches. And I'd open mine up and you'd get cheese, salami, olives and taramasalata ... and they were all like: 'What the hell is going on?'"

There was a pressure to assimilate, and it extended to his parents. They changed their family name, and it was only years later, when he first applied for a passport, that he realised his last name was actually Postecoglou. But there was one area where they drew the line: football. The one of the Association variety.

Postecoglou remembers the season he played Australian rules football at school.

"Like all kids, I wanted to fit in," he says. "And because I was pretty athletic, I found that I was pretty good at it."

So good that he won a trophy. One night he put it on the dinner table and his father, who had come home early from work, was delighted and proud. Until he saw the shape of the ball on the trophy.

"So the old man put down his knife and fork and put his hand on my shoulder," Postecoglou remembers. "And he said: 'Right, you're coming out back with me.' So we went in the garden and had a kick about. He didn't want to lose his son."

You get the sense he's only half-joking when he says that, but the overriding message is one of identity. It informs much of what Postecoglou does now that he's in charge of the Australian national team, which he has taken from a low world ranking of 102 into the top 50, winning the 2015 Asian Cup along the way.

"I think we had similar experiences as the United States when it comes to football," he says. "We had a strong British influence, and obviously it was a pretty basic form of the game. So then when we saw it didn't work, we looked at other approaches and said let's go Dutch or let's go German or Brazilian or whatever. But the point we kept missing was that to grow, we had to be Australian because that's who we are. You can learn from others but you have to be yourself. You can't start out with the idea that you have to copy others, you have to play to your strengths."

And when it comes to Australia and sport, that means a certain kind of front-foot ethos.

"As a nation, we like to believe we can take on anybody and anything," he says. "We can be smart, but we're never going to be passive. And if we go down, we'll go down swinging. Some of the foreign coaches who came to Australia looked at us and said: 'You're not as good as the Europeans and South Americans. You'll probably never be as good. Sure, you can bully teams in Asia, but outside that you have to respect your opponents.' That doesn't sit well with Australians and it doesn't sit well with me. I can't start off with the premise that a coach is better than me just because he's from Europe or South America."

Some might see it as brash, even arrogant. Others might dismiss it as hot air. But Postecoglou's Australia walked the walk. He took over in the autumn of 2013, and soon thereafter, the Socceroos got themselves a tough World Cup draw: Chile, with managerial phenomenon Jorge Sampaoli, who would go on to win the Copa America; the Dutch, managed by Louis van Gaal, who would come within a missed penalty kick of the World Cup final; and Vicente del Bosque's Spain, who were only the reigning World and European champions at the time.

Talk about the deep end.

And yet Postecoglou's Socceroos, a young and inexperienced side -- other than Mark Bresciano, Tim Cahill and Mile Jedinak, nobody in the starting XI had more than 29 caps -- more than held their own. Despite going two goals down inside of 10 minutes against Chile, they battled back to 2-1 and then had a goal disallowed before conceding late.

"We matched Chile in terms of football, and they have one of the best managers in the world," Postecoglou says. "And against the Dutch, we were 2-1 up and flying and we had a great chance to make it 3-1. Then Van Gaal put on Memphis Depay and it changed the game."

Indeed, anybody who remembers that game in Porto Alegre will confirm it. Australia battered the Dutch, who struggled to get out of their own half just a few days after beating Spain 5-1. Depay, the wild card, came on and single-handedly carried the Dutch to a 3-2 victory.

Another defeat to Spain -- both teams were eliminated at that point -- followed and the numbers showed a winless World Cup for Australia. But the experience and the performances told otherwise. Postecoglou and the Socceroos were on their way.

The following January they would win the Asian Cup, their first major piece of international silverware. They did win four Oceania titles before moving to the AFC, but beating up Fiji and Samoa isn't quite the same thing. This latest win came in dramatic fashion against South Korea in front of 76,000 at Stadium Australia in Sydney.

Australia were leading 1-0 and the cup seemed in the bag when Son Heung-Min snatched the most dramatic of equalisers with the last kick of the game. It was a deflating punch to the gut for the crowd and the players. Momentum -- if such a thing exists -- had clearly shifted. Postecoglou knew that what he did next would be of outsized importance.

"I had 60 seconds to frame my message and I was ready for it," he says. "I told my guys to look over at the Koreans; they were physically and emotionally spent, they were on the ground getting massages, they were asking for water bottles. Whereas I had my guys on their feet, they were turning away the trainers and the guys offering a drink. I reminded them that we were stronger, that they were done and that that we'd worked so hard these past 12 months so that we'd have the strength for this extra half hour."

It worked. James Troisi scored the winner and Australia lifted the trophy. For Postecoglou, there are two powerful tools a top coach needs to have.

"Knowledge and language," he says. "Knowledge because these days you have to have an answer for everything. There is no substitute for study and work and preparation. You have to be able to answer every question your players ask of you, and you have to do it convincingly and in the right way. And language, because the power of words is critical to getting buy-in from your players. In some ways, it's a lost art; we communicate so much via our fingers, whether by texts or social media. Knowing how to speak to people with the right words at the right time, that's immensely powerful."

At 50, Postecoglou feels he's entered his maturity as a coach, though he says he's always learning. He's not too proud to learn from his setbacks. In 2007, he was fired as coach of the Australian U20 and U17 national sides. He reacted by going to coach for a season in the Greek third division, at a tiny club called Panachaiki. He went back to his roots and he was rewarded. He returned to Australia and eventually took over the Brisbane Roar, whom he led to two A-League titles, during which he also enjoyed a 36 game undefeated streak. He then spent a season with the Melbourne Victory before landing the Socceroos job.

He's committed to Australia, but he knows his career path might one day lead him elsewhere. If it does, he knows some may baulk at his roots. But he'll turn it into a positive.

"Being Australian, I sometimes feel I'll never walk into a dressing room and get that instant credibility because of where I'm from," he says. "But that's fine. Even in Australia, where I've had success, I never assumed that people would follow me because of who I am. I knew that I'd get buy-in if I could provide clarity, if I could put the right picture in people's minds. I've been able to do that. It doesn't scare me. It's who I am."

It goes right back to the olives and the cheese and the little boy staring at his classmates' Vegemite sandwiches. What he had to say mattered a heck of a lot more than what was in his lunchbox.