Wednesday, June 30, 2010

All said, but very little done

Written 24/6/2010

Welcome to life post-World Cup, Australia. After being eliminated on goal difference from the tournament, it's now time to look forward to seeing the next generation of Australian talent force their way into the side for next year's Asian cup campaign.

The team this tournament has been patchy, at best. The deconstruction by Germany was horrifyingly beautiful from a football perspective but simply horrifying as a fan. The severity of the defeat can be put primarily down to a lack of tactical acumen from our brainstrust and the demotivation suffered when Tim Cahill was shown his (possibly unwarranted) red. The draw against Ghana was mired in occasionally enterprising play but marred with the Australians losing the midfield battle to the young Ghanians. That Harry Kewell was shown a red in this match was also (probably) unwarranted. Easily the best performance came during the Serbia match where we won and deserved to. The Socceroo Bomb-Squad worked well, with Australia dominating the air inside the Serbian penalty area, but deficient in some of the flank positions.

This is attributable to the types of players that Australia produces. If you take the Australian outfield players from Wednesday's game and assign them each to their best position the results are: One central defender, two right-backs, a left mid, two right-mids, three central midfielders and a striker. It's easy to infer that Australia produces right-backs and central mids. Which is, really, true. The lower ranks of Australian soccer needs to emphasise playing players who have that ability to read a defense and pick out a pass rather than harrying and disrupting opposition attacks. Priority must be placed on allowing creative-minded players easy passage into our national team.

So where can talent come from? In each of the games of this World Cup, the Australians fielded lineups with average ages of 31, 30 and 30. It's been a rule of thumb recently that experienced teams win World Cups; Verbeek has had at his disposal the best years of Australia's best-ever crop of footballers. Of the players involved in this tournament, Chipperfield, Moore, Neill, Bresciano, Cahill, Emerton, Grella, Beauchamp and Kewell will definitely not play a role in 2014 Qualifying. Carney, Wilkshire, Schwarzer, Culina and Josh Kennedy are question marks – Schwarzer, though the oldest player in the squad is coming off two career years with Fulham and shows no inclination to pick up the gardening gloves any time soon. Off all those who played, only Jedinak, Rukavytsya and Holman will still be in their prime as we approach Brazil 2014.

That refreshment of the squad must come now. The best teams take a few years to gel and mesh together, to allow each to intuitively know what the other is thinking. Give Mark Milligan the centre-back role. Milligan may not be of the same quality as older aspirants like Jade North & Chris Coyne, but has proved his athleticism and ability in the 2008 Asian Cup finals but has been relegated to the bench ever since. Entrust the other role to Matthew Spiranovic or Rhys Williams. Have young Shane Lowry deputise. 26 year-old Carl Valeri actually showed he had some ability during this World Cup, for years something Aussie football fans have been looking for for years. It is well past time that – as Guus Hiddink did for Luke Wilkshire in 2005 with stupendous results – an Australian manager suggests to a first-division European club that he's worth taking on. It's fair to say that the bodies of Grella, Kewell and potentially Bresciano & Emerton could not permit them to play any more than cameo roles in any further competitive internationals.

The A-League can't be disregarded by our next coach as often as it has been by Verbeek. With Djite, Langerak, Oar, Federici, Cole, Zadkovich and Vidosic waiting in the wings, Australia should qualify easily for Brazil 2014. As always, the challenge will be in ensuring Australians abroad get the first-team football they so desperately need to grow the sport back home. Perhaps Turkey and Holland are the best places to move – not England. Any move from Australia to MLS should be celebrated. We've got world-class talent at home – let's show it to the world.

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