Saturday, November 06, 2010

 

Another Farewell

I've made my share of farewells on this blog over the years, but this is likely to be the last one.

Sadly, family commitments and time constraints have made it difficult for me to contribute to TFT frequently enough, and I think the time has come to bow out. My love for the game remains undiminished, but this season it's been difficult to keep up with the A-League (which I've always considered the bread and butter of this blog), and I seem to be repeating myself more and more in the opinion department. Not that this stops certain pundits on the World Game website, but...

So, again: thanks all for the interest, and I'm sure that we'll catch up at a game some time. I'll still be around, grumbling and pontificating, probably still writing match reports for Goal! Weekly, and contributing to the always enjoyable Half-Time Heroes e-zine.

Roll on December 2, and may the ExCo be with us!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

 

Fox Redux

Some time ago, when Michael Zullo and Robbie Kruse were the hottest young prospects in the A-League, I suggested that Kruse probably had the more potential of the two of them. Although Zullo has already made the jump to Europe, and although Kruse endured a long spell on the outer thanks to some off-field problems, my opinion hasn't substantially changed.

It's good to see Kruse back in form with Melbourne, and in last night against Adelaide he displayed his full range of talents. There was the out-of-nowhere opportunist's goal, of course, but perhaps more indicative of his overall contribution was the piece of sustained, intricate control by the left touchline some moments earlier, which demonstrated both his excellent skills and his enviable tenacity. Melbourne did nothing from the subsequent cross, but just in procuring it Kruse had emphatically beaten the odds.

He does still suffer from a tendency to "make the most" of challenges, as they say, and one of these days it is going to cost him dearly. Ernie Merrick has been inclined to turn a blind eye to his own charges' underhand play at times, with the result that Kevin Muscat and Grant Brebner (the former in particular) are deeply unpopular with the other teams' fans. Kruse, baby-faced looks and all, is definitely heading the same way.

Meanwhile, what to make of the A-League's longest-running hoodoo? The early injury to Matthew Leckie obviously took the wind out of the visitors' sails, and the choice of Fabian Barbiero to replace the quick winger was a strange one, but one senses that there is more to it than that. Despite the fact that there have been plenty of personnel changes at both clubs since, the memory of that 6-0 grand final drubbing in 2007 must still linger like a cancer in Adelaide United's collective memory. Last night's match was pleasingly even, but once again it was Melbourne who broke through when it counted.

The game has certainly set up this evening's clash at the SFS nicely, with Sydney desperate to recover ground and the in-form Brisbane Roar in the hunt for top spot.

Monday, October 25, 2010

 

How the West Won't Be Won - yet another update

And so it looks as if the final chapter is about to be written in the farcical Sydney Rovers saga.

The very first thing that the FFA should do is go hat in hand to the representatives of the Canberra bid, with a genuine assurance that future expansion bids will be assessed on their merits. This old article, from Half-Time Hero-in-chief Con Stamocostas, shows just how much was already in place in the nation's capital over two years ago; that all this groundwork was ignored in favour of a bid based on nothing more than blind faith is symptomatic of the FFA's style of management in the last few years.

Where to, then, for the expansion plans? The likelihood is probably that 2011/12 A-League will feature eleven teams once again, and one hopes that this time the FFA will give the competition the publicity that it deserves. Some of the football has been excellent this term, especially in Adelaide and Brisbane; the attendances have not.

In a way, given the dismal attendances at Sydney FC matches, things may have turned out for the best in more than one way. Considering that the NSW Premier League (with its western Sydney centre of gravity) will now clash with the A-League in any event, the Rovers crowds would probably have been pitiful. And had the matches been held at the cavernous ANZ Stadium, as was mooted at one point, the match atmosphere would have made Skilled Park look like a throbbing hive of excitement.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

 

Straight Race - update

The 2018-2022 bidding process has had an industrial-strength spanner thrown in its works over the last few days, with the "allegations" (read gotchas) against two members of the FIFA ExCo. One can assume that the more canny members of FIFA's elite club would have been a little more circumspect in their comments in the company of people they didn't know.

So further action to save face, and no doubt a number of decoy stories thrown the journalists' way in the next few weeks by Messrs. Blatter et al. But...where does it leave Australia's quest for 2022?

Probably in slightly better shape, as a matter of fact. Frank Lowy is too skilful an operator to leave himself and the FFA open to allegations of out-and-out bribery, however many suspicious deals may have been done in the interests of making Australia 2022 a reality. If there are any buried bodies to be exhumed in a subsequent clean-up, they are unlikely to be found on the dry continent. And if the whiff of probity becomes a factor of sorts for FIFA in the 2022 decision, Australia is well-placed to take advantage, given our general sporting reputation.

The fallout from the sting is more likely to affect the 2018 bidders more directly. The England team can't be happy that investigative journalists from their own land have severely embarrassed FIFA at such a delicate stage, and the incident could just hand the initiative for 2018 to Russia. Not that a World Cup in Russia is a particularly edifying thought, given the rampant corruption and lurking racism likely to affect it. On the latter point, a moment of comic relief: in the midst of rubbishing his chief opponents, the Russian bid leader came up with a classic knee-slapper recently. With regard to the disgusting abuse levelled at Nigerian winger Peter Odemwingie by the fans of his former club...

Sorokin went on to again insist that a banner with a picture of a banana aimed at West Brom's striker Peter Odemwingie and produced by fans of his former club Lokomotiv Moscow was not racist, and he points out that anti-Glazer fans had burned an American flag at Old Trafford on the same day.

"The banner was not a racist one. It was directed against a particular player who got very good money, lived very well here, but for some reason did not seem to want to play well."


Who on earth does he think he's kidding?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

 

Straight Race

When FIFA gave a strong indication that it wanted the 2018 World Cup to go to Europe, the FFA got the hint and concentrated all their efforts on 2022. It has taken the USA much longer to get the message, and their delay in shifting their strategy could certainly be seen as an admission that they may yet lose out on 2022, despite their current status as favourites.

Indeed, those in the Australian football community who have dismissed the 2022 bid in keeping with the general pessimism of the times could well be proven wrong. It seems to be firming as a straight race between the USA and ourselves: despite Qatar's eye-popping technological promises, the idea of a World Cup in such a small country (which has never qualified for the event before) is hard to countenance seriously. Japan and South Korea have already had their chance, and are unlikely to be given another one so (relatively) soon afterwards. In short, Australia is in with a much better chance than many are giving them credit for.

However much the FFA have been doing wrong over the last couple of years, there has certainly been some very smart manoeuvring over the 2022 bid. Whether such tactics have crossed the ethical fault line is another matter, but no World Cup host gets the rights without a bit of sharp practice these days...well, except if they have an iconic octogenarian who long qualified for secular sainthood to give their bid stupendous moral force.

Strangely, the questions in the media over the role (and remuneration) of Messrs. Hargitay and Radmann, the former in particular, have quietened down over the past few months. Even the latest Hargitay stunt, a sly diversion of public moneys to feather the nests of some Jack Warner cronies in the Caribbean, barely raised an eyebrow. The sight of heads of state fawning over such a shameless rogue as Warner over the last few years has been disgusting, but such is the power of FIFA...and the World Cup.

During my own stint working for that august body in 2008, I was able to observe at close range how deadly serious Frank Lowy was about getting the World Cup for his adopted country. Lowy may have been guilty of bad faith and misjudgements during his time at the FFA helm, particularly in the last couple of years, but his determination to secure a World Cup for Australia is absolutely genuine. And so far, he has played every card available to him.

Let us hope it will be enough...because if the 2022 bid fails, Australian football could be in real trouble.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

 

Holger and Harry

It is interesting that Craig Foster chose to compose an extended encomium of Harry Kewell on the occasion of another insipid performance for the national team by its most controversial figure. To do Foster justice (and I wouldn't want to do him anything less, of course), the article was probably written well before the game. To further the theme of just treatment, let me add that the following statement:

...we agreed that analysis, opinion and critique are highly valuable in building an intelligent football culture, as long as they are about the game and do not become personal.

...is laughably hypocritical, given its provenance. But I digress.

Last night's game actually provided a good demonstration of why it is probably for the best that Kewell be gracefully put out to pasture. As he has done quite often of late, he occupied a nebulous position: not quite left midfield, not quite in the hole, not quite second striker. Not a hanging offence in itself, but it meant that the left flank was left somewhat thin in the transition, and David Carney was caught out badly once or twice, particularly by Carlos Bonet in the second period.

And Kewell ultimately contributed little in attack. One nice drop of the shoulder followed by a charge down the inside-left channel in the first half; the sort of smooth action we have come to expect from this very talented footballer over the years. But there was little else to excite the fans, and not really enough of the unsung off-the-ball work that made his contribution to the Croatia game in 2006, for one, so praiseworthy.

In a sense, the timing (for a Socceroo exit for Kewell) would be right, as there are quite a few talented flankers in the wings, if that dreadful pun can be forgiven. Matthew Leckie and Tommy Oar come to mind, and even Nathan Burns is capable of operating a bit wider, although his best position is surely still in the centre.

There was little else to be learned from last night's game, which was essentially a means of buttering up the influential Nicolas Leoz in the wake of D-Day in December. Richard Garcia was predictably mediocre (how long can he stay in the Socceroo reckoning?), Scott McDonald showed again that he won't score goals without someone playing in front of him, and Mile Jedinak gave further cause to think that, despite his excellent combative qualities, he needs to improve technically if he is to become a Socceroo regular.

Holger Osieck has faced no real tests yet; the Paraguayans, Nelson Haedo Valdez and the point-to-prove substitutes excepted, basically played like tourists. But the signs are mainly positive.

Friday, October 08, 2010

 

We Could Be Heroes - update #11

More thoughts about this and that from the Heroes this month, with cartoonist Wayne Snowdon giving Ben Buckley et al. the full treatment, and Michael Turner taking an in-depth look at the do-or-die 2022 World Cup bid. Muse away.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

 

When You're Not

How do you know that things just aren't going your way in football?

Well, perhaps when you've been dominating most of the second half at 1-1, and then you suddenly concede a totally unexpected winner in added time. Said winner is scored by a former player of the club, and laid on by a clumsy makeshift striker whose main contribution to the game for the preceding ten minutes has been providing welcome mirth for the fans.

I am referring, of course, to Sydney FC against Adelaide last night. When things are running against you, such things can happen...even when the opposition are (temporarily) missing their three best attacking players.

Nevertheless, you do make your own luck to some extent, and in this respect Vitezslav Lavicka was found wanting once more. It remains a mystery to me why his benches tend to be so defensively-skewed, given Sydney's problems in front of goal (particularly late in the game); this time, two central defenders again, plus the habitually ineffective Brendan Gan.

Hirofuni Moriyasu was apparently suffering from cramp when Gan replaced him last night; if that was not the case, then the substitution was inexplicable, since the Japanese midfielder was having easily his best game for Sydney FC so far. And this time it took until nearly full-time for Lavicka to make another change.

Tactically, too, there are question marks over the team at the moment. Mark Bridge looks thoroughly unsuited to his three-quarter role, and showed an annoying tendency to lay the ball off instead of pulling the trigger last night. If he were to start in a genuine three-man attack along with Alex Brosque and the useful Bruno Cazarine, perhaps he would evince a little more confidence. The diamond 4-4-2 served Sydney very well in 2009/10, but without a genuine No.10 it looks decidedly awkward.

Although there were some positive signs from the home side last night, particularly some of the interplay between Brosque and Cazarine, it looks like Nick Carle will need to be in the form of his life to turn things around on his return.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

 

Action Reaction

Eight games into the season, and still a goose egg in the wins column for Sydney FC. Not a good look for the defending champions, to say the least.

Last night's game followed what has become something of a familiar pattern. Vitezslav Lavicka's side dominated play, scored a good goal, and then simply allowed the opposition to come back into the match. Not quite as starkly as they did on the weekend, when Gold Coast United could have scored three or four during a period of dominance leading up to John Curtis's red card, but the initiative of the game was once again allowed to change hands without hindrance.

At the moment, Lavicka gives the impression of a man resigned to circumstance, which is not a good sign. Plenty of explanations could be offered for Sydney's poor form (not least their lousy off-season recruitment), but this is not the end of the story. Difficult times need proactive methods, and Lavicka has been only reactive of late...if he has been active at all.

A perfect illustration of this has been his use of the bench in the previous two games. Against Miron Bleiberg's side, who looked for much of the first half as if they could play until Christmas and not score, something clearly needed to be done after the break; Gold Coast's midfield three were, embarrassingly, running rings around Sydney's four. The change came, but it was hardly a daring one: a virtual like-for-like switch (Hirofuni Moriyasu for the hapless Scott Jamieson) which, ultimately, made little difference to Sydney's play. Then, when the hosts went 11 v. 10, there was no real attempt to go for the throat, and no second switch until nine minutes from the end.

Last night, with a bench curiously made up of three defenders, Lavicka either failed to notice the shift in momentum that accompanied Jack Hingert's arrival, or underestimated it. Sure enough, with only another like-for-like switch for Sydney in the second period, Franz Straka's more adventurous strategy paid dividends. Yes, there was that Hurst-style shot from Terry McFlynn, and Alex Brosque's near-miss just earlier, both of which might have made the points safe, but to focus unduly on these chances would be to miss the point. Sydney's coach, so shrewd and proactive last season, appears to be losing faith in himself.

Friday, September 24, 2010

 

The Long Winter

I expect that everyone is more or less Conned out by now, so all I will add to the cacophony of commentary on the Newcastle situation is the observation that the Hunter's new knight in shining armour should be eyed with some due scepticism (hat tip to one of my e-friends for that link).

Instead, some thoughts on another piece of news which saw the light of day this week, but was largely buried under the weight of the Newcastle saga.

It's a major change, and the ramifications for the A-League are actually quite significant. The NSW Premier League, along with its Victorian counterpart, is the major feeder league for the A-League; the fact that it will now be conducted in tandem with the national competition will have a number of spin-offs. Firstly - and this is probably one of the factors behind the change - the Premier League clubs will no longer endure the intense frustration of losing their best young players to A-League squads (or youth squads) just as the NSWPL finals are kicking in. Such was the fate of Sydney United, for one, this year; Ante Tomic and Mirjan Pavlovic, two star performers, were whisked away just as the business end of the state league arrived.

Secondly, the phenomenon of younger players getting some extra practice in the state league when the A-League is in abeyance will disappear. A bit of a worry, since the A-League season is not really long enough (even now) for the talented teens to get the sort of competitive practice they need.

There are some advantages to alignment, of course, and one is that many of the existing anomalies of player contracts will be solved. A common state league gripe in recent years has been the "amateur" status of players in A-League youth squads, which has limited the revenue available to the NSWPL clubs. Now, at least, the lines will be clearly drawn; a player is either contracted to a state league club or on an A-League roster, without the contentious limbo-land of July and August which has been a feature of the last few years.

But the biggest concern is simply the gap between state league seasons, which will probably have a very negative impact on the NSWPL from a pure footballing point of view. Plenty of players got caught up in the hiatus between the end of the NSL and the beginning of the A-League, and the same is likely to happen at the next level down. Many players will no doubt make the jump to Asia or to competitions in other states, and the league is likely to suffer.

And...what of the fans? Winter has always been the natural time for the league, and the dwindling crowds at many clubs may be thinned out even further as punters who have other things to do in the summer are forced to make a choice.

One final thought. The following "principle", stated in the Football NSW announcement linked above:

The club relegated from the NSW Premier League will be required to participate in the NSW Super League season which immediately follows the conclusion of the NSW Premier League season.

...strikes me as utterly absurd and unworkable.

For the uninitiated, the Super League is the tacky name for the second tier competition in NSW. It will still take place in the winter.

How on earth can a promotion and relegation system work properly when seasons are out of alignment? How are clubs expected to manage their playing roster, ground rental, cash flow, and a million other issues, if they might be playing an extra twenty or so games at the conclusion of their normal season?

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