Wednesday, August 30, 2006
A Quick Learner
It is a tribute to O’Neill that many of those wringing their hands over his departure were the same aficionados of the game who doubted his credentials initially, considering that his experience in rugby would not be sufficiently relevant to the vastly different world of football.
Who were these short-sighted fans? Well, one of them is writing this premature eulogy.
O’Neill was certainly guilty of a few lapses of judgement initially, mainly with regard to the eternal club/country problem faced by the Australian national team. The “Caracas Affair”, in which Mark Viduka and Scott Chipperfield were slapped with club bans for failing to attend a foolishly-scheduled friendly match in Venezuela, was the most salient case.
Yet O’Neill learned so much in such a short time. One particular A-League insider commented to me in mid-2005 that O’Neill was “a very good listener”. Subsequent events certainly tended to confirm this.
The former rugby man oversaw the most rapid period of growth in the Australian game ever, and throughout his term of office he was the affable, dignified, competent face of the game's administration. Those in the media who had found previous heads of Australian football bodies easy prey for their vitriol were stumped by O'Neill's assured manner (and disinterested motives).
O’Neill’s “performance” at the National Press Club luncheon a couple of months ago was emblematic of the approach he brought to football. In a concise, measured yet enthusiastic speech, he outlined the gains that had been made in the last two years, culminating in a successful first A-League season and a memorable World Cup appearance. He stated realistic goals for the Australian game, extolled the benefits (and acknowledged the likely difficulties) associated with the Asian move, and presented a far clearer overall vision for the game’s growth than certain pundits with enormous axes to grind have done over the past few years.
He subsequently fielded the various questions – the first of which, incidentally, was utterly idiotic – with confident ease.
Vale in advance, John O’Neill. You will be much missed.
One big advantage of O'Neill was that he was a good administrator who had experience in international sport. Let's hope that whoever follows him will also have similar credentials.
O'Neill just agreed with the reporter that the world rankings were dumb and Australia should have been higher just because of the results of the latest tournament, instead of the results of the last four years. No-one takes the ranks seriously anyway, not even FIFA when seeding the WC finals. We got the #1 spot in Asia which is all that matters.
Assuming the reason for his departure is his disagreements with Lowy, hopefully he'll be able to put more energy into fixing the things he thinks are wrong. I reckon most people come down on O'Neill's side on the matters in dispute with Lowy.