Sunday, October 08, 2006


Filling the Gaps

Four long-service Socceroos were suitably farewelled in last night’s testimonial match in Brisbane (the Paraguayans may have foolishly believed they were taking part in a friendly international). Let’s have a look, then, at the gaps they have left, and how they might be filled.

None of the four, of course, were considered first-teamers at the World Cup (although Tony Vidmar might have been, had his heart condition not intervened), so it could be argued that the losses should occasion nostalgia rather than genuine concern. Nonetheless, there are certain qualities that were offered by some of the departing quartet that we will miss.

Tony Vidmar

Perhaps our best player over the two legs against Uruguay last year, Vidmar’s flexibility was one of his best qualities; he could play anywhere across the back four, and his positioning was generally sound wherever he was deployed.

Of the current green and gold crew, both Lucas Neill and Mark Milligan are comfortable operating both at fullback and in central defence. But Neill appears to be a fixture in the middle now, while Milligan has apparently been marked out by Graham Arnold for a midfield role.

Patrick Kisnorbo, not entirely convincing in his Socceroo appearances so far, may yet grow into the role of national team utility. Another one to keep an eye on is David Tarka, currently operating at left-back for Perth, but quite capable of fulfilling a central role.

Tony Popovic

Poppa’s stopper role, so crucial against tall, strong forwards, might fall into the hands of Ljubo Milicevic in the future, or even Adrian Leijer. But he will be missed at the other end, too, where his head often connected with set-pieces to good effect (as Gary Neville, for one, will remember). Few other current Australian defenders are so dangerous in the air; Jamie Harnwell is perhaps the only one who is similarly adept at exploiting set-pieces.

Stan Lazaridis

Australia has a number of promising left-sided midfielders at the moment, but how many have the ability to beat their fullback as regularly as Laza did in his prime?

Harry Kewell’s career currently hangs in the balance, and it’s doubtful that he will ever be the force he once was on the left wing. Alex Brosque has shown promise in the position, but there is still debate as to whether he is best deployed there.

In the long term, Australia’s best option on the left wing may turn out to be another Sydney FC player – David Carney. He, for one thing, has no qualms about taking on and beating opposing fullbacks.

Zeljko Kalac

Although Kalac’s comments on Mark Schwarzer’s form prior to the World Cup were tactless and selfish, the competition between the two arguably spurred them on to better performances for the national team.

Schwarzer’s performances leading up to the World Cup were superior to Kalac’s, but the Spider loyalists complained that Schwarzer didn’t take sufficient command of his area. Up to a point, this was true, although it could be countered that Kalac often attempted to take command in his area and didn’t (the pre-World Cup Greece friendly was a good example of this).

Ante Covic looked ordinary in his Socceroo debut against Bahrain. Sooner or later, Danny Vukovic must surely be entrusted with the Socceroo gloves; in almost every respect, he has shown himself a wonderfully accomplished young keeper.

On a final note, congratulations to Carlos Gamarra on a distinguished international career with Paraguay.

My Queensland bias is obvious enough, but let's not forget Matt McKay on the left midfield. The boy is just getting into his stride, and is a genius.

Mind you, the permanent cheeky look on McKay's face would probably rule him out in the current administrative climate. He looks like he might do something unsaintly at any moment.
I must be the only one who thought Vidmar was a liability against Uruguay. He gave away too many soft free kicks, many of them in dangerous situations and seemed only interested in kicking the ball out of play at every opportunity. However I only saw these games the one time so have not gone back and studied them. I would have thought Milligan would be a good choice as a long-term replacement, however is he being groomed to replace Grella? Surely that would be what Wilkinson would be for?

Is Timpano a choice to replace a defender like Popovic? His injury has probably put him back about 2 years but he has always seemed very comfortable in the air. Though of course not when attacking, I bet Rudan is wishing he was five years younger about now.

I don't know if I will be ever convinced that Brosque is a reasonable football player.
Alex Wilkinson is the next big 'un. A quality player he is - and should be considering himself very unlucky to not be in these squads... Jade North is so there's no reason he shouldn't be.
Every two years or so one or two players seem to step up from a lower league in Europe and really power on as professionals. Cahill and Culina the most recent examples. With the introduction of the A-League, I think it's reasonable to expect a similar sort of emergence locally (Carney and Dodd probably the highlights thus far), with the hope that the same will continue to occur in Europe, given that we'll never put a stop to the player drain.

I remain optomistic that our national team will only get stronger, most importantly in terms of depth. It's nice not to be hitting the panic stations whenever Kewell and Viduka aren't in the squad.

So, taking the longer-term view I would hope that Kalac, Vidmar, Popovic and Laza are eventually replaced by far superior individuals, some of whom we might be aware of right now but who nevertheless might not be playing particularly close to their potential. Regular football at some reasonable level seems to be the go, a solid development path with a decent coach, few hiccups with form, limited media over-statements about "the next big thing", no major injuries, no ego issues.

He's not a replacement for the retirees, but Brett Holman seems to be on the perfect track for a successful big time emergence in the near future.
Hmm, by "lower league" I mean "lower division" or "not extremely high profile superpower" or somesuch. Just keeping it non-inflammatory!
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