Sunday, March 18, 2007


The B Bridge

Plenty of comment in recent days on the necessity of exposing our younger, second-string players to international competition. Graham Arnold has come up with the none-too-original suggestion of a B team (so just what exactly was the team you put out against Kuwait in August then, Arnie?!), while Les Murray has suggested raising the age bar for the Olympics, gently implying that the tournament has become something of an irrelevance (he's right).

It's interesting that much of this seems to have been sparked by the Olyroos' sub-par result against Jordan during the week, in which the Jordanians indulged in some Bahraini-style chicanery (and, predictably, gained the indulgence of the referee in doing so). It will be a continuing problem; doubtless we will see more theatrics from the West Asian sides in Thailand later this year.

Back to the B team issue.

B internationals are, by their very nature, only semi-competitive, so as a means to give our younger players experience in a competitive environment, the idea falls flat. Add this to the fact that the only opposition likely to be found for a B side on an international date would be fairly inconsequential; it's perhaps not even going too far to suggest that a putative A-League B side would be better off scrapping it out with a decent state league side (something which would be a good deal cheaper to arrange, for one thing).

And as always, the fact that the younger A-League corps is effectively a C rather than a B contingent is ignored. The younger players, or even the mid-twenty-somethings, who are in Europe but yet to hit the big time, are the forgotten men of Australian football, for the most part. The often-heard complaint that the A-League season is too short (which, of course, it is), only suggests that quality players over a certain age should be actively encouraged to try for Europe. As a developmental aid, in the long term that's far better than a few meaningless internationals against rubbish teams.

Typically, in the feelgood panic over the development of "the next batch of Socceroos", an obvious point has been missed. Graham Arnold:

"Ideally, the Olyroos will qualify for Beijing, and the next generation will get the experience they need. But what if they don't? What are those players going to do for the next 18 months, two years?"

There's a wonderful new invention, Arnie. It's called the football club.

And, believe it or not, the vast majority of a player's development at post-Under 20 level will be conducted at one of these, despite what most football pundits in Australia seem to think sometimes.

Another obvious point which is constantly missed is that the "2010 Socceroos", like the 2010 version of any national team, will not consist of a single cohort. There may be a discernible peer group of a similar age, as there was in 2006 (made up, let me remind readers again, of players who bombed at junior international level). But there will be plenty of late bloomers (Scott Chipperfield, anyone?), a few youngsters too good to leave out, and a few quality over-30s left over from the last campaign.

It is another fuss over very, very little.

As for Les's suggestion, both FIFA and the clubs would be dead against it, and therefore I can't see it happening. At the moment the Olympic football tournament is simply a pain in the backside for FIFA, and the patchwork compromise that currently exists has made the tournament less than credible.

I'm very glad you've penned this piece mikey. Its something I'd go on about for days if I could.

As you identified the fact that the B team might be pitted against a state league team or two on the cheap - I'm wondering why we don't revive the much talked about yearly Trans Tasman series.

We could handle it much the same as Chappell-Hadlee trophy ie; send over half a team (admittedly one that has been in camp) after the finish of the A-League season, or get NZ here. Both sides are effectively then a B team or maybe in NZ's case an A- team. And the result only matters if we lose.

I'm not sure of the cost here but with the current appetite for competitive Socceroo-esque football - you could shop around the games and get 10,000 at the minute I'd say if held during autumn or winter.

Clearly that is not a complete solution - but it is like going back in time to the only sort of competitve games we'd get, except now we have much more.
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