Sunday, September 30, 2007


He Who Hesitates - another update

Alex Brosque, how thou art changed.

The struggling tactical chameleon of last year has been Sydney FC's best player so far this season, and last night he produced a truly magnificent performance for the 2005/06 champions.

Although he found himself in a lone striker role once more, this time he gave a model demonstration of how to play effectively with back to goal despite not being physically imposing. He worked tremendously hard, brought others into play, drew fouls, and, of course, scored a fine winning goal.

Juninho deserves great credit for his delightful through-ball, but Brosque's finish was even more impressive. To outpace a ring-rusty Steve Laybutt was perhaps no great achievement, but the touch that took him around Jade North was surely the sign of a player in form. Bringing the ball onto his better foot while leaving himself ample time for a shot around the onrushing Ante Covic was not at all easy, but Brosque made it look so.

Branko Culina perhaps faces a dilemma of sorts now, but a pleasant one; Brosque is still probably better utilised in a role where he can run at defenders rather than hold them off, but he has been so effective at the point of the attack recently that the oft-suggested Patrick-Brosque combination might actually end up robbing the midfield of an important cog. Sydney's midfield interplay in the second half last night was very impressive, and Culina would be loath to tinker with what looked like a good combination (even if the wide areas were perhaps not used sufficiently at times).

Saturday, September 29, 2007


Taking Charge

Well then. Another grim game to add to the list of exercises in extended trench warfare that have characterized this A-League season so far. As a Melbourne fan commented on the Sydney FC forum after the game, surely it was not necessary for Melbourne to take the field with no fewer than three defensive a home game.

It's surely time for the coaches and players to adopt a rather more positive approach, but as I mentioned recently, the permissive refereeing has not helped matters. Last night, Ben Williams, generally one of the better refs in the league, let the ugly challenges get out of hand.

In the official summary of the game, linked above, one thing that strikes the eye is that all the yellow cards bar one were issued in the second half. This is consistent with the policy of many A-League referees, who seem to think that an accumulation of poor challenges is necessary for a yellow to be incurred, rather than a single egregious foul.

It's an attitude I've always had a problem with. If a referee shows early in the game that he is not going to stand for rough treatment, the game surely has a better chance of proceeding without too many bruising fouls.

I remember that there was concern before the 2002 World Cup final that things might get a little "difficult": very wisely, the referee on that occasion, the legendary Pierluigi Collina, flashed two yellow cards very early in the game for nasty challenges. The players got the message, and the game went on in relative peace thereafter.

Ben Williams did not mete out sufficient punishment for harsh fouls in the first half last night (particularly with regard to tackles from behind), and the consequence was plain to see.

An incident early in the second half perfectly illustrated what I believe to be the problems with the refereeing in the A-League this season.

Danny Tiatto, bursting through on the left, was viciously body-checked by Daniel Piorkowski, blatantly leading with his elbow. It was the clearest of cautionable offences.

Tiatto, in retaliation, followed through with a rugby tackle on Piorkowski, before slamming his elbow into the latter's face, in clear view of the approaching linesman. The Queensland man, incidentally, had already been booked.

After the smoke had cleared, Williams entered into a long discussion with both men...and sent them both on their way. No cards at all.

That is not, as some would have it, common-sense refereeing. That is an abrogation of responsibility.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Mr. Not Hiddink - another update

Everyone's having their say on the Advocaat issue. Les Murray has essentially backed Frank Lowy's position, although he hasn't gone into the question of whether Advocaat is the right man if we're to go foreign.

Then there's this morning's little spray from Old Grumpyguts himself, Les Scheinflug.

Much of what Scheinflug says there is not far wrong, in my view, although his assertion that the FFA's money would be better spent developing a youth league is, well, debatable.

The thrust of his argument seems to be that local coaches may have been able to achieve better results in the past, had they enjoyed the logistical support that Guus Hiddink (and Terry Venables before him) enjoyed. He's right, I feel.

He is right, too, to pull the current administration up on the indiscriminate use of the "Old Soccer" tag. However, the gripe loses some of its impact given the context; Scheinflug's comments are conveyed by the venerable Murdoch football hack Ray Gatt, who indulges in some utterly cringeworthy encomia of his subject:

Scheinflug, 69, a legend of the game in this country...

Regarded as one of the pioneers of the sport in Australia...

Inducted into the Australian football hall of fame...

He is recognised as the father of youth football in Australia...

Just don't mention the Stewart Report. Or Scheinflug's own brief, unsuccessful spell as Socceroos manager.

First-time readers should perhaps be made aware that Scheinflug has long been a close friend of that icon of "Old Soccer", Tony Labbozzetta. The latter's interests have consistently been supported in the past by a certain Ray Gatt.

Yes, the cronyism of "Old Soccer" is exaggerated. But it does exist.

Monday, September 24, 2007


Keeping it Tight

Five rounds into the A-League, and the middle of the pack is tightly bunched, with no fewer than four teams on five points. But that's not the only way in which the league has been tight.

Tony Tannous wrote a typically insightful piece after last week's round of matches, suggesting that the trend towards greater athleticism and physicality was having a negative effect on the league as a spectacle. I'd agree.

Although there were some patches of pleasing football in the current round, particularly during the Newcastle v. Melbourne game, the competition has been far less entertaining than last year, thus far. The flanks are not being employed particularly constructively, players are finding themselves with no time to operate in central midfield, and many defenders are hitting more long balls than Yuvraj Singh.

The quote from Ron Smith in Tony's article is worth reading. The A-League, of course, is a fully professional competition, and with the professionalism has come a greater emphasis on maintaining optimum fitness levels. When Brett Emerton moved from Sydney Olympic to Feyenoord, he subsequently remarked that it had been difficult for him to adapt to the pace of the Dutch game, and the training regimes at a professional club. Somehow, I think that young players making a similar move from an A-League club will find the transition somewhat easier.

With the increased athleticism, as Smith points out, there has come a tendency for teams to close down the opposition very quickly. And, as he says, the next step will be for players to develop greater precision in their combination play, so as to break down packed defences and midfields.

That's for the future. But there are ways in which the league could be improved as a spectacle in the short term, I feel. For one thing, the refereeing this season has been quite lenient, more so than in 2006/07. The tone was set in the very first game, with Mile Jedinak getting away with some decidedly rough treatment of Juninho. The trend then continued in Queensland, with the over-the-ball indiscretions of Danny Tiatto.

It's possible to go too far the other way - we have seen that very clearly in Asian competition - but the referees in general have not been offering players sufficient protection, I feel (incidentally, though, I'm getting heartily fed up with the lazy cliché about "protection for creative players". Surely all players are entitled to protection from dangerous challenges).

Then there's the matter of the length of the league, not an insignificant factor, in my opinion.

With only 21 games (25 at the very most) to play, there's little onus on the players to pace themselves, and this is perhaps one reason why we've seen some players (Massimo Murdocca, for one), running as if every game would be their last.

There are so many reasons why 21 games is simply not enough.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


Big Roar, No Bite

Frank Farina must be wondering just what on earth he has to do to buy a goal at home.

For the second time in three weeks, Queensland have suffered a home loss in a game which they largely dominated. On both occasions, the opposing goalkeeper has been in outstanding form, but the problems clearly lie a little deeper than that.

There seems to be a curse over Suncorp Stadium, which robs the home side's strikers of their acumen as soon as they step onto the pitch. Ante Milicic's sharp decline since he left Newcastle has been painful to watch; once probably the best finisher in the local game along with Damian Mori, he has looked woefully inadequate this season (as he did for much of last year as well). Worst of all, he seems to have lost the positional sense which served him so well in his NSL days. He rarely gets into a position to score with Queensland.

Simon Lynch began last season looking highly promising. Ever since then he has been a cipher, and usually only serves to take the wind out of his own team's sails in attack.

The most apt comment on Queensland's problems up front was the fact that Farina brought on Sasa Ognenovski - a central defender - as a makeshift striker in the final stages last night. And Ognenovski nearly scored within a minute!

Farina must feel the need to alter his malfunctioning front pairing, but what options are there? He has used Reinaldo on the right flank recently, and it seems to me quite a good deployment of the big Brazilian; finishing has never been his strong point, although, in fairness, he would have scored last night but for a stupendous reflex save from Clint Bolton.

The likes of Tahj Minniecon and Mitch Nichols, two of the youth group that Farina has recruited, may have something to offer, but it would be galling for Farina to have to rely on such inexperience for goals. Then again, the names Djite and Burns come to mind...

What makes Queensland's impotence up front frustrating is that they have been playing some of the best football of the competition otherwise. Matt McKay continues to shine in midfield, Danny Tiatto is settling into the holding role surprisingly well, and the team as a whole moves off the ball better than perhaps any other side in the competition, often allowing their attacking moves to flow pleasingly. They just need the bite up front to match the bark...or the roar.

On the flipside, congratulations to Sydney FC for achieving their first win of the season, in decidedly difficult circumstances. It wasn't pretty, but it bespoke real determination and fighting spirit. And the goal was an absolute peach.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


Mr. Not Hiddink - update

Although I'm reluctant to make too many statements about the appointment of Dick Advocaat until it's officially confirmed, Mike Cockerill certainly believes that the deal is done.

And the reaction has been, predictably, fairly negative. Shane Castro has some harsh words to say on the matter, and fans on football forums around the country have expressed their disappointment with the FFA's recruitment process (with some justification, I might add).

I've made my views on Advocaat clear in the past. Shane Davis reminded me that I'd once described him as "the Dutch Graeme Souness", and it still seems to me a fair (if somewhat glib) call.

Whatever one thinks of Advocaat as a coach, I think some questions need to be asked of the FFA. To wit:

1. Did the possibility of his staying with Zenit St. Petersburg push up the asking price for Advocaat?

Frankly, all the leaks and rumours in the media about Advocaat wanting to stick with his Russian club if they reached the Champions' League gave all the appearance of a cynical ambit claim.

With Advocaat stalling over the decision, the FFA should surely have considered other options and perhaps even ruled Advocaat out of the running altogether. Instead, they appear to have rushed into a deal in response to the implicit threats to ditch the Socceroo job.

2. Will he really base himself in Europe? When exactly will he be required to spend time in Australia?

Perhaps the most worrying aspect of Cockerill's article is the "understanding" that Advocaat will continue to live in Europe during the qualifying campaign.

During our Oceania period, this would probably not have been a problem. I admit to having been doubtful that Guus Hiddink could successfully combine his club duties at PSV with the final stages of Australia's qualification for the World Cup, but I was proven wrong on that score.

But Asia? Although the "all A-League players" proposal is a nonsense, there is no doubt at all that the local players will play a significant role in the qualifying process. The idea that our national coach might be able to pick and choose when he can stroll down under and inspect the troops is disquieting to say the least.

3. Were the FFA determined to get another Dutchman, to maintain some sort of continuity in the management of the national side?

There's nothing wrong with this idea, up to a point. Plenty of Asian nations have chosen one "culture" from which to take most of their cues (such as Japan with Brazil and China with Serbia), and if the FFA have decided to go Dutch, that's fine, although in my opinion it is somehwat limiting.

The question still remains though: were there other Dutch coaches available? The name of Pim Verbeek came up following the Asian Cup, naturally enough, and he would have been a better option than Advocaat in many ways. But I wonder if the FFA made any contact with (for instance) Jo Bonfrere, Aad de Mos or Sef Vergoossen, all of whom have considerably more experience in Asia than Advocaat, and would all have been, I would think, much cheaper.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


Mighty Matildas - another brief update

What is it with Australian teams and leaving it late?

Congratulations to Tom Sermanni and the Matildas for making it through to the knockout stage of the Women's World Cup, at the fourth attempt.

In truth, they were somewhat lucky to get through after a decidedly lacklustre performance in the second half against Canada. But, to give credit where it's due, it was some very calm and clever work by Lisa de Vanna on the edge of the area that allowed the veteran captain Cheryl Salisbury to scuff home an equalizer in the second minute of injury time.

Stuttgart, 22 June 2006, all over again.

The Matildas will have their work cut out against Brazil, who have scored an avalanche of goals in the group stage. But merely reaching the quarter-finals is a fine achievement...and perhaps the first indication that the Asian qualifying route can serve as a benign toughening process for the major tournaments.


The New Cog

I watched this morning's Barcelona v. Lyon game with particularly keen interest. Not only because both sides are always worth watching, but because I was interested to see how Thierry Henry, Barca's big summer signing, would fit into what is currently the most celebrated forward line in the world.

Although Barca eventually cruised home against a strangely supine Lyon, there were signs that the Ronaldinho-Henry-Messi trident might not be as frightening as first imagined.

Henry and Ruud van Nistelrooy were long considered the two premier strikers in the English Premiership, but their styles were never all that similar. The Dutchman was the penalty-box operator par excellence, offering strength (especially in the air), an enviable ability to work in tight spaces, and a killer finish.

The Frenchman, by contrast, often liked to drift wider in search of meaningful action, and some of his most memorable goals were slashing angled shots following a wriggling run inside from the touchline.

This morning, Henry found himself in a static central role, and it was clearly anathema to him in some repsects. Frequently caught offside, and often forced to play back-to-goal pivot rather than off-the-ball panther, he came to life only in short bursts.

It didn't help that Ronaldinho, too, was far from his best. Barca's dominance of the first half had much to do with the fact that Leo Messi, in incisive fettle, basically forced the French side to double-mark him, thereby freeing up space in the midfield for the likes of Deco and Xavi Hernandez.

Around the hour mark, when Messi too began to fade, Barca were in serious danger of losing the thread of the game. It was only after Frank Rijkaard wisely replaced the out-of-sorts Ronaldinho with the much under-rated Andres Iniesta that the chances started coming again (Barca's long-awaited second goal, you may note, was set up very cleverly by Iniesta).

So, will Henry thrive in Spain? It's quite possible, but I feel he needs to be given rather more licence to roam, which would in turn require some of his attacking partners to play more centrally at times.

If Rijkaard can find a modus operandi that accommodates both Henry and the existing Barca spearhead, the Catalan club would surely be installed as Champions' League favourites.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Made in Italy - brief update

In the semi-final of last year's World Cup, the Italians sealed their passage into the final with a breakaway goal of classic simplicity, economy and precision.

Italian teams continue to be the experts in this field. In this morning's Milan v. Benfica game, Pippo Inzaghi's goal was a masterpiece of the genre, a true "goal to frame", as Johan Cruyff liked to say.

Again, the move was divided into a series of beautifully logical steps:

1. The run out of defence

This time it was Kaka, stealing the ball in his own defensive third and then advancing with that purposeful stride of his. Before long, it was three-on-three in the Benfica third. But then:

2. The extra man

Kaka, Clarence Seedorf and Pippo Inzaghi were already involved in the attack, but Andrea Pirlo (who, now that Dennis Bergkamp and Gianfranco Zola have retired, is probably the player in world football I most enjoy watching), sneaked in on the right, while Seedorf made a clever little decoy run to the left. Kaka played Pirlo in adroitly.

3. The misdirection of the defence

When the Benfica defenders realized that Pirlo was in the picture, all three of them rushed to the Milan playmaker. Pirlo waited just long enough to be sure that they had committed themselves, before sending a deft little ball across to Inzaghi - who had, as always, positioned himself ingeniously.

4. The finish

Whatever you think of his antics, there are few people in the world you'd rather have on the end of a chance in the penalty-box than Pippo Inzaghi. His volley was immaculate.

It's goals like that which remind me why I love this game so much.


Head Office Speaks

Sound the trumpets! The deus ex machina has emerged from College Street and pronounced judgement, presumably to quell the raging media bitchfest over the future of the Socceroo job.

Although Lowy's (or his ghostwriter's) prose appears to be a calm and mature appraisal at first glance, there is some of the same subtle distortion that has bedevilled all the partisan commentary on the issue.

Lowy's chief target seems to be Mike Cockerill. Not surprising, since Cockerill has made no secret of his distaste for the way the FFA have handled national team affairs over the past year.

But most of the criticism of Cockerill is simply disingenuous. To wit:

...there have been worrying signs from some commentators, including the Herald's football writer Michael Cockerill, that hark back to "Old Soccer", when personal relationships and parochialism led to poor decision-making...

I fail to see how Cockerill's piece can be construed as harking back to the Soccer Australia/NSL days in any way. Resistance to foreign coaches? The vast majority of those appointed to the Socceroo job in the old days were foreign-born.

Note, once again, the careful "Old Soccer" product placement. Lowy wasn't involved in "Old Soccer", you know. Of course not.

...In his column last Friday, where Cockerill argued for the appointment of an Australian coach...

...Cockerill would accept a foreign coach, but not a proven one...

The old rhetorical trick of deliberately mistaking a suggestion for a stipulation. Not pretty.

Otherwise, Lowy's piece breaks little new ground, but a little paragraph towards the end:

...Football fans can rest assured that FFA has worked diligently to secure a coach with the qualities and enthusiasm that will give the Socceroos every chance of success...

...rings rather hollow. It is genuinely difficult to escape the impression that the FFA has, as I've mentioned before, placed all their eggs in the one basket. That basket is currently vacillating, and if there's a Plan B, it certainly hasn't been apparent.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Loko-motion - brief update

Long-time readers might remember me giving an enthusiastic nod to the new club founded by a group of dedicated Sydney FC fans.

Congratulations to the Lokomotiv Cove AA7s, who won their divisional Grand Final this weekend, and to the women's SW3 team, who finished top of their division in the league stage. A fantastic effort in the club's first season.

Now for Deportivo Den, Shakhtar Shed, and some other initiatives...

Sunday, September 16, 2007


Planet Foster - update

Boy oh boy. The continuing SBS v. FFA/Fox/Cockerill ping-pong media battle over Graham Arnold has degenerated into full-blown character assassination, thanks to that well-known celestial body rotating around Hiddink Minor.

Let's take another journey to that strange world, Planet Foster.

Normally, the only coaches considered for national appointment are those who have succeeded over many years, usually at both domestic and international levels, though not necessarily both. They must have developed the theoretical requirements the job demands and then have successfully applied that theoretical base in practice over many years - usually at least a decade.

You see, no-one on the planet has heard of Franz Beckenbauer, Michel Platini, Marco van Basten, Jürgen Klinsmann, Hristo Stoichkov, Rudi Völler...or any of the countless other distinguished former players who have been appointed as managers of their country with little or no coaching experience.

The players must be sick of answering the question, "Is Graham Arnold the man for the job?", particularly after they all gave their honest indication straight after the World Cup when they said we needed another quality, experienced technician.

Quotes, you see, can be extracted from thin air on Planet Foster. Or twisted to fit the obsessions of the writer.

He's been lucky. Fortunate to stay involved after his mate Farina was fired, even though most assistants leave as a matter of respect.

That irritatingly familiar phenomenon of the assistant stepping into the incumbent's chair (often after some quiet lobbying) is quite unknown on this planet.

I might add that it is common practice on Planet Foster to indulge in vicious invective against a person who is, erm, already a dead duck. It might be considered arrogant, cynical and insufferably smug elsewhere. But not on Planet Foster.

Planet Foster has recently acquired a satellite, by the way, which (when it manages to take some time off from gratuitous name-dropping) displays a rare talent for completely missing the point:

The fact that Arnold buckled under pressure, allowed the FFA to interfere in what he needed to do, permitted players to call the shots, is exactly why having an Australian coach in charge of the national team was the wrong call.

Erm, that, Mr. Fink, was precisely why they wanted an Australian in the job in the first place.

Friday, September 14, 2007


In Defence of Arnie - update

One gets the impression that this is the article Mike Cockerill has been dying to write for a very long time.

Certainly, there are large portions of the piece with which it's hard to disagree. The FFA appears to have employed little imagination and less flexibility in the search for a successor to Graham Arnold; all the eggs have been deposited in the big-name Dutchman basket.

Cockerill has made his views very clear in recent months; he feels (justifiably, in my opinion) that the FFA has treated Arnold shabbily. Few would suggest that Arnold gave a particularly good account of himself in the Asian Cup, but many - some of them, as Cockerill alleges, in the media - have assailed him with a scorn that he simply doesn't deserve.

To move on to the matter of how a big-name foreign manager would handle our precarious qualifying route.

The quotes from Dick Advocaat at the beginning of Cockerill's article need a bit of context, I feel. There is no comparison between the farce of Oceania qualification, blithely conducted outside of FIFA international windows, and the Asian route, full of genuinely competitive opposition and generally (if not always) reserved for FIFA-designated international dates. So let's not condemn Advocaat's internationalist credentials on that score just yet, thanks.

But the FFA, in my opinion, is showing itself to be feeble indeed in allowing Advocaat to (if you'll pardon the pun) keep dicking them around. We need a manager who can commit himself to the Australia job now, rather than waiting to see if his Russian club can reach Champions' League nirvana.

As usual, one has to take Cockerill's implicit defence of local coaches (and his backing of Arnold's truculent "it's coz I'm an Aussie" defence) with a grain of salt. But with the following suggestion of Cockerill's I can only heartily agree:

If the FFA is to go foreign, why not find a younger, lesser known, coach who has passion, drive, and enthusiasm? One who wants to make a name, not one who has a name already.

As far as I can see, the FFA has been no more enterprising than previous administrations in this respect. The only alternative to Terry Venables considered in the David Hill era, I seem to recall, was Johan Cruyff.

Advocaat has experience in Asia, but not much of it. He was drafted in to the Korea job for the last World Cup very late in the piece, without having to deal with the awkward early part of the qualifying process. Prior to that, he merely had a brief, unsuccessful spell with the UAE.

As I've stated before, Advocaat is a good option in many respects. But if he is not prepared to commit himself to the Socceroos job any time soon, the FFA should look elsewhere. And their candidate, dare I say, need not be Dutch or famous.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Friendly Fire - update #4

Graham Arnold recently claimed that his chief legacy to the national team would be their exposure to Asian competition under his stewardship. I'd venture to suggest, rather, that what he has brought to the national side is a genuinely positive approach to international friendlies.

Last night's match, perhaps because it really mattered so little, was one of the most entertaining internationals on Australian soil I've seen for some time. And the Socceroos' performance contributed substantially to the entertainment, even if the star of the show was unquestionably the irrepressible Lionel Messi.

It was particularly good to see Josh Kennedy in action once again. He provided a solid physical presence and a significant aerial threat up front, and showed good ball control at times as well. He did fade from view somewhat in the second half, but he had already demonstrated by then that he will be a key figure in the lead-up to 2010.

The real Vince Grella was back in the green and gold this time, rather than the static passenger we saw at the Asian Cup, and Jason Culina was livelier than usual, especially in the second period. David Carney, faced with the daunting task of keeping Messi quiet, did surprisingly well, all things considered. Perhaps the "successor to Chipperfield" talk has some substance after all, although it's very early days.

Josip Skoko had a fairly insipid game; a pity, given that this was his "farewell" international. Hopefully the fans will instead retain the memories of Skoko's performances against Bahrain in Manama last year and Germany at the Conferedations Cup in 2005, among many others.

And Messi? As the commentators never tired of reminding us, he is still only twenty. If the injury gods are kind to him, he will surely be one of the most exciting players in world football for many years to come.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Mighty Matildas - brief update

Although I'm looking forward to seeing Alfio Basile's fluent Argentina side in action tonight, it's a little difficult to get excited about the Socceroo angle, given that Graham Arnold's squad is an enforced hodge-podge, with most of the promising younger players off with the Olyroos.

A match of rather more import is occurring tomorrow evening, with the Matildas playing their opening game in the Women's World Cup, against Ghana in the picturesque lakeside city of Hangzhou.

The Matildas' semi-final win over Japan in the Asian qualifiers, which ensured their participation in the main event, did not attract much notice at the time; a pity, since the first successful Asian qualifying campaign for a World Cup by a senior Australian football side surely represented a milestone of sorts.

Australia has qualified for the event before, of course, but has failed to progress past the first round in previous instalments. With their Asian experience - and two heartening lead-up wins over China - behind them, Tom Sermanni's troops must fancy their chances to do better in this tournament. The key game will probably be their final group match with Canada, in Chengdu next week.

Best of luck to the team, and a vote of thanks to SBS for allowing Australian viewers to watch the Matildas in action at the World Cup.

Sunday, September 09, 2007


The Video Refusers, Part 2

Andrew Orsatti, you may recall, recently made the not unreasonable request that, whatever sanctions we invoke against players for violent conduct after the fact, we should remain FIFA compliant in doing so. His concern is that the FFA may be acting outside FIFA regulations in suspending players for incidents that referees have noticed, but ignored.

I’m not sure this is the case, though. The well-publicized FIFA clampdown on the increasing use of video technology took the form of a circular missive to national federations in 2002; the story is detailed here.

Notice the following:

The decision to prevent referees from taking a second look at controversial incidents after a game is seen as a shock move.


It states: "The referee may only change a decision on realizing that it is incorrect or, at his discretion, on the advice of an assistant referee, provided that he has NOT restarted play."

That’s right. The referee. But what about the administrative body concerned?

A quibble? Perhaps. I certainly doubt whether FIFA intended to leave such a loophole, since the import of their statements around that time seemed to be that the referee’s decisions were sacrosanct. But I can’t actually see why a review of contentious incidents by a judiciary panel, even incidents upon which the ref has already (presumably) passed judgement, would contravene FIFA’s edicts on the matter.

In the converse situation, of course, there is currently no room for a review (although there should be).

Saturday, September 08, 2007


Too Hot to Handle

Robbie Slater was quite unequivocally in favour of the penalty decision which allowed Adelaide United to equalize in last night's needly match with Melbourne. Certainly most referees would have ruled as Peter Green did, and the decision was arguably - yes, arguably - the correct one.

Yet it's strange that such decisions pass without much comment or debate these days, when they do not, in fact, really fit the description of handling under our old friend Law 12.

Just to remind readers of the circumstances: Diego, having one of his best games for Adelaide, cut inside from the left and sent a powerful shot towards goal (which looked to be on target). The ball cannoned into Roddy Vargas's outstreched arm in mid-flight.

And it was just that: the ball making contact with a more or less stationary arm. "Ball to hand", in the common parlance. And the rule states that a penalty kick is to be the sanction if, inside his own 18-yard area, a player:

...handles the ball deliberately...

That last word is there for the best of reasons, but often it seems to be forgotten.

One problem with judging such incidents on the basis of a TV replay, incidentally, is that one is always given the impression that the offending player had more time to get his hand/arm out of the way than he actually did. In the current case, I very much doubt that Vargas would have had sufficient time to react (Diego's shot had plenty of pace on it), so how could the handling be considered "deliberate"?

Yet logic would suggest that some punishment should be meted out if the handball actually prevented a shot from entering the goal, as it may have done in this case. And there is quite a valid argument that, by extending his arms in the penalty area so as to narrow an attacker's shooting options, a defender is committing a sort of deliberate handball before the fact.

One instance of this which I remember quite vividly was a cunning flick by Roberto Baggio into a defender's outstretched arm in the Italy v. Chile game from the 1998 World Cup. Baggio thus won (and later converted) the penalty which saved Italy from an embarrassing first-up loss.

The referee's decision was bitterly criticized in some quarters, given that it was an obvious attempt to milk a penalty, that the defender patently had no time to react, and that Baggio's "shot" was in no sense an attempt on goal (though the incident occurred within the 18-yard area).

Plenty of grey area, in other words. An obvious suggestion would be to only punish such "pre-deliberate" handballs if they end up impeding a genuine shot on goal...but even the statisticians often seem to disagree on what constitutes such a shot. And what about crosses that would almost certainly have led to a goal? It gets very messy.

I tend to think that this is the kind of decision that needs to be left to a referee's discretion. There are too many factors at play to make a cut-and-dried judgement possible in some cases.

And the best advice for defenders is simply this: hands by your sides!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


Club v. Country, A-League Style - update

More criticism for the FFA over the Olyroo/A-League scheduling clash today, this time from Branko Culina.

Unfortunately, there's pressure from the other direction as well, with overseas clubs apparently reluctant to release their players. Although it's hard to disagree with the Euro clubs' supposed attitude that the Olympic football tournament is not all that important, the principle is a worrying one, particularly given that the games are taking place in a Euro club hiatus. Furthermore, Ben Buckley's comment that:

Most clubs don't have an issue releasing players for the national team...

...seems a little hopeful, at best.

Tucked away in the final paragraph of Mike Cockerill's article comes another piece of disquieting news:

In other news, it's believed next month's planned friendly between the Socceroos and China at the Sydney Football Stadium has been called off.

To pose the obvious question: at whose request?

The Chinese? It's difficult to see how they would be seriously inconvenienced (unlike the case of Argentina earlier in the year). That leaves us, and could it be that certain Euro clubs and/or Euro-based players have let it be known that, FIFA window notwithstanding, a second trip to the Antipodes within a month for a friendly is a bit bloody much for professional footballers dealing with crowded Euro club schedules?

In the matter of scheduling, it would appear that the FFA needs to lift its game.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


Club v. Country, A-League Style

Finally there seems to be an undercurrent of (quite legitimate) concern about the scheduling of the A-League vis-à-vis the international calendar. Ron Smith has had a gentle grumble about the matter, and although it is the Olyroo qualifiers that have caused his particular problem, it will be the senior side's Asian qualifiers that could ultimately prove a bigger headache, come the 2008/09 season and beyond.

A-League scheduling, of course, is constricted by the requirements of the egg-ball codes to some extent. But disruption to team stability (and the removal of crowd-pulling players from the competition) due to international duties is not an issue to be scoffed at. Some clubs are inevitably affected more than others, for one thing.

But while the FFA needs to address that matter, they deserve credit for scrapping the like-for-like rule for short-term signings, which was always too subjective to be workable. I'm not so sure about the other change they have made recently, relaxing the minimum six-week absence period for injured players if a replacement is to be signed (see the postscript to this article). This could, I feel, lead to a flurry of short-term deals which would make a mockery of the whole idea of an A-League squad.

Sunday, September 02, 2007


Change Will Do You Good

At the press conference following the Sydney v. Adelaide match last night, it was refreshing to hear an admittedly truculent Branko Culina actually talking specifically about the tactical changes he'd made during the game. Even better, he made sense.

It's rather a novelty from a Sydney FC manager. Definitely a change from Pierre Littbarski's incomprehensible ramblings and Terry Butcher's "lads fought well" clichés.

It's also refreshing to finally have a manager who is prepared to make necessary changes before the 75-minute mark, in order to rectify problems that have arisen. Even in the first game of the season, a tactical reshuffle from Culina (Mark Milligan to sweeper, Terry McFlynn into midfield, Ruben Zadkovich over to the right) resulted in a much improved second-half performance.

Last night, Sydney's dominance of the second half can largely be put down to the canny changes that Culina made. One could say that such changes were forced upon him by Tony Popovic's back injury, but plenty of managers would surely have settled for a straight swap. Yet when the teams re-emerged from the tunnel, there were other significant, and worthwhile, alterations to Sydney's set-up. To wit:

1. Robbie Middleby shifted to the right

The aging wide man has always looked more comfortable on the right-hand side; although the presence of the right-footed Ruben Zadkovich induced Culina to start Middleby on the left last night, it was on the opposite flank in the second half that Middleby really made his presence felt (although, as has so often happened, his final balls into the strikers were disappointing).

2. Alex Brosque shifted deeper

Brosque spent most of the first half playing with back to goal, which is very much inimical to him. With the arrival of Patrick in the second half - a player who does appear to be able to play effectively facing away from goal - Brosque dropped off to the left, and looked far happier, running at the defence and combining well with the likes of Steve Corica and Juninho.

3. Physical presence up front

Brosque, again, does not provide this, and with Patrick leading the line, the Adelaide defenders were given the sort of trouble that Bruce Djite had provided in such abundance at the other end. Patrick may have made a horrible mess of his excellent chance on the hour mark, and he may have been over-elaborate on the ball at times, but overall he looks a good prospect.

There remains the shifting of Ruben Zadkovich into a sweeper role, which was certainly controversial. Culina defended his decision stoutly at the press conference, describing it as "the logical thing to do", given the fact that the original back three had found Djite's pace and strength such a headache. Although Zadkovich was partly at fault for the second Adelaide goal, I'm inclined to agree with Culina about the logic of the decision.

Sydney have only gained one point from their first two home games - a poor start in anyone's language. Yet, after their bright second-half display last night, I'm happily sticking to my prediction that they will make the A-League finals again.

Saturday, September 01, 2007


Wingless Phoenix

Although the new team in the A-League went down 3-0 in Gosford last night, I think they have shown enough to indicate that they will be competitive this season. Some changes are clearly needed, however.

Felipe's cameo against the Mariners, coming on the back of his lively first appearance in the competition against Melbourne, was easily the most influential performance we have seen from a substitute in the competition so far. Three times, late in the second half, he made a monkey of a tiring Mile Jedinak, who had been dealing quite capably with the likes of Daniel and Michael Ferrante. Felipe needs to start against Newcastle next week, without question.

One of the main problems which I felt Ricki Herbert's side faced last night was the lack of real enterprise and penetration from the central midfield duo of Ferrante and Ross Aloisi. I have regularly expounded on Aloisi's limitations in the past, and Ferrante, although he did manage to get himself into good positions now and then, consistently wasted either the eventual shot or the final ball. Tim Brown, one feels, can't come back from injury quickly enough.

What ultimately lost them the game, of course, was the inexperience of poor Steven O'Dor, playing out of position at right-back (it should be noted that he fared much better once he shifted to the centre, following Cleberson's substitution). My learned Kiwi colleague, in his preview of the Phoenix's chances, noted that they lack a specialist right-back; Steven Old showed little inclination to get forward against Melbourne last week (he, too, is a central defender by choice), and Vince Lia's unsuitability for the right-back role was made glaringly apparent last season, when he filled in there for Melbourne. All in all, quite a problem for Ricki Herbert.

There are some good signs for the Wellington team, however. One is that Shane Smeltz has looked lively up front; even with Cleberson and Karl Dodd favouring the straightforward long balls last night, Smeltz managed to trouble the ponderous Central Coast defence at times, frequently forcing them into hurried, wasted clearances.

And on the topic of Cleberson and Dodd, they look a good partnership. Obviously Wellington suffered from some defensive lapses last night, but they were often due to either the full-backs being caught out of position, or the midfielders not marking up at set-pieces.

The jury is still out on Daniel, I feel. Mobile and inventive, he has nevertheless experienced some difficulty in getting past "the first man", and has a disturbing tendency to go down like the proverbial sack of potatoes when legitimately tackled. Not the way to make yourself popular in a new league.

Herbert seems to be counting on Daniel to provide the width on either side, with a little help on the left from Tony Lochhead (who has done well thus far). The Wellington side's lack of wide options might, however, come back to haunt them in the final analysis, unless Daniel can really hit his straps.

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