Monday, March 24, 2008


2004 Vintage

Oh, it's a crisis, I tells ya.

A depleted and rather obtusely-selected squad, plus a poor performance in a largely meaningless friendly, have given Les the perfect cue for another doom-laden rumination on the decline in Australia's football fortunes since SBS was priced out of the action.

So let's deal with a couple of the issues raised in the piece:

1. A replacement for Hiddink

The pity is that the danger was not sensed at the time by the FFA which, following the departure of Guus Hiddink, took the view that a pedigree replacement was not immediately necessary.

They would surely also have taken a view that a "pedigree" replacement would have left them barely solvent (if at all), given the astronomical salary of Hiddink, the funds that were poured into preparations for the World Cup, and the upcoming drain of the Asian adventure.

The appointment of Arnold was a cost-cutting measure more than anything else. In that respect, it achieved its goal, with the fringe benefit that it was Arnold, rather than the FFA, who attracted the lion's share of the blame for Australia's mediocre showing in the Asian Cup.

Had Pim Verbeek been appointed in July 2006, as opposed to December 2007, there may have been time for the new national coach to fashion and build a team, via the platform of the 2007 Asian Cup, with an eye on the long-term future rather than with a shot-gun reliance on the past.

In the first place, I doubt whether the name Pim Verbeek would have even come into the reckoning in July 2006. The name on most fans' lips was Johan Neeskens, Hiddink's faithful factotum, who had never occupied a senior national team job before and who had spent most of the previous ten years as an assistant.

(It's strange, too, that so many Australian fans get so dewy-eyed about "National Anthem" Neeskens, considering that he quite cynically tried to involve the FFA in a bidding war with Barcelona after the World Cup. But I digress.)

The real question is whether there would have been a genuine opportunity to build a "new" side. Given the absurdly transient playing roster than Graham Arnold was forced to endure during his year in charge, the answer is probably no.

2. The current stocks

Expecting a team to rebuild itself with organic precision following a spate of retirements is unreasonable and unrealistic. It was hardly surprising that the World Cup consituted a suitable climax to the international careers of so many of the older brigade, and that they were not willing to drag themselves through the far more laborious process of qualifying through Asia.

Thus, more departures than normal. To be expected.

And not every cohort that comes through will replenish the stocks perfectly. The relevant "generation" here is surely the 2004 Olyroos, who would now be considered roughly at their peak. They haven't quite hit the heights, on the whole.

Even so, there is some good news. Luke Wilkshire and Carl Valeri are by now regulars, Jade North (who has improved enormously this A-League season) is coming into contention, and of course Nick Carle is forever on the periphery of the national team setup. Brett Holman, another of the Class of 2004, has flopped for the Socceroos of late, but he's shown flashes of good form in the past.

Les remarks:

The question has to be asked: as the bulk of the last generation of players departs, what is the quality level of the new stock?

The answer: not very high, and the plodding performance in the friendly against Singapore was proof.

Misleading. The new troops on show against Singapore were, by and large, the current Olyroos. They cannot and should not be expected to be of full international standard as yet, and the likes of Mark Bridge, Nikolai Topor-Stanley, James Holland et al. are not.

Add to that the absence of the likes of Stuart Musialik and Joel Griffiths (still something of a mystery there), and you have a further reason why the Singapore result is not all that disquieting.

Nevertheless, Les's predictable conclusion is:

The remaining players are not in the same league as the 2006 crop or at least not yet, and part of the reason is that they play in the A-League.

So what about the slightly older ones who have left to play in Europe, some of whom are still being pointedly ignored?

More on that tomorrow.

Perhaps Les should have a closer look at the current Socceroos before commenting. A lot of the players hit their peak at in their career.

* Cahill was playing for Championship outfit Millwall until he was 24. He didn't even earn his first cap until he was 24. Now his one of the most potent midfielders in England's top flight.
* Neil was playing in England's second tier at Millwall was well until he was 23.
* Emerton played in the old NSL until he was 21.
* Beauchamp was playing NSW state league when he was 24.
* Culina was in and out of various Dutch clubs until he established himself at PSV at 24.
* Wilkshire at 21 was playing in the third tier of English football with Bristol City.

All have gone on to play at a good to very high level of football.

OK, see the pattern. Australians tend to develop late. In fact, you could argue that the current crop are ahead of time and are at worse, roughly on course. So, don't panic, no crisis!
A cynical person may think Les had this written before the match even began. He seems fixated on the idea of the decline of Australian Football (strangely coinciding with the SBS's loss of football)

There is no doubt that the class of 2000 produce some excellent footballers (Skoko, Emerton, Neill, Grella, Bresciano, Culina) and that the best of the 2004 era are yet to obtain the highlevels we have come to expect (Wilshire, Holman, Valeri, Jones, McKain are probably the best of them)

Theres no need to panic yet but we do need some of the current crop of Olyroos to take the step up to the next level.
Good points Peng. There are even a few of the "older" guys I think could become good late Euro bloomers...Jade North and Matt McKay, for instance.

...A cynical person may think Les had this written before the match even began. He seems fixated on the idea of the decline of Australian Football (strangely coinciding with the SBS's loss of football)...

Cynical? Moi? ;-)

Nice blog BTW Brendan.
While I'm well over Les Murray's cynical and self-serving whingefests, I have to ask Mikey, do you really think that a 0-0 draw is acceptable against the 131st ranked team in the world, even if it is with our 'Socceroos in waiting' on an SPL standard pitch?

For mine, I'd be expecting (and I was) a lot more from a group of players who are supposed to be a) putting themselves in contention for 'real' games or b) putting themselves in the shop window (or both for that matter).

Many of the players on the pitch on Saturday night openly aspire to top-flight European careers, but based on that performance, Hamilton Accies would turn them down.

Verbeek's meandering approach to team building, his insane reasoning behind selection and his apparent lack of ability to motivate his players recall a certain German who wreaked so much havoc with another national team close to my heart.

I really hope I'm wrong, the FFA has put most of it's eggs in the Socceroos basket, especialy financially that the end result could be really ugly for all of Australian football.
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