Tuesday, June 08, 2010


Craig's Catechism

A temporary break from World Cup matters, to review a book released to coincide with the tournament.

Now, to clear some ground first. Alert readers of this blog may recall that I've had some harsh words to say about Craig Foster in the past. Strangely, though, I still have mixed feelings towards SBS's chief football analyst; although so much of what he says and writes is either naive, condescending or wretchedly pretentious, a genuinely articulate former Socceroo who is a cogent real-time game analyst is in some ways a rare commodity. Further complicating my attitude is that fact that in person, I found him immensely likeable.

So I felt obliged to give his book a go, even if football friends had warned me that it was, well, more of the same.

To a large extent, it is. Those who've followed his column in the Sun-Herald, and his various tirades from the soapbox on SBS, will find little new in the 300-page collection of opinions and advice contained in the book. There is the same Barcelona fetish, the same haughty denigration of Australian football, the same patronising tone. But there are some redeeming features.

The early part of the book, which is essentially an overview of the game as Foster sees it, is awash with quotes; at times, Foster appears more anthologist than author. By far the most interesting chapter in this "first half", which contains plenty of sociological ruminations of dubious value, is the ninth chapter, "Football is Space". Here, Foster gets into specifics a little, and his description of a Socceroo training session under Terry Venables is actually fascinating.

This, in fact, leads us to one of the strange little dichotomies in the Foster world-view; he has always paid generous tribute to the coaching acumen of Venables, who took Australian football "twenty years into the future" (Foster's own words, from a 2008 interview). How does he reconcile such admiration with his well-known distaste for all things English? As Foster says in the previous chapter:

I often wonder how [Venables] acquired his knowledge, because it was conspicuous by its rarity in an English coach...once I had seen the system of play under Venables I could confidently say that I learnt more in a short time with him than in all my previous years as a player...

It is truly remarkable that Foster does not examine his anti-English slant in more detail in light of this, or adopt a more nuanced attitude towards the difference between British and continental coaches. In fairness, however, I should add that his Anglophobia is rarely expressed openly in the book; if anything, it is implied by omission, since whenever a list of great players, coaches or systems is offered (and there are many in the course of the book), anyone or anything from the British Isles tends to be excluded.

Another worthwhile chapter in the first part of the book is Chapter 16, "The Football 'Matrix'", in which Foster gives an interesting list of Socratic questions that inform his half-time and full-time commentary on live games (UEFA Champions League ties, in the main). Worth a read for any aspiring pundit.

The second half of the book, in which Foster deals with football in Australia, is far more familiar. Here we find the cliches, the empty generalisations, and the crass scapegoating that often makes Foster's articles so open to ridicule. Chapter 21, "Footballholics Anonymous", is a truly nauseating outpouring which takes cultural cringe to the level of utter self-abasement.

The only section of real interest after half-time in the book is Chapter 24, "Adopt and Adapt", which deals largely with the implementation of a new curriculum for Australian football. Foster can't quite seem to make up his mind about the new Dutch template (for which I don't blame him in the least), and he does bring a pertinent point to light:

Sadly, in the absence of a National Technical Committee to oversee the work of imported Dutch coaches on a regular basis, these decisions are being made without adequate oversight, and the ramifications will only be reflected in ten years' time. This is why it is critical that more football expertise is utilised at FFA...

Round of applause. I couldn't have put it better. But, bizarrely, Foster essentially contradicts himself in the very next paragraph:

Nevertheless...the methods being implemented are an outstanding start, and no revision or additions should take place until Australia has adopted the curriculum, and understands it very well. This will take a decade...


As is usual with such books, there are a few typos, misspellings and factual mistakes here and there. In an early chapter, the tragic tale of Colombia's Andres Escobar is given an unintentional comic tinge when he is decribed as having scored "an unfortunate owl goal" against the USA. Perhaps the crowd was hooting at him. I shall move on.

On the whole, the book is probably worth perusing if you are new to the peculiarities of Planet Foster. If you are not, then there is frankly little to learn.

Venables is the exception that proves the rule.

Savvas Tzionis
I have the same ambivelent relationship to Fozzie. I love his passion, and the detail of his technicl insight is often fascinating, but the book reads like a religious pamphlet. At one point he actually trots out, 'if you are not with me you are against me' (last sentence, p.189). Scary really.

What I find really confusing is that whilst football is most definitely not 'soccer', for Foz, most of it isn't 'football' either, including the A-League, but 'fightball'. 'Football' is a relatively rare game invented in the 50s by the Dutch - it can only really be found on SBS early on a Wednesday or Thursday morning.
Actually thought his personal football experience from his playing days, including the Venables stuff, would have made interesting reading..if Fozzie had included it.

Thought the Venables stuff left more questions and revealed little.

Always wondered how Fozz coped with all his coaches and players during his playing days; that would have been interesting to see his awareness of the game as he sat in the Crystal Palace dressing room or wherever. But alas not an insight.

His mob at SBS could do a lot more to promote the local game, the A-League...who knows maybe that's why they are moving to Monday night...well you have ot hope don't ya! Worried about OneHD show? or actually going to talk Aussie football, A-League.
The World Game's moving to Mondays? If so, the nostalgia of watching football all Sunday afternoon aside, this is a good move really. A-league games will all be done by then, so some real analysis of the week can be done. :-)
Would love you guys to check out our new site - we've just today put up a podcast, which is worth listening to!
Anybody gives me this book, I'm using it to light up the bbq.
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