Breakthrough Australia utility Ryan McGowan has made an impassioned defence of the Socceroos’ old guard, insisting it would be folly to cut them loose.
While some critics have questioned the wisdom of persisting with stalwarts like Lucas Neill, Luke Wilkshire, Sasa Ognenovski and Archie Thompson, 23-year-old McGowan is having none of it.
McGowan, who could feature at centre-back for his country in the friendly against 33rd-ranked Romania in Malaga, Spain, on Thursday morning (AEDT), said: “You can’t just chuck youngsters in all together.
“Our job is to be there and to let the more experienced boys know that if they slip up then we’ll be looking to try and take their positions,” he said.
“At the same time we learn a lot off them. We pick their brains all the time and they provide invaluable knowledge on the ins and outs of international football.
“The older boys have been there and done it over the years whereas for the younger players… our training sessions are almost like games.
“They know what it takes to get results in tough matches and one or two bad games doesn’t make them bad players or justify any calls for wholesale changes.
“They are invaluable to the squad and sometimes people are too quick to jump on them. Us younger players look up to them and have idolised them. At the World Cup I was their biggest fan and loved all of them - and now I get to train with them.
“We are all mates and all want the same thing. Of course you want to play but above all we’re also Australian fans and want the team to succeed.
“The last World Cup I was back in Adelaide watching it on TV. Hopefully at the next one in Brazil I will be there as a player.”
McGowan’s first call-up last August came as a shock – even though it was in his adopted hometown of Edinburgh.
“I had actually bought tickets to watch the game with my brother Dylan (also of Hearts),” he explained.
“So you could say it did come as a bit of a surprise. I gave my ticket to one of my mates. Since then I have been in all the squads, which is great.
“The last camp, I played the full 90 minutes against Korea and I’m more than happy to bide my time.”
McGowan’s recent switch to Chinese Super League heavyweight Shandong Luneng may have raised eyebrows with a number of clubs in England also interested in the Adelaide-born utility.
But he pointed out: “A lot of that was paper talk and speculation. There was nothing too formal from any clubs. With me being out of contract in the (northern) summer a lot of them were waiting on getting me on a free.
“But Shandong were interested and they paid a lot of money to get me there. They are a big club in Asia and I am looking forward to a new experience.
“I loved my six years at Hearts. They did a lot for me and it was a tough decision to leave – and I’d love to have been in a position where I could perhaps have stayed a couple more years.
“But Hearts, as people know, has financial problems and for the good of the club it was probably better that they got some money for me when the chance arose.
“I had a great relationship with the fans and I couldn’t ask for more from them.”
McGowan doesn’t see China as an end point in his career - far from it.
“I have a two-year contract and when it’s up I will be 25 and that’s still young enough to perhaps head back to the UK.”
The Chinese Super League, which kicks off again in March, has had its critics but McGowan has been impressed by the quality of players at his club with pre-season training in full swing.
“The league is getting stronger each year and I’ve been training with the team for a month and all the boys are fit and have good technique.
“We have plenty of internationals in the team and we are building a new $50 million training complex.
“They are sharp and quick whereas in Scotland it’s a little bit more physical. At Hearts I played everywhere across the back four but in China I think they will look to play me at centre-back.”
Though he made his debut for Australia at right back, the twice-capped McGowan has been mentioned by Holger Osieck as possible centre-back material and could get a gig alongside skipper Lucas Neill at some stage against Romania.
“I am comfortable with that and to be honest I will play anywhere for the national team,” he said. “So long as I get a game.”
The Australian football community is mourning the loss of Australia youth international Dylan Tombides, who passed away on Friday 18 April after a long battle with cancer. He was aged 20.