Archie Thompson made a couple of statements for the Socceroos’ so called “old guard” in the nail-biting World Cup qualifier against Iraq: one with his 84th minute winning goal and the other with a post-match spray meant to defend his ageing team-mates.
“Who keeps telling me I shouldn't be in the Socceroos? Who keeps telling all us old boys we shouldn't be part of the Socceroos?,” he inquired.
Sure. But Archie may have also pondered at the wonderful pass that set up his goal, provided by Tommy Oar who, at 20, is 14 years his junior.
I loved Archie’s wonderful header, so perfectly placed beyond the Iraqi keeper. But I loved Oar’s sweetly timed and weighted curling chip that preceded it even more. Why? Because Tommy Oar is the team’s future and it is he who gives us hope.
I don’t quibble with the notion that if a player is good enough he is young enough. What Del Piero is doing at 37 is the testament which most immediately comes to mind.
But that also works in reverse. Maybe Tommy Oar is good enough and therefore old enough. Maybe some others of Oar’s generation are, too, if only they were given the chance. We surely won’t and cannot know until they are.
There is a doctrine being widely adhered to that Australia’s international strength has declined because the country’s best young players no longer play in Europe’s most elite and most competitive leagues.
It’s a fair argument. But it does not mean that the international careers of these players must be put on hold until they break into the first teams of Liverpool, Bayern Munich or AC Milan.
They are the best we have in that generation, wherever they happen to play and whether we would wish it to be otherwise or not. Like my old dad used to say every time I complained about the dinner that was put in front of me: “That’s what you’re having, son, and that’s what you’re going to have to like.”
We simply have to invest in the best youth we have and not keep wishing we had what we don’t have.
In any case, why the resistance to introduce youth when the older guys are no longer playing in the top leagues either? Are the leagues of the Gulf States good quality competitions? Is the MLS? Are they better than the second tier European leagues, where many of the younger boys are playing?
I doubt it. I doubt, come to think of it, if they’re better than the A-League. Only the money is.
Indeed I would like to have someone explain to me why only two players from the A-League – Thompson and Mark Milligan – are deemed fit to be in the Australia squad. Surely there could be more.
It may have been true - back in Pim Verbeek’s day - that a Bundesliga training session was more beneficial to a player than playing in the A-League. But the League has come a long way since then, technically and tactically.
And competitively. Our young players in the A-League are now playing in front of large, boisterous, noisy crowds and under serious pressure. They are mostly coached by well accredited young coaches who are trying to play a modern way and instil in them modern philosophies.
When it comes to this, the Matt McKay story is educational. When he became the standard-bearer of Brisbane Roar’s glorious championship run in 2010-2011, he was finally given a chance, at 28, by Holger Osieck. He has been there ever since, often as Australia’s best player.
So why weren’t others given the same chance? Did Erik Paartalu not deserve a look in? Or Mitch Nicholls? And why is Shane Stefanutto, once a Socceroos player, now less of a left back than David Carney, who can’t get a club run in Uzbekistan?
There may be perfect explanations for this, to which I am not privy and all of which are carried around by Holger in his head.
But you get my drift. The A-League is no longer inferior to many of the leagues from which the national coach plucks his players. It is, in fact, a good league in which young players are getting their grooming and in which it is not easy for young players to succeed.
After the 2010 World Cup, there were calls from some in the media, including me, that the rebuilding process for the national team should begin there and then. It didn’t. It still hasn’t.
Following the Asian Cup in early 2011, when the need to win was preferred over the need to rebuild, we were told by FFA technical director Han Berger that he and Osieck would fast track the younger players so they would be ready for Brazil 2014 as competitive players.
There has been no fast-tracking. The challenge to experiment and blood the young men, even in friendlies, has been squibbed in the interests of short-term results. Only two of the young generation, Matthew Spiranovic and Robbie Kruse, have been given regular opportunities in the 17 games played since the Asian Cup.
That is not even fast tracking, much less rebuilding.
The old, reliable Aussie spirit and attitude once again got the Socceroos over the line against Iraq and it’s now a safe bet that the team will qualify and be in Brazil in 20 months’ time.
But I fear that unless the rebuilding begins, and begins fast, the Green and Gold Army won’t be dancing on the sands of Rio.
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Fondly known as 'Mr Football', Les has been directly involved in all
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Considered one of Australia's most gifted players, Ned Zelic represented the Socceroos 34 times over a decorated career that spanned Europe, Asia and the United Kingdom. Follow @NedZelic on Twitter.
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