Berger: Player limit is not the number that matters

The performances of the Qantas Australian Under 23s, have created some interesting public debate says FFA's National Technical Director, Han Berger.

The performances of the Australian Olympic team, the Qantas Australian Under 23s, have created some interesting public debate, not all of it related to results.

Clearly, the results tell the story. After four rounds of the Asian Olympic qualifiers our team is in a very difficult position, needing to win its final two group matches and hope other results go our way if we are to stay in the running for London.

Unfortunately, the team finds itself in this predicament because we haven-t scored a goal in four games. No goals, three draws and a loss.

The absence of European-based attacking players, such as Tommy Oar, Brent McGrath and Matthew Leckie, has affected the performances.

Because the Asian Olympic qualifiers are scheduled on non-FIFA dates, FFA had to rely on European clubs to voluntarily release the players. We didn-t get that co-operation.

This brings me to the interesting public debate. In the first instance some people criticised the decision to limit the Olyroos squad selection to three players per club from the Hyundai A-League.

In their view, the three player limit somehow devalued the national shirt and placed restrictions on the Olympic team coach Aurelio Vidmar.

First of all, the three player limit was devised for the specific situation of having two away qualifiers in Uzbekistan and UAE in the space of 17 days in February. It-s not a permanent policy.

The majority of the Hyundai A-League clubs had agreed for player welfare reasons that it was not a good idea for the players to return from Uzbekistan to Australia and then back to UAE between the matches. The result is that the players are away for three and a half weeks and miss three rounds of the Hyundai A-League.

This co-operative relationship that exists between the clubs and FFA in relation to national teams was one which we appreciated and was part of our thinking in suggesting to them the three player limit would help the affected clubs manage.

Fortunately from now on the recently introduced AFC U/22 championships (which will be a round-robin tournament) will replace the current Olympic qualification format with home and away games. This will solve many, if not all, of the current issues for both FFA and the HAL clubs.

Secondly, the three player limit was of course discussed on beforehand with Aurelio Vidmar. If there would have been only one player that he felt he absolutely needed and now could not select, we would not have done it. But this wasn-t the case. Without going into specific names, I can say this did not alter the selection of the vast majority of the squad.

On the fringes, Aurelio made certain choices to avoid the problem of one club losing four or more players for three weeks of the Hyundai A-League season. The clubs were already feeling the pinch losing three players, but there-s a long-standing precedent across football that the absence of three players from a squad is acceptable.

The selection choices were made in cases where the two players were almost identical in their performances and contribution to the squad. Therefore, the impact of the three player limit is negligible.

The other interesting commentary involved the decision to prepare in Dubai for the game against Uzbekistan in Tashkent.

The thinking was that for a game in below freezing conditions, the players should train in below freezing conditions.

That logic doesn-t quite add up when you consider that training on frozen pitches in minus 12 degrees raises the risk of injury and in any case doesn-t allow for any quality preparations (For this reason almost every German, Russian, Scandinavian and Dutch professional club organizes a training camp in the South of Europe and the Middle East in January and February!)

Furthermore, there is only a very limited number of destinations outside of the former Sovjet Union that have direct flights into Uzbekistan. We basically had the choice between Frankfurt and Dubai. Although we initially opted for Frankfurt, Aurelio Vidmar made the choice to prepare in Dubai to ensure he had the hours necessary on the training pitch to prepare his squad, who hadn-t been together since November. Given the freezing conditions on the Continent this turned out to be a good decision.

At the end of the day, the number that matters is not really the limit of three per club or whether it was 20 degrees in Dubai. It-s the number of “goals for” that is our greatest concern and we will have to accept the consequences for failing to score.

As usual in football, it-s what happens on the pitch for 90 minutes that counts.

I wish Aurelio and the boys all the best against the UAE this Wednesday.

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