Mother Country destabilising our potential Socceroos
In the wash-up to the painful defeat in Brasilia, there's been plenty of fingers pointed at Holger Osieck. No surprise there, really.
In the wash-up to the painful defeat in Brasilia, there's been plenty of fingers pointed at Holger Osieck. No surprise there, really. The performance of the national coach in the wake of such a humiliation is a legitimate, even necessary, discussion.
But as we trawl through the wreckage, and ponder where the answers may lie, I keep coming back to a deeper, dangerous, malaise. We all want a rejuvenated, regenerated, national team, but the players who might have provided the solutions are killing us by continuing to make poor career decisions. It's a cross we're struggling to bear.
My good mate Robbie Slater believes the recent exodus to the Middle East has helped erode the quality of an ageing Socceroos team - a trend compounded by Osieck's preference to maintain the status quo. Partly, I agree.
But for me there's another destination which has has done far greater damage to the development of a group of players who may, or may not, have been able to usurp the so-called 'Golden Generation' by now. It's Great Britain - or specifically British football outside the English Premier League.
The 'Mother Country' will always be an option for Australian players who dream of playing overseas. It's been that way ever since James 'Jimmy' Jackson left Adamstown Rosebuds to play for Rangers FC in 1893. In the 120 years since there have been many peaks and troughs in this migration, but I doubt we've ever had as many players in Great Britain as we've got at the moment. Most of them have disappeared without trace.
At the last count (in July), there were 61 Australians contracted to British clubs and as we speak only one - Mile Jedinak - is playing regularly in the EPL. For reasons of culture, heritage, language and economics, British football remains an attractive option for starry-eyed Australians. But as a footballing pathway, it continues to be a dead end for too many players who, at various stages, might have developed a genuine international pedigree.
In the not-too distant past, players such as James Wesolowski, Patrick Kisnorbo, Shane Cansdell-Sherriff, Aaron Downes, Scott McDonald, Dylan McGowan, Neil Kilkenny and Alex Cisak were held up as possible members of 'Generation Next' for the Socceroos. Instead, they've become 'Generation Ex'. Now there's a push for Rhys Williams and Shane Lowry to be given a chance, but I fear they, too, are in danger of sharing the same fate.
The common denominator is that all of these players have chosen to spend their careers in either Scotland and the lower tiers of the English game. These leagues have their appeal - the weekly highlights shows of the SPL and Championship on Setanta are on my series link. The passion, the tradition, the stadiums, and the honesty of the contest make - for me at least - compulsive viewing. But as a way to develop players for the ascent to international football these competitions are a proven disaster.
Forget the Anglophiles who like to compare the Hyundai A-League with, say, England's League Two because they know. They just know. No they don't.
In a bygone era, the likes of Andrew Bernal, Shaun Murphy, Chris Coyne, Jason van Blerk, Steve Corica and Tony Popovic might have been able to get away with it. Not any more. The world game has moved way beyond the industrial physicality of the British game (outside the EPL). And the Hyundai A-League is moving with it. Just ask Graham Arnold, who recently knocked back an offer from Sheffield United once he heard the club's football director, Dave Bassett, outline his 'vision' for how the game should be played. All early balls into the channel. God help us.
And yet for all its proven faults, the British game continues to entice our emerging talents in greater numbers - mostly because it's the default position of so many of those who advise them. If making money is the objective, fair enough. If it's about improving as a footballer, different story.
Now I fear for players like Massimo Luongo, Bradden Inman, Ryan Williams, Curtis Good, Jackson Irvine and - most concerning of all - Tom Rogic. At exactly the time when we can least afford to waste potential, these players are making choices which threaten to do exactly that. I despair.
Thankfully, some are starting to see sense. In the last 12 months the likes of Reece Caira, Cameron Edwards, Corey Gameiro, Jamie Maclaren, Ryan Edwards, Aaron Mooy and Marc Warren have all returned home from the margins of the British game to test their development in the Hyundai A-League at crucial stages of their careers. If they are to play any role in rejuvenating the national team, at least they've given themselves a fighting chance.
If what happened in Brasilia is to be a catalyst for fundamental change, we can't simply focus on the merits of the coach, or those players who were part of the debacle. What we need to do is to change the way our players move overseas, and where they choose to go. British football, with a few exceptions, remains the problem rather than the solution.
Truth is, bad decisions on the field reflect bad decisions off it. Increasingly, the Socceroos are evidence of that. If we want the World Cup, and the Asian Cup, to usher in a new era - and a new way - then something has to give.
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