Holger Osieck has named his squad for the forthcoming friendly against Lebanon. Some of the names announced have been met with predictable groans.
Are the detractors justified, or is this just the inevitable sniping that occurs whenever a squad is announced?
In past times, it’s been easy to cut Osieck slack with his selections. Various responses have been offered in his defence, ranging from, “He hasn’t been in the job very long and needs to get an understanding of the players available”, to “There is not enough talent coming through to replace the old guard”.
Those justifications will not wash anymore.
Certainly one problem is the terms on which national team coaches seem to be appointed. Specifically, it feels that the focus to a very large extent is World Cup qualification.
No one disputes the importance of World Cup qualification, but a sole focus on this can cause long-term problems, which arguably we are suffering from now. We can’t just rely on the national youth teams to develop in a vacuum, they need a shove.
Mark Schwarzer (39), Lucas Neill (34), Sasa Ognenovski (33), Mark Bresciano (32) despite his Indian (Arabian?) summer, and Archie Thompson (33) all look pretty old and rusty now, and I think it’s beyond even WD40 to fix them. Add two years to them to take us to Rio and it looks pretty ugly.
Let’s be honest, on current trend, if both Vince Grella (32) and Harry Kewell (33) find clubs (it doesn’t seem to matter where, based on recent experiences with Neill and Bresciano), then it’s a safe assumption that we will see them in future squads too.
Dead rubbers versus Saudi Arabia, and friendlies against Scotland and Lebanon should not be used to help players set appearance records, provide free flights home to visit family and friends and rack up the frequent flyer points.
They should have seen the likes of Luongo, Kruse, Rukavystya, Langerak, Babalj, etc given starts and a taste of real action.
Traditionalists may say that players need to "earn" caps and the right to represent the national team.
To a certain extent, the purist in me wants to agree, but the realist in me says that if we maintain that thought pattern through to the World Cup in 2014 (should we qualify), then our involvement in that tournament could be rather abrupt.
Not to mention the problems we will face for the Asian Cup in 2015 on home soil when almost an entire squad will have retired en-masse and we will be playing an untested new squad who will not be match-hardened at international level, despite being in their mid-20s, due to lack of prior opportunity.
Of course, there is always the possibility that 2015 may see the old guard given a last hurrah, which will see Australia compete as an Over 35s “Masters” team, which would be funny if it wasn’t actually so plausible.
Rather than hand out token call-ups to glorified train-on members the coaches need to be bolder in their selections.
More kudos needs to go to the exploits of our Asian-based foreign contingent. After all, that’s where Sasa Ognenovski made his name.
The likes of Eddy Bosnar (yes, I know he said a bad thing 10 years ago, but a build a bridge!) and Robbie Cornthwaite (guess what, he’s not a gangly 22-year-old anymore!) are performing now with the same aplomb shown by Sasa at his peak in Korea in a league rated higher than ours, yet they are consistently overlooked by selectors.
We seem to pick people based on their reputation rather than actual output. McKay, North and Milligan, for example, have not exactly set their respective leagues on fire in recent times through a combination of poor form, injury and non-selection.
Square pegs in round holes is another trap that Osieck seems to have fallen into. Spiranovic as a left back? Milligan as a holding midfielder? McKay at left back?
Let’s try and be better than just falling for lazy stereotypes about the A-League boys not being good enough.
I’d respectfully suggest that if Newcastle United thinks that Curtis Good is good enough for a $500,000 transfer fee and six-year contract then Osieck could do worse than consider him for the national team.
Same goes for Eli Babalj (Red Star Belgrade). Players like Aziz Behich, Michael Marrone and Terry Antonis are good enough to have attracted interest from top European teams like Besiktas, Cagliari and Moenchengladbach respectively in recent times – call me crazy, but maybe that suggests they are of national team quality?
It’s amazing how a cap gets handed out when Aussie players sign for UK League One or German second division teams, as if somehow this magically transforms them overnight into a better player than the week before when they were mere humble A-League players.
If the recent 3-1 loss against the might of Scotland, a team ranked 46th in the world, isn’t a wake-up than nothing is. Apart from another lacklustre performance against Lebanon, that is (127th in the world, for those taking note).
The views in this article are solely those of the author and do represent those of Football Federation Australia or the Qantas Socceroos team.