Are the Socceroos becoming a one man team? How strong is their reliance on Tim Cahill to pull them out of games? How long can he keep doing this?
There is no doubt that Australia’s performance against Oman yesterday was well below what many expected. Yet was the performance a total surprise? Australia may have players playing in overseas leagues but how many of them are actually playing week-in-week-out in the top leagues of the world? Our lowest number in 15 years, is the answer. So a performance like the one we witnessed is to be expected. Leagues in Korea and the UAE are not a match on those in Germany, Holland, France or England, even if they are better than the A League.
Australia is currently relying on the likes of Mark Schwarzer to keep the goals out at the age of 40, and he is still playing at the top, and Tim Cahill to score them. The latter is on the way down in terms of his career, having to move to America because his ankle injury could not sustain the rigours of so many matches in the EPL. In between they look to a Captain in defence in Lucas Neill who has sadly found that age has caught up with him and Marco Bresciano in midfield is supposed to still supply the inspiration, yet he too finds himself coming to the end of his career plying his trade in the Qatari league.
Based on these facts, and that around this crumbling spine you have a number of players only playing sporadically for their clubs in Europe is it really any wonder that the team played so poorly?
We heard various excuses trotted out by the commentary team, who spend so much time pumping up Australian football, that even they found it hard to actually find a positive in such a performance. It was incredible to hear ‘the heat and humidity of Sydney’ used as a reason for their lacklustre display. The players had been in Sydney for a week!
Apart from maybe reducing the number of media commitments they attended and using that time to get them to practice together, Australia should take a good hard look at the development that has taken place in the past eight to ten years, especially at our showpiece development establishment the AIS. Quite simply the development of talent and preparing them to compete at the top level has fallen well short of the standards set when the likes of the aforementioned players were coming through, along with Kewell, Viduka, Grella, Popovic, Moore, and the list could go on.
What is also interesting is to look at is how this ‘Golden Age of Australian football’ developed. Apart from starting at the AIS and having a good grounding very few started their overseas careers with top flight clubs, even if they managed to end up at them. Tim Cahill started at outside-the-Premier League Millwall, before signing for Everton. Lucas Neill also started at Millwall before moving to Blackburn Rovers. Mark Schwarzer started at Dynamo Dresden and Kaiserslautern in Germany before moving to Bradford City and then breaking into the Premier League. These are just a few examples of players happy to play in a lower league, prove their worth and work their way up. Ask any of them and they will tell you that the game-time they played at these clubs helped prepare them for life at the top level. Signing for a big club as a youngster often means very little senior football being played, and the more you play the more you learn and the better you become. Australia has a number of players signing for top clubs but how many of them have broken through into the first team? How many of them move on within a year? Some are loaned out and as their clubs realise gain valuable experience at a lower league club, those not loaned out and not in the first team squad rarely make the breakthrough. So does a young player signing for a big name club really help the national team?
Holger Osciek came into the role as head coach at an extremely unenviable time, with the national team going through a transitional period, some players simply are not ready for international football at this point in time, they have not played enough, learned enough or matured enough as players, this takes time. If he manages to get Australia to qualify for the World Cup in Brazil next year ask yourselves how many of these players are honestly ready to match it with the greatest players in the world? If Australia qualifies, and everyone connected with football hopes they do, this current crop of players are going to have to grow up very fast as quite simply they are a long way off the pace at the moment. This is not Holger Osciek’s fault, you cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but it is the fault of those charged with developing players at the highest level in Australia over the past eight to ten years. Hopefully is being looked at now and has been improved for the next crop of players coming through. Hopefully lessons have been learned.