Congratulations to Ange Postecoglou and the Socceroos on qualifying for their fourth consecutive FIFA World Cup. No mean achievement by a non-traditional footballing nation.
However it was not plain sailing, and the team and coach had to do it the hard way through two play off games. Which proves that World Cup qualification is never guaranteed. Ask the Dutch and the Italians who will not be travelling to Russia 2018.
Postecoglou copped plenty of criticism along the way, some warranted some not, so too did the players.
Hopefully when the euphoria of qualification dies down people will think back to the qualification campaign of four years ago and pay Postecoglou’s predecessor Holger Osciek a little bit more respect for what he achieved. As he too achieved qualification with a talent pool of players limited in terms of international experience.
Also hopefully qualification will not see the Football Federation of Australia and fans around the country paper over the glaring cracks that have been appearing for the past eight years. Hopefully the FFA will carry out a complete review of its development programs immediately, and accept that the current ones are failing the game and the players as a whole. This is essential to the game going forward apart from being good business practice.
If we look at last night’s game as a whole the standard was very poor. It took two penalties and a wickedly deflected free kick to beat Honduras. Apart from those goals opportunities were few and far between.
Was this game a great advert for the game as a whole? Will it live long in the memory? To non-football fans, apart from the fact that World Cup qualification was on the line there was nothing that would make you queue up for a ticket to the Socceroos next game, or rush out and buy a membership to an A-League club.
In truth the quality of the football served up confirmed two things. The first that FIFA should reverse its decision to expand the World Cup Finals to 48 teams. The second is we should abandon the Confederation qualification process and open it up to global pools to ensure that come the World Cup Finals the sport has the best 32 teams competing.
Asia now has five teams heading to Russia. Let us hope they perform better than they did in Brazil 2014. In Brazil, none of the Asian representatives won a game. South Korea, Japan and Iran all managed a draw and two losses while Australia lost all three games. Australia conceded an average of three goals a game, South Korea and Japan averaged conceding two goals a game.
The biggest issue to come out of the qualification process is the lack of genuine international talent amongst the Australian squad. If you look back on the qualifying campaign not only was the squad reliant on the experience of 33 year old Mile Jedinak and 37 year old Tim Cahill, but they were heavily reliant on their goalscoring too. Out of the 51 goals scored by Australia on the road to Russia, Jedinak scored 10 and Cahill 11; Crediting Jedinak with a hat-trick last night. Almost fifty percent of their goals came from the two oldest players!
If we look at the contribution of the young guns, the players who are billed as the next big names in Australian football, Aaron Mooy a midfielder contributed two goals, another midfielder Tom Rogic contributed six goals and was the third highest scorer. Tommy Juric scored five goals, Matthew Leckie four and Robbie Kruse one.
From where the game was 11 years ago to where it is now there can be no disputing the quality of player available to the coaching staff has declined. Something that Pim Verbeek warned was the case when he was national coach leading up to South Africa 2010, and was crucified for it by some sections of the media, but he was right.
The Centre of Excellence at the Australian Institute of Sport has been shut down. A finishing school that was hugely successful until the reins were handed over to the imported coaches from the Netherlands who set about restructuring it. Since then the number of players coming through the system and carving out a career in professional football markedly decreased.
Ironic isn’t it that Australia went to the Dutch for help after the success of Guus Hiddink, yet they have failed to qualify for Russia and also failed to qualify for the Euros in 2016.
Now the FFA want to handball development onto the A-League clubs, which are privately owned clubs. Is this really the way to go?
As the system in Europe has shown, having academies aligned to big clubs that are full of the evils that have held back the game such as greed and opportunism is a dangerous path to take. These academies stockpile talent simply for commercial gain, not for the good of the game.
The FFA have forced the clubs below the A-League in the state league and NPL competitions to have junior teams in order to be a part of the competition, but are these teams at all clubs structured properly, coached by coaches that will develop the next generation of Socceroo, or are they simply a means to an end? Are they there to tick a box so the first team can continue to compete at the highest level? Or simply as a new revenue stream? As we asked previously are we now not seeing the best payers playing rather than the best players? (Are the Best Payers Replacing the Best Players)
The development of players needs to be rethought and restructured if Australia is to compete in Qatar in 2022. If it is not then it may be a while before we as a nation celebrate another World Cup Qualification. The writing is on the wall and it is writ clear for all to see. The question is will those in positions of influence read it and acknowledge that change needs to happen, and quickly.