Saturday, July 14, 2007

Post Trauma Scribblings

First up, Australia has no meaningful chance of defeating Thailand on Monday night. We're not up to it. This is not our Asia Cup, and let's face it, if we have to beat most of Asia to get into the 2010 World Cup (we do), that's become a pipe dream as well. The Socceroos are back in the wilderness, and we have to breathe and once again look at the long term.

Defence has been our Achilles' heal, and despite the general hammering Lucas is now getting in the press, we're going to miss him on Monday, out with a red card suspension. The Thais in front of their own will be relishing this chance to take out the 'favourites', and they will unless a miracle occurs.

Before that game there was lots of armchair advice flying around about what the lineup should be and where the players should be on the field. I can't presume much about this as I'm a thousand miles further away from the players and the training than the coaches, and can't pretend to have the same sort of background knowledge of the game. My only general comment on this front is that we should have stuck with one striker.

Putting two talented players up front where they can't help with the machinery of defence and midfield possession is the sort of arrogance that Guus knew he must avoid. I think part of the cleverness of Guus was that he recognised that Australia were NOT one of the best teams in the world, and that they had to be carefully played with that in mind. The logic of one player up front is not that we only need one up there to score goals (hell, four would be great), but that we need the extra player in midfield to make sure we don't lose. You play two up front when you have a midfield and a defence full of genius, and we don't. As the cliche goes, the trick is not to win games; the trick is to not lose them. The current squad is formed up as if it is the hottest shit, and it's not. Never has been. Guus knew that I think and played accordingly.

It's the meat of the argument that Arnold is too 'chummy' with the players. Of course they think they're hot shit. That's only natural after their successes in Germany. So Viduka says he wants a partner so he can score more. From his perspective, of course! And of course there are plenty of volunteers for the job. And Arnold seems to be hypnotised into the role of 'listening' to them. Well babyface, sure you have to listen to them, but it's also your job to keep perspective of the whole operation. And their egos have nothing to do with it.

So over to the big coach question. As far as I know Arnold might have the most extraordinary understanding of the game around, he might have done all the coaching courses, learned everything Guus had to teach and be a tactical genius. I don't really think that's the case but even if it is, he lacks something that can't be taught, and I've thought this from the first time I saw him on the screen. He lacks what the Romans called gravitas, presence, charisma, sex-appeal if you like. Hell, he has a (slightly) better figure than Guus, and isn't much less pretty, but it comes from somewhere unknown. Guus, despite his figure and round small-eyed face, is sexy.

Guus has the presence that draws loyalty and respect even before he speaks. When I saw Arnold last night flitting his eyes around nervously as he gnawed on his fingernails, I had to look away. He's not a leader, and thanks to the current debacle, which is a horrible mistake for his own career through the cursus honorum of the football world as much as anything, he never will be. The players think he's a great guy and I'm sure he is. I bet he shouts them a round of drinks and listens patiently to all their gripes and troubles. But they aren't playing for him, they're playing to their own egos. That's why you need formidable gravitas - to negate the naturally inflated egos of media superstars.

So where do we go from here? A big-gun coach is an enormous expenditure for the FFA and if we're not contending for a World Cup place for at least another four years (via the next Asia Cup), I can't see the point. The real work to build Australia's soccer prowess goes on, at junior club level, in the A-League, in schools and grass-roots training programs, and in our own senior leagues, men and women, young and old. This is the stuff building for the long-term a culture of soccer - a culture where the Mums and Dads on the sidelines actually understand the game enough not to shout out 'go yourself Johnny', or 'big kick Dorothy', a culture which produces talent constantly and organically, and does not rely on new immigrant enthusiasm or European tours to provide the genius. We are all part of this long-term effort and must not lose sight of it. For it is a long-term effort, and I was as guilty as anyone of believing for a magic instant that maybe it wasn't.

Sure, replace the coach, but give another Aussie a go. He probably won't be brilliant, but let's not assume that. Hell, give Ernie Merrick a go. He might show us some goods, and it will also contribute to building Australian coaching in the long term, which is as necessary as building players. Don't put too much pressure on him I reckon. Work with twelve month contracts, and maintain a critical but supportive eye. If and when the team, as it did under Farina, again get to the point where it looks like they have the players and the spirit to go for the big time, fork out the money for a big-gun then.

I woke up this morning at 4 am from a mild nightmare. Jacob woke from his sleep next to me. We had watched the game from under the doonah on a stream on my computer and the last I heard from him, just before the third goal, was, "wake me up if they start playing good football." So at 4 he went into his own bed and I got up and surfed around the media about that game. And these are my thoughts.




Blogger Neil said...

Excellent peace of writing and much more coherent than my own about the game, which wasn't probably helped by the fact that I wrote it when I got home after the game and under the influence of a few beverages. Let's hope they put in a more spirited effort in the final game.

July 14, 2007 9:03 am  
Anonymous Wes said...

Some very interesting thoughts there Hamish but I like the fact that you are already looking at the 2010 World Cup qualification. That may not be as easy as many people thought unless we are able to come up with a team that is capable of playing at least some good football.

July 14, 2007 8:39 pm  
Blogger Pulento said...

well, that's a bit too negative mate. I just dreamed we won 4, yes 4 - nil! So don't wake me up!

hey! WTF! not dreaming? YESSSSSS! I was awake!

oh, miracles do happen ;-)

We might need another one to make it past Japan. But at least it is the one team we might know in Asia and probably the one we have historically played the most against.That and the big WC win last year should gives us a little psychological edge... let's hope!

July 17, 2007 1:58 pm  
Blogger john said...

it was the later start 8pm as opposed to 5.20pm

July 19, 2007 6:20 pm  
Blogger Rio said...

Australia gave a good run with the offensive strategy.
Look at the bright side, you guys are on the same boat with us (Argentine, Dutch, scandinavians...) now, maybe we can all be crying buddies next WC :D

July 30, 2007 7:52 am  

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