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Development a new fork in the road for Australian talent

socceroos_oldsquadAustralian football now stands on the precipice of one of its most pivotal decisions in recent years, as our Socceroos take on the world at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

I write this as a squad of predominantly A-League players prepares to take on the might of the Netherlands in a do-or-die clash in Group B on Thursday morning.

But, remarkably, this will not affect many of the first team who are taking to field in Porto Alegre, but rather those who may step out in St. Petersburg or Moscow in four years time.

And that’s assuming we qualify.

So why am I taking such a negative stance, and challenging the calibre of our newest bunch of national heroes?

During the Hans Berger era, there was optimism that perhaps, after a golden generation of players including stars such as Viduka, Kewell, Neill and Cahill, we could continue going from strength-to-strength under a strong Dutch influence.

Arguably, though, there has been a lack of guidance and direction from a national team level, as our brightest prospects have left the breeding grounds of European leagues for the “Socceroo graveyard” of the oil-laden dollars on show in the Middle East.

Our most successful players have always came through the quality youth setups in England, Scotland, Germany and Holland, and to a lesser extent through Belgium, Switzerland and France.

Yet, in the last three years, we’ve seen World Cup regulars drop off the Socceroos radar after swapping out development leagues for clubs in Qatar and the UAE, for example.

Perhaps the most glaring example is Brett Holman, who at 30 years of age should be well in his prime as a footballer. After a dazzling 2010 World Cup where he showed himself to the world, he has gone from the heights of AZ Alkmaar and Aston Villa, to the UAE’s Al-Nasr.

Then, after becoming a missing name once again for the national side, the attacking midfielder finally called it quits for the Socceroos on the 30th of April this year.

David Carney, Harry Kewell and Lucas Neill are also amongst that group of key players from the 2010 campaign who, after heading to leagues in the Middle East, have found themselves excluded from the 2014 World Cup squad. Mark Bresciano is the one in that group, however, who has survived to fight another day in the green and gold.

Many people will say that the record amount of A-League players in the 2014 squad is a testament to current coach Ange Postecoglou, and his vision for the future of the national side.

But this vision needs to include a re-cultivation of the pathways that led to our first “golden generation”.

Whilst it’s great that players such as Matthew Spiranovic are re-signing for Western Sydney, one can only hope in the next few years he’ll get a call from a big club in one of the key development leagues.

One of the decisions that much-maligned coach Pim Verbeek made was to denounce Asian-based players, with the exception of Josh Kennedy, for those playing regular football in Europe.

Whilst it led to a lack of development of youth at the national level, it was a cornerstone for a successful side that was narrowly eliminated in the group stages of the 2010 Cup, even despite a lacklustre 4-0 loss to Germany in the opening game.

So, with the rest of Asia growing in stature, and Australia at it’s lowest world ranking since Gus Hiddink took over in 2006, we stand at a crossroads if we want to be heading to Russia in four years time.

But the moves need to be made now.

Photo Credit: Patrick Keogh

About the author

avatarKris is a freelance sports journalist, a two-time WA media guild award winner, and podcast host and writer for Ultimate A-League.

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  • William

    Ange has done better than expected with the team in such a short time. We can already see improvement in the way we play. Give it time and the Asian cup is ours. Keep up the good work ange