Where in the world are all of Australia’s strikers?

Evan Morgan Grahame Columnist

By Evan Morgan Grahame, Evan Morgan Grahame is a Roar Expert

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    The latest Socceroos squad was released a few days go, and at first glance had as much striking power as cash-in-hand welder traversing down a half-built Emirati stadium.

    Tomi Juric and Tim Cahill are the only recognised strikers in the squad; Cahill is 36, and Juric has scored four international goals since 2013.

    The present dearth has hardly crept up on us, and yet has nonetheless prompted misty-eyed trips down memory lane, through the pleasant sunset bridleways of Viduka, the slightly unkempt towpaths of Aloisi, and the scraggy back-alleys of Zdrilic.

    So, before we all get lost in endless YouTube remixes of that penalty, or a young, rotund Dukes at Leeds, it might be useful to actually have a look at where all of Australia’s apparently absent strikers are playing in the world.

    The conveyor belt that has delivered such paltry goods over the last ten years isn’t as empty as you think, it’s just so many products on it are out of sight and, thus, out of mind.

    Let’s start with some of the more well known names:

    Apostolos Giannou, the subject of a now-seemingly abandoned national team experiment, is in China, at Guangzhou R&F. Having played consistently at Asteras Tripoli in the Greek Super League last season, Giannou has been excluded from the Guangzhou squad for the first two games of the new CSL season.

    Nathan Burns is in the J-League, with Tokyo, as has been since July 2015. He has not been in the squad so far this season, which is only three games in, and only rarely played the full 90 minutes for Tokyo last season. He is 28, and has 3 goals in 24 appearances for the national team. He has been fairly useful as an impact substitute recently, although not enough to earn a call up for the next round of qualifiers.

    Nathan Burns Australia Football Socceroos 2016

    Bruce Djite is with Suwon FC, in the Korean second division, the K-League Challenge. His team is one game into the 2017 season, and he, alongside countryman Adrian Leijer, are hoping to secure promotion back to the top division. He has made nine appearances for the national team, but his last appearance came in 2010; it’s extremely unlikely he’ll earn a tenth.

    And then, for old time’s sake, Scott McDonald, 33 years young, is still playing and scoring in Scotland. He has seven goals and five assists in the Scottish Premier League for Motherwell, and has started all but one of their 26 fixtures so far this season. He averaged roughly a goal every three games for the Northern Lanarkshire club when he played for them between 2003 and 2007, and has now been shepherding the leather into the net at a higher strike rate for them for the past three seasons. Having scored 185 goals over 550 club appearances, in Scotland and England, McDonald has never scored for his country, in 24 caps.

    But what about some youngsters, yes, that’s the sort of spirit-bolstering stuff we need to hear about right now. A whole platoon of them, standing tall and playing well, I imagine, rows of young, sinewy Aussie lads, waiting in the wings? No, not yet, let’s get some of the weirder leagues out of the way:

    Having previously been involved in the Nottingham Forest and Swansea youth set-ups, 21 year old striker James Dimitriou is now employed by Cypriot club Karmiotissa. Karmiotissa are tenth in the Cyrpus First Division, and Dimitriou has appeared just once for them, 26 games into the season.

    After being released from Melbourne City in January last year, David Williams can now be found playing in Hungary, for Szombathelyi Haladás, who are sixth in the league. He is doing very handsomely over there, and scored a brace in his last match to take his goal tally to six for the season, garnished with two assists.

    Originally a Perth product, and one who played for the Glory before moving to FC Twente in 2009, Nikita Rukavitsya has since bounced around the Dutch and German leagues, briefly stopped over in Western Sydney, and is now playing in the Israeli first division. His Maccabi Haifa team are sixth, and he has made ten league appearances for them this season, although none since December last year.

    Alright, now we get to the good stuff, the real up-and-comers. There are more than you might think, but here are just a few, all keen youngsters well-placed in handsome teams around Europe:

    Ben Folami, born in 1999, is currently in the Ipswich Town youth set-up, and is going along nicely. He has scored 9 goals in 13 youth appearances this season, including a brace against Colchester United’s U18s. Born in New South Wales, Folami is quickly making a name for himself in Suffolk.

    Stefan Valentini is currently slogging away in the fourth tier of German football, in the reserve side of second-division outfit Eintracht Braunschweig. He has played in all but four of his team’s 25 fixtures this season, and has scored twice. Born in Perth, and having appeared for the Glory in the FFA Cup in, Valentini won the 2015 Dylan Tombides Young Player of the Year Award at the end of the 2015 NPL season.

    Although more of a left winger than a striker, Reno Piscopo, an 18 year old Melbourne native, moved from the Inter Milan youth set-up to Torino’s youth team in January this year. He is yet to score for his new team, in the Primavera Girone B – the Italian youth league – but has been rewarded with significantly more game time, starting all of Torino’s youth matches since arriving. The Italian leagues are a superb nursery for attackers, playing as they must at a slower pace against extremely well-drilled defences.

    Nykodah Smith is in Brazil with Botafogo, Mitchell Duke is in Japan with Shimizu S-Pulse, we even have a striker, Richard Porta, born in Fairfield Hospital, who was spirited away to Uruguay at age 1, and now plays for Montevideo’s River Plate.

    There are Australian strikers out there; probably not better than Juric or Cahill, but they’re there, young and old, playing in locales both exotic and mundane, all trying to kick a ball into a net. What’s the point of all this research? Well, it’s a split round, innit?

    Evan Morgan Grahame
    Evan Morgan Grahame

    Evan Morgan Grahame is a Melbourne-based journalist. Gleaning what he could from his brief career as a painter, the canvas of the football pitch is now his subject of contemplation, with the beautiful game sketching new, intriguing compositions every week. He has been one of The Roar's Expert columnists since 2016. Follow him on Twitter @Evan_M_G.

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    The Crowd Says (66)

    • March 18th 2017 @ 5:28am
      Lesterlike said | March 18th 2017 @ 5:28am | ! Report

      What do you expect when he majority of our football community are locked out indefinitely from the top tier? A top tier which only has 9 Australian clubs and half of those don’t even have academies, whilst the second tier has over 92 clubs rotting away in state leagues at the same level instead of combining the talent into a united second division.

      Our pathways are broken and the FFA have only themselves blame for chasing Mainstream relevance through non-football ideas and structures rather than focus on building a proper football pyramid and development system

      • March 18th 2017 @ 7:43am
        Paul said | March 18th 2017 @ 7:43am | ! Report

        The FFA treat the A league as (a) a revenue generator for themselves and (b) a development comp for overseas leagues. It’s no wonder the owners are furious

        • March 18th 2017 @ 9:18am
          Fadida said | March 18th 2017 @ 9:18am | ! Report

          And here we go again, bitter NSL fans blaming FFA for every ill in the world

          Does anyone honestly believe we lack top quality strikers because we have an NPL, not a second division?

          • March 18th 2017 @ 9:44am
            KP said | March 18th 2017 @ 9:44am | ! Report

            Lulz.

            Midfielder pointed out in another post a couple days back – the death of NSL and then the start of the A-League with its slow implementation of youth teams has created this dearth of elite juniors. The guys that were 12-15YO’s back then would be in their mid 20’s now and would have been at the top of their game. The pathway wasn’t there and hence its a little sparse at the moment. For all the whinging about the poor development of our juniors the pathways are developing and technically they’re the best we’ve had in a couple of decades. It’s just that the rest of the world is doing the same…

            • March 19th 2017 @ 5:04pm
              j binnie said | March 19th 2017 @ 5:04pm | ! Report

              KP – It may come as a surprise to you but there was a system in place when the so called Golden Generation were playing their junior football. Using your math we can calculate that in 2006 the GG were coming on in age, say the high average of 28, and that takes us back to early 1984 when there was a system in place that was aimed at coaching coaches all around the country. Part of that system was to encourage coaches to use small sided games played on small pitches by small teams thus accelerating the learning of kids at the age of 6.
              (Yes I am talking about a time frame some 20 years before our National Curriculum was written up and “introduced” to us ,.using the same basic principles that I have spelled out.
              It was lack of funds,and foresight on the part of administrators all around the country that allowed that “plan” to wither on the vine ,but not before it was in vogue in many parts of the country.
              I have a photograph of myself with my eight young charges, taken at a game that was played in 2004 when the “new ” curriculum was only a “supposed” idea being sold to the FFA by the man who wrote it, Rob Baan , who started working for the FFA in 2007.!!!!!!!
              The times just do not gell. Cheers jb.,

          • March 19th 2017 @ 3:17am
            Lesterlike said | March 19th 2017 @ 3:17am | ! Report

            Never was around for NSL so hardly a bitter but it only takes someone not firmly a lowyfile to see that it’s development pathways were far better than what Australia has now

            • March 19th 2017 @ 9:19am
              j binnie said | March 19th 2017 @ 9:19am | ! Report

              Lesterlike – Offhand I can name at least 15 players who played for Australia in “striking” roles and mostly played their early football in the NSL.
              Probably the best known today would be John Kosmina who made 60 appearances for his country while playing with NSL clubs. Cheers jb.

      • March 18th 2017 @ 8:09pm
        Euromob said | March 18th 2017 @ 8:09pm | ! Report

        You’re right. What can we expect when the FFA is governed by men who have absolutely no clue about Football whatsoever. There are literally THOUSANDS of AVAILABLE Europeans who could run the FFA much better than the current mob does. Even South American and Asian businessmen with strong Football background and passion would do a MUCH better job.

      • March 19th 2017 @ 8:29am
        j binnie said | March 19th 2017 @ 8:29am | ! Report

        Lesterlike- you use an interesting analogy there talking about a “pyramid”.
        A pyramid has an eternal shape having a broad base to support the ever increasing problems in reaching towards it’s peak,where, after a long time frame, the projected height foreseen by the builders is reached. By then only the toughest,strongest “labourers ” have managed to “stay the course” and witness the finished article.
        You have likened that task to the HAL and how it is run but in doing so you have moved away from that original thought as to where and when does the pyramid attain it’s highest point.
        Is it the World Cup final,is it the Continental champions final,is it the European or Asian or South American championship.or is it winning the HAL trophy at Grand Final time.????.level after level after level.
        Do you get my point. The top of the pyramid is where the “elite” live and perform,and there are many levels that have to be worked on and beaten in order to advance to that next level.
        How can a kid playing in a back court somewhere in Australia attain the top of the pyramid, or should the question be can an Australian kid ever attain that top level?
        There is ample evidence that birth place has nothing to do with creating what is termed an elite player.
        But one thing is for sure,to attain a promotion to the next level there are,just like in pyramid building,endless hours of hard work and practice required to attain the top of the pyramid. Cheers jb.
        .

    • March 18th 2017 @ 7:27am
      Waz said | March 18th 2017 @ 7:27am | ! Report

      Could have doubled that list with Australian based strikers. I’m not sure we’re struggling for goal scorers at NT level as much as our style has become predictable and easier to defend against?

      • March 18th 2017 @ 9:23am
        Fadida said | March 18th 2017 @ 9:23am | ! Report

        Agree Waz. As a team we are not creating enough chances, which goes back to the lack of quality of the final ball of messrs Kruse and Leckie.

        Also very surprised the article ignores McLaren and Taggart, while featuring randoms from small lower leagues.

        I’d also strongly argue that Burns isn’t a striker but a wide attacker/attacking midfielder

      • Columnist

        March 18th 2017 @ 10:09am
        Evan Morgan Grahame said | March 18th 2017 @ 10:09am | ! Report

        Ah, yes, well the article was meant to be a specific look at the strikers working out of view overseas. The A-League’s established Aussie strikers – Maclaren and Taggart – as well as the younger ones like Scott at WSW would certainly be on an Australia-based list.

        • March 18th 2017 @ 10:17am
          Waz said | March 18th 2017 @ 10:17am | ! Report

          I guessed you were looking at the overseas list. Some interesting locations there and can’t help thinking some of our players need better help planning their career moves.

        • March 22nd 2017 @ 1:50am
          Arto said | March 22nd 2017 @ 1:50am | ! Report

          Brosque?? (9 goals & 4 assists in 22 games – 19 starts)
          Yes, he’s old, but he’s in career-best form and has played at international level before. IMO, he’s a reasonable alternative to out-of-season players like Kruse & Burns who have a fair bit to prove atm… Leckie too, although he’s been playing a fair bit this season for Ingolstadt (although far from a first XI striker for them) so his place in the squad is probably justified.

          Other honourable mentions from the A-league apart from McLaren & Taggart are Santalab (11 goals in 18 games – only 9 starts) and Nabbout (8 goals in 20 games – 19 starts)…

      • March 18th 2017 @ 12:19pm
        marcel said | March 18th 2017 @ 12:19pm | ! Report

        Yep…Possession for its own sake = the opposition having 11 men behind the ball after we’ve made 4 meaningless passes amongst our backline.

        • March 18th 2017 @ 2:32pm
          Lionheart said | March 18th 2017 @ 2:32pm | ! Report

          are you watching the NT or Roar?

    • March 18th 2017 @ 7:43am
      Paul said | March 18th 2017 @ 7:43am | ! Report

      Too many leave the A League too soon in search of money.

      • March 18th 2017 @ 7:55am
        jamesb said | March 18th 2017 @ 7:55am | ! Report

        Kwame Yeboah is an example. Only played a few games for the Roar and then he jetted off overseas never to be seen again.

        He may come back to the A League one day to “revitalize his career”,but he did leave the A League prematurely.

        • March 18th 2017 @ 8:18am
          Waz said | March 18th 2017 @ 8:18am | ! Report

          Great example. And one of many like him sadly – often encouraged by the “golden generation” who think the only path to success starts in Europe.

          • March 18th 2017 @ 9:26am
            Fadida said | March 18th 2017 @ 9:26am | ! Report

            Encouraged to go and criticised for lack of ambition if they don’t.

            The GG need to remember that there is a good quality, functional league that players can develop in here. Unlike in “their day”.

            Adam Taggart is a classic case of leaving too soon. It has taken him 2 years to get back to where he was. 2 wasted years.

            • March 18th 2017 @ 10:25am
              Caltex & SBS support Australian Football said | March 18th 2017 @ 10:25am | ! Report

              To be fair Taggart suffered a long term injury when he played o/s which disrupted his progress. He had to come back to re-establish himself and now is looking great.

            • Roar Rookie

              March 18th 2017 @ 10:39pm
              The Phantom Commissioner said | March 18th 2017 @ 10:39pm | ! Report

              I agree Taggart probably should have stayed another season but yes he did have horrid luck with injury…and btw i have been told by some people who know him Fulham were playing him in the reserves with niggles prolonging his injuries….also the manager who brought him in was sacked so that didn’t help. I think what is positive for us fans is how quickly he’s been able to pick up where he left off before he left.

              On Taggart as a striker he’s really got alot going for him. He’s great in the box with his movement/finishing, surprisingly good in the air with some tidy headers this season, he’s good with his back to goal and can bring in other players and can hit them from distance as well. He’s got some tidy players around him now but remember he still knocked in 16 goals with Newcastle when the service wasn’t so hot, so he can make his own chances. I still believe he’s got a couple of gears to step up even this season he really didn’t start playing 90mins regularly till around rnd 13-14 or so.

        • March 18th 2017 @ 2:36pm
          Lionheart said | March 18th 2017 @ 2:36pm | ! Report

          yes, but Kwame was signed to a youth contract in Germany wasn’t he? His move was all about development so Ithought it was a smart move at the time. But I think he’s still in that youth squad U23, hasn’t developed or at least hasn’t progressed.

    • Roar Pro

      March 18th 2017 @ 8:13am
      The Doc said | March 18th 2017 @ 8:13am | ! Report

      well researched article. Based on your article, there is clearly dearth of quality strikers playing abroad that could fill the socceroos striking lineup. Might be worth looking internally at the A-league at the likes of McLaren or Taggart to fill the spot in the socceroos line up. They are young, still have lots of potential, have good records at club level this season and are playing regularly.
      We can lament the lack of strikers currently but everything tends to go in phases. There will be good times and bad times – unfortunately we are in the midst of a difficult time finding strikers. The bigger question is whether this is cyclical or are the player training pathways hindering the progress and development of our future stars. I don’t have enough understanding to comment and will leave it to the heavyweights to argue that one out.

      • March 18th 2017 @ 9:30am
        Fadida said | March 18th 2017 @ 9:30am | ! Report

        Excellent post Doc.

        We also need to remember France won the WC without a decent striker.

        If the rest of our game is up to standard we’ll score enough goals. The problem has been creating chances, and for that we need to look at the performances of Jedinak, Kruse, Leckie, Rogic and the choice of fullbacks. McGowan at FB will not create 2v1’s or scoring opportunities.

        • March 22nd 2017 @ 2:01am
          Arto said | March 22nd 2017 @ 2:01am | ! Report

          Spot on, Fadida – we’re certainly missing Rogic’s creativity at present and we need to be able to have more than one route to goal – currently it relies on fast attacks down the flanks to cross in to a good ‘headerer’ of the ball (eg: Cahill).

          Someone who can either dribble past a couple of players to open up space or deliver a defence-splitting pass for quick forwards to run on to is not something you associate with us at present. That also becomes even more difficult when teams sit back against us. In both these scenarios we have the pace, just not the execution at present to creat clear-cut chances (although Mooy is really starting to come on in leaps and bounds in this regard).

          That’s why McLaren could potentially be an excellent striker for us if we were able to play him in behind teams – his conversion rate is pretty good, IMO. In the meantime, we need to try to develop the high-pressing play from the ‘gegenpress’ school and dare I say it, my A-League team SFC (obviously to a much better NT standard) so that we can create the space for our AMs to exploit – although Ange is limited in how much better fitness than the opposition he can attain given he’s only with the squad for short periods at a time.

      • March 18th 2017 @ 10:28am
        Caltex & SBS support Australian Football said | March 18th 2017 @ 10:28am | ! Report

        I can see McLaren and Taggart, playing alongside each other in a 442 system for the national team. If only, both, can take their football to the next level.

    • March 18th 2017 @ 8:35am
      j binnie said | March 18th 2017 @ 8:35am | ! Report

      There is a hidden question in this article the answer to which can be sourced in Jonathon Wilson’s excellent read “Inverting the Pyramid” a book dedicated to following the development of tactics over the years, from the all out ,score more than your opponent 2-3-5 configuration, to the “best way to get a reward” idea,that is to stop your opponent from scoring and thus retaining 1 point at games end.
      This idea can actually be traced back to the 1920’s but has taken the remaining 100 years to develop into what we have today.
      And what is it “we “have today.”. World class strikers are costing fees which could fund our HAL from season’s start to finish.
      Another thing to consider is that in the last 4 or 5 years the goals per game average in the HAL has not risen above 3 per game played. One may think this is low but in the same time frame the EPL and Bundelige have experienced exactly the same average. 3 goals per game.
      So what do those figures tell us ? It does tell us that the influence of tactics in the game have moved us away from high scoring and it could be argued that the “striker” as we used to know him ,is gradually being priced, or forced,(pick what you will) out of the game.
      Will that happen? Who knows but whether it makes much difference in that goals scored per game remains to be seen. Cheers jb..

      • March 18th 2017 @ 9:01am
        Paul said | March 18th 2017 @ 9:01am | ! Report

        A team still needs a striker whether it’s an average of three goals a game or two. I would say some of the best strikers have come out of leagues with a low goals per game ratio like Italy

      • March 18th 2017 @ 9:09am
        Chris said | March 18th 2017 @ 9:09am | ! Report

        And then we have the development of the false number 9. Strikers retreating into midfield to avoid being man marked and making late runs into the box etc etc.
        Thats ok if you have a Messi or a Del Piero in your ranks but there aint too many of those around. No doubt defences have the upper hand these days and tactics have developed that do away with the out and out strikers.
        Its not just an Australian problem its a problem shared with many other countries that dont have Ronaldo, Neymar, Messi to call on.
        Some exceptions to this exist with Lewandoski and Suarez the notable exceptions.

        • March 18th 2017 @ 10:29am
          j binnie said | March 18th 2017 @ 10:29am | ! Report

          To Paul and Chris – In answer to your observations is it surprising that good strikers emerged in a country where the defensive tactics had moved to “catenaccio” ,the ultimate in team formations set up to stop scoring.?????
          The catenaccio “disease” developed and reigned supreme in Italy for at least 12 years ,an average striker’s “lifetime “in football.
          The “false nine”, to give it it’s latest title, is not new, far from it, the tactic first being exploited in 1931 when Austria,one of the world’s top football nations at the time, introduced a diminutive player, Sindelaar ,into the national team as a deep lying play-maker.
          We then move to post war Hungary where the ploy was continued with an ageing left winger ,Hidegkuti, being successfully moved into the role, supplying 2 strikers in Puskas and Kocsis, with countless opportunities
          This team suffered it’s first defeat in four years when losing a World Cup final!!!!.
          We then move into more recent times when Manchester City attempted to re-create the Hungarian method by using Don Revie in the same role in season 1954/55. but never with the same success.
          So you see Chris ,the false nine ,if you like, was not a change designed to get more goals from the incumbent,it was more of a play-makers role to feed a double spearhead or supply passes to fast ball carrying wingers. Cheers jb.

          • March 18th 2017 @ 10:55am
            Chris said | March 18th 2017 @ 10:55am | ! Report

            Good post JB. I dont want to confuse the playmaker with the false 9.
            The Hungarian team you mentioned had Puskas and Kocsis up front with the playmaker in behind them.
            I look at many teams over the past 10 years or so and they simply dont play with the classical number 9’s. France went into the last Euros without Benzema! Yes they did well with Greizman and Pogba and Payet but the fact that they could leave such a classy striker behind says volumes about their tactics.

            • March 18th 2017 @ 11:32am
              j binnie said | March 18th 2017 @ 11:32am | ! Report

              Chris – you are right,the evolution of tactics has left the comprehension of what was regarded as the “classic” line up confined to the memories of beholders.
              When Puskas moved to Real Madrid, the Spanish giants didn’t change their tactics or formation ,they simply played to his talents through the extraordinary talent of another, De Stefano a player who under normal guidelines could not be described with a one word description..
              The man ,who scored 216 goals in 282 matches for Real was just as likely to pop up marshalling the midfield, as he was in putting the ball in the net. A master craftsman. cheers jb.

    • March 18th 2017 @ 9:37am
      Paul said | March 18th 2017 @ 9:37am | ! Report

      Here’s a list of all Australians overseas
      http://www.ozfootball.net/ark/Abroad/index.html
      There are more strikers in the list.

      The style that Postecoglou employs is NOT adaptable.
      The opponents of the Socceroos adapt to nullify his tactics.

      Postecoglou should play a formation suited to the players he has rather than fit players into his system.
      Postecoglou is one dimensional.

      Giannou is suited to the 4-2-3-1 but Postecoglou refuses to play that system.

      • March 18th 2017 @ 9:49am
        Fadida said | March 18th 2017 @ 9:49am | ! Report

        I’ve been reasonably critical of Ange over recent games, the formation is too narrow, ball movement too slow, McGowan at fullback, the persisting with Kruse and Jedinak.

        I wouldn’t, however, suggest that he restructure his entire formation o accommodate a player struggling in china…

      • Roar Pro

        March 18th 2017 @ 12:44pm
        The Doc said | March 18th 2017 @ 12:44pm | ! Report

        Ange has his formation and game style and it is proven to work at club level. He also won the Asian Cup and so there is no question about his success whilst managing the socceroos. International management is a tricky business. He has a proven game style and I would stick with that. Chopping and changing formations when you only get your players for a small teaching window is fraught with danger. Yes we have struggled slightly in the 2 recent WCQ but we are still 3rd (only 1 point behind Saudi and Japan) and have 3 home games left.

        • March 22nd 2017 @ 2:10am
          Arto said | March 22nd 2017 @ 2:10am | ! Report

          Agree 100%.

          IMO, NT managers have to pick the players that suit their tactics, not the other way around. It may mean leaving out a great player if that player can’t buy into the tactics, but so be it – and in a sense, that should be a part of the hiring process by the FA in terms of finding out what the tactics will be for the NT.

          Ange has a relatively good strategy, IMO, it’s just that we haven’t had the consistency to succeed with it all the time. I must admit, I was surprised with his squad selections given I can’t see how they match the style he wants to play, but he obviously has a better understanding of these players than we do so I’ll defer my judgement as to whether he has made a mistake now.

          The other thing to keep in mind is that NT football has more variability in it than league football and therefore it’s a matter of how well players adapt to their surroundings when called in – the conditions and weather and form of players change so often and are interspersed with fairly long breaks of time together that players aren’t really exposed to them often enough to be afforded a lot of time to get used to them. IMO, Ange’s complete faith in his strategy is more of a strength than a weakness as he is able to stick to a clear message that the players can pick-up and be familiar with – it’s then up to him to be able to extrapolate that to the changing environment of each NT game (mostly away games, admittedly).

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