It’s wrong to compare past and present Socceroos

Josh Barton Roar Pro

By , Josh Barton is a Roar Pro

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    There was once a belief that to measure the success of Australian football, one had to look at how many Australians were playing in the English Premier League.

    However, with the evolution of the modern game, that is no longer a valid measure of the health of the game’s development in this country.

    Last week, Australian Craig Johnston, the former Middlesbrough and Liverpool player, spoke publicly about the apparent regression of the quality of Australian footballers. He suggested the current crop of are lacking basic fundamental skills with the ball.

    Johnston’s evidence of such a decline was the fact that 10-20 years ago, there were many more Australians plying their trade in the highest European football divisions, specifically the English Premier League.

    This comparison is brought out time and time again by critics of Australia’s current generation of players – that the lack of players in those few select top leagues is evidence of systemic problems in Australian football.

    However, this argument is fundamentally flawed.

    One of the main differences between football in the present and 10-20 years ago is the expansion of these big leagues on a global scale. They have transcended their own countries, and now employ a much wider array of international footballers than ever before.

    Taking the English Premier League as an example, 20 years ago English players accounted for two-thirds of the total players participating in the league. That figure today is around one-third.

    These top leagues have grown to such a degree that they now contain almost all of the highest talents from all across the globe. The best players are much more likely to be found in these leagues, as the financial incentives to move there are bigger now than they ever have been before.

    What does that mean for Australia? Well, simply put, there is much more competition for places in these big leagues, and only the very best are going to have the necessary qualities to make it to the top.

    Would Luke Wilkshire be able to sign for Middlesbrough in this modern era? (AP Photo/Gustavo Ferrari)

    Looking back at some of the Australian players who were in the EPL 20 years ago, not nearly as many would find themselves regularly playing in a top team nowadays. Would the likes of Danny Tiatto, Luke Wilkshire, Danny Allsopp, Hayden Foxe and Richard Johnson all find it easy to find places in the current Premier League teams?

    With this higher level of competition, it’s not fair on the current players to needlessly compare them to the generations of old. Things have changed, the world has changed. We should be ecstatic with the fact that we have even just two or more players in the EPL next season.

    That’s not to say that Australian football doesn’t have challenges ahead. But it’s unfair to say our current players are less skilled than 20 years ago – watching footage of the Socceroos of old demonstrates that our current players could more than hold their own against them.

    The skill levels and professionalism in the A-League have improved out of sight since the NSL days. It’s the world that’s caught up.

    Our Asian opponents are tougher, more skilful and better organised than ever before. The level of competition has never been higher in Asia. We can no longer have the edge on them like we once did, and we need to keep improving across the board in all areas.

    It’s not fair to measure our success against measures that may have worked in the past. We should be looking to our domestic league, the A-League. We should be keeping more of our top footballers playing football at home, rather than sitting on the bench in European clubs.

    We should be focused on doing whatever we can to win continental trophies, with both club and country. If we can turn our focus to what we are doing in our own country, and the football our players are playing practically in our own backyards, only then we can begin to make progress.

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