The Socceroos need to start attracting Australia’s best athletes

Karlo Tychsen Roar Guru

By , Karlo Tychsen is a Roar Guru

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    Imagine an alternate reality, in a not-too-distant future. The world game has finally got itself together, and Alex Rance has intercepted the ball, in front of a packed stadium of 60,000-plus spectators.

    Rance looks around, and with another of his pinpoint accurate passes, gets the ball to Patrick Dangerfield, who turns into open space, and runs.

    He links up with Dustin Martin, who muscles two or three high quality opponents off the ball, and gets it back to Dangerfield again.

    Dangerfield has charged toward goal, found an ageing but agile Lance Franklin in open space, and that makes the decision for him.

    Franklin receives the ball, he turns around, lines up, blazes away, and scores the goal.

    It’s early in the game, and Australia are up 1-nil, the travelling fans are in raptures, who by now have seen this all so many times before. It’s almost expected.

    Our opponents, a somewhat confused Italy, aren’t used to this kind of fast, physical, and accurate football.

    It’s 2022, the World Cup has remarkably, and soundly, moved out of Qatar, and the Socceroos are showing the world what we are capable of.

    That is where the dream stops, because obviously the players mentioned are not on the world stage, and have given themselves to Australia’s biggest stage – AFL.

    And good on them.

    But why does the FFA accept that?

    As Australia looks down the barrel of another walk down the plank to World Cup qualification oblivion, something we thought went the way of the NSL and the Howard government, here we are again, with hopefully four more cut-throat home-and-away playoff matches to get us back to Russia.

    What an interesting way to mark 20 years since the Iran match.

    All the focus on our failure to qualify directly (and remember, we are not yet actually out of the World Cup) has been aimed at Ange Postecoglou’s failure to properly coach a team of young players.

    Quite frankly, that is simply and utterly preposterous. But Australia has a long and storied history of blaming coaches.

    In 1997, our inability to convert 17,000 chances wasn’t the problem, it was Terry Venables’ fault for failing to make enough substitutions that cost us on that fateful night.

    In 2001, Frank Farina, you madman, how on earth did you allow us to lose to Uruguay, in Uruguay? Clearly, you can’t cut it.

    Can’t beat Argentina? How did we not sack Eddie Thompson?

    Pim Verbeek left South Africa with a better record than Guus Hiddink on a win-draw-loss ratio, and the same number of wins at a World Cup. But he was to blame for the Germany loss and failing to get to the knockout round.

    And Holger Osieck? He was runner-up at an Asian Cup, and qualified directly for a World Cup, and he didn’t even get to go to football’s showpiece.

    Socceroos coach Holger Osieck issues instructions in the World Cup Qualifer match against Iraq. (Photo: Paul Barkley/LookPro)

    (Photo: Paul Barkley/LookPro)

    Ange should probably count himself lucky that he still (at the time of writing) has a job.

    Mark Bosnich would have made Craig Foster blush the other night, as in his post-game analysis he skewered Ange on live television, accusing him of jeopardising the integrity of the national team with unnecessary experimentation.

    Such superficial examination should not be the case.

    Rather than tying our national coaches to a stake and lighting the torch, why don’t we try something different: let’s look at the players.

    What if, and it’s a big if, but what if maybe our players aren’t good enough anymore?

    Now can I be exceptionally clear, and state that, if I’m going to be remembered for one thing, can it not be that I said our players are not any good.

    Our players are good.

    Tom Rogic is a star, Tomi Juric is pretty decent and Aaron Mooy – that is an example of a god among men. In fact, across the board, any starting 11, I would have confidence in them.

    On their day.

    But 10 qualification matches across the largest continental division in the world over 12 months? That’s a big ask, and perhaps, just perhaps, having the best Australia has to offer might have made a difference, instead of simply the best out of the Australian footballing crop.

    Which brings me back to my fantasy scenario.

    Football, a game that prides itself on being the biggest in the world, and the sleeping giant of Australian sport, must wake up and start making some noise.

    Why is it impossible to think that someone like Lance Franklin can’t leap for headers with Tim Cahill? A midfield comprising the likes of Rogic, Mooy, Dangerfield and Martin would be a frightening proposition for any other team.

    The Socceroos could use Alex Rance or Rory Laird down back, cleaning up alongside Matthew Spiranovic and Trent Sainsbury. Why doesn’t the FFA make this happen? Obviously not with this generation of AFL stars, but why not the next?

    You see, there has been a significant shift lately in player mentalities, and given that today the professional athlete wants coverage and top dollar, it’s no longer simply the case of playing AFL because that’s all they want to do.

    Franklin is four years into a nine-year, $9 million deal. Dustin Martin has just signed for $9 million for seven years. Modern day players, you know what they want? Maximum dollars, and the way you get that is through maximum coverage.

    Now in this country, absolutely, AFL has it all over the FFA for national coverage. But international coverage? That’s a different story.

    Lance Franklin Sydney Swans AFL Indigenous Round 2017

    (AAP Image/David Moir)

    Those $9 million deals for Dusty and Buddy? Those would be good starters in the English Premier League or La Liga, but let’s see what they would earn in Europe in their prime years.

    All those kids that are playing junior football, wearing Lionel Messi’s boots, and Cristiano Ronaldo’s shirts, where are the scouts getting in their ear, telling them they could be playing in Messi’s boots and against the next Ronaldo one day?

    Which then brings me back to Ange.

    You see, Ange isn’t the problem. He’s the easy target. If anything, in lesser hands, we would have been talking about World Cup failure right now, rather than World Cup elimination playoffs.

    But what if he had been given a Lance Franklin or Patrick Dangerfield, prime physical specimens, with a life of footballing history behind them, to craft a team out of?

    It’s time for football to be bold.

    If Kyle Chalmers can reject being a domestic star in AFL to be an international King at the Olympics, then it’s time for the FFA to start reminding young minds that they can be global gods with the round ball.

    So as we lament failure to directly qualify for a World Cup, I ask you again: is Ange Postecoglou the problem?

    Let us stop blaming one man, and let’s look at how we can get the next 11 men to fulfil Ange’s (and Johnny Warren’s) vision of not only qualifying for the World cup, but winning it.

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