Including Goodwin is a win-win for Postecoglou

Evan Morgan Grahame Columnist

By , Evan Morgan Grahame is a Roar Expert

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    Ange Postecoglou, currently being pelted by 140 character-long calls for his dismissal – all of them premature, blind to the fact no one suitable could successfully replace him at such a precarious moment in qualifying – is feeling besieged.

    Having won the Asian Cup in 2015, taking the national team to its loftiest triumph since that night against Uruguay 10 years earlier, Postecoglou is now facing the prospect of leaving the Socceroos wallowing at their lowest point just two years later.

    Failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup via the two-part, home-and-away playoffs route would be a hugely disappointing way for Ange to leave the national post.

    What makes the shrill harping for his immediate sacking even more annoying – at this stage – is that a toxic mood, that saps morale, is just as harmful to Australia’s chances as an ill-fitting line-up, or some shoddy piece of defending. The first playoff tie, against Syria, is a little under a month away. That means plenty of time for the critics swell in number, to stew and steep, consolidating their lamentations of the status quo.

    Having reacted so incandescently to the third-placed group finish, they set a mark for themselves; how likely is it that Mark Bosnich and Robbie Slater et al soften to the point of going back on their assertions that Ange should be sacked? The mind boggles how the dissatisfied lot will react if an underwhelming result is thrashed out in the opening away leg of the Syria tie.

    What Postecoglou needs – in fact what every crestfallen, hand-wringing Socceroos fan needs – is a sign to bolster hope. Not just hope of success in early October, but hope that Ange’s chastening in the last few months has actually had an effect on his thinking, and has perhaps – if only slightly – prompted a change.

    By now, having been chiselled into the national tactical approach over the last five months, few anticipate Postecoglou will change the formation. So, the next most glaring area of weakness is Ange’s player selection.

    For a while it was Robbie Kruse who provoked the most teeth-gnashing. Mathew Leckie – a player few would argue deserves to be omitted from the squad, but rather one who shouldn’t be played at right wingback – was the hot topic for a brief spell as well.

    Mile Jedinak’s value was questioned, as was James Troisi’s. But throughout this whole carousel of criticism, the left wingback spot and the player filling it has made turn after turn, an ever-present problem garnering the most tut-tutting, a constantly churning well of discussion.

    The manner in which Postecoglou persevered with Brad Smith, and has shuffled Aziz Behich and Alex Gersbach has only clouded the issue. Perhaps it’s time to usher in a new factor, one that might prove decisive in solving the problem.

    Craig Goodwin, playing for Sparta Rotterdam in Holland’s Eredivisie, is that factor. Four games into the new season, Goodwin has appeared in each game, starting three of them, playing the full 90 minutes in two. To the extent a small sample size can, this shows Goodwin is – unlike Smith – playing regularly in a strong European league.

    He is an important player for Sparta; on the final matchday last season, with his team hanging perilously on the edge of the relegation playoff, Goodwin assisted twice and scored once to keep his team safe. He has scored once this season too, sliding home a volley from a swooping cross, deep in the box, under pressure.

    He plays as a left-winger for Sparta, and has struggled with fitness and consistency since arriving there in July last year. But he’s already made more starts for his team in this young 2017-18 season than he did in the four-month period last season between December 2016 and May 2017. His stature and influence in Rotterdam is growing, and his competition within the Sparta squad has been reduced over the off-season.

    So, although the role he is best suited for in the national team is technically a wingback role, one glance at Alex Gersbach’s heatmap against Thailand shows how the wingback tends to linger higher up the pitch, especially against weaker opposition.

    Besides, Goodwin played intermittently at left-back when he was at Adelaide, excelling during their wonderful run to the premiership-championship double two seasons ago. He is just as good – if not markedly better – defensively as Leckie is on the other flank, and his crossing is excellent – only Aaron Mooy and Leckie made more crosses than Gersbach did against Thailand, so Goodwin’s skills would be put to good use.

    On paper, and on the most relevant evidence at club level, Goodwin would make the Socceroos better. The Syrians are unlikely to take the initiative against Australia, and as such Postecoglou needs to pick a team that won’t labour against a stolid defensive set-up. Why not pick a player, well-suited to a troublesome position, that is playing and scoring in a fine European league? It can only help Australia to have Goodwin in the squad.

    Furthermore, it can only help Postecoglou ease the pressure bearing down on him. His reluctance to depart from his national team favourites, regardless of playing time, positional suitability or recent form, has been a major irritant for the public, and has drawn ire from some of the game’s most vocal commentators.

    They are now calling for the most drastic action, a lopping off of the proverbial head. By introducing a worthy new squad member, addressing a key tactical problem and satiating his critics in one fell swoop, Postecoglou can make this a win-win.

    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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