The Olyroos may have reached Tokyo 2020 with all the finesse of Eric the Eel, but there’s no doubt their qualification is a huge achievement and a major boost for Australian football.
Now the master coach has gone and pinched Ersan Gulum from under our noses, and it’s once again raised questions about what it means to play for the Socceroos.
Gulum, for those who don’t know, is the Melbourne-born defender of Turkish extraction recently called up by Hiddink to join the Turkish national team for their upcoming friendly with the Netherlands.
The left-footed defender is currently plying his trade with Istanbul giants Besiktas, but he remains a relative unknown in Australian football circles – despite having twice turned out for the Olyroos.
Australian journalist Daniel Phan has been in regular contact with the highly-rated stopper, and several months ago Phan drew our attention to the fact Turkey had Gulum in their sights.
But despite their overtures, neither Pim Verbeek, nor successor Holger Osieck saw fit to call the versatile defender up to the Socceroos, so the youngster now looks lost to the green and gold, having seemingly chosen to represent the birthplace of his parents.
So was it a personal choice or one forced upon him, and at the end of the day, how much does it really matter in the grand scheme of things?
There’s no doubt Gulum is under intense pressure in Istanbul, not just from one of the most fanatical support bases in European football, but also from the general football-watching public who call the Turkish national team their own.
And when one national team comes calling and another remains silent, it seems that the decision is already half-made.
Socceroos coach Holger Osieck admitted Gulum has potential, but claimed that a recent run of starts for Besiktas didn’t warrant his selection in the squad to face Egypt this week.
Gulum himself seemed to hedge his bets – telling the Australian media he was desperate to represent his country of birth, while quietly welcoming Turkish advances – and in the end, it appeared obvious he’d simply represent whichever country picked him first.
At the end of the day, is there really anything wrong with that?
Josip Simunic is frequently trotted out as the poster boy for turning his back on the Socceroos, but much of that anger surrounds the fact Australia were desperate for the Canberra-born, AIS-graduate to turn out for his country of birth.
That Simunic ultimately chose to play for Croatia had as much to do with his desire to play high-class international football, as it did with any long-held national allegiances.
Now that Turkey have offered Gulum a similar chance to turn out on the European stage, should he be castigated for throwing his lot in with them, or congratulated for making a sensible choice?
Australians have always been quick to accept a rainbow of nationalities into the Socceroos fold – I grew up idolising Milan Ivanovic – but we’ve been less sympathetic towards the likes of Ante Seric and Joey Didulica for opting to play for Croatia.
And Sasa Ognenovski might have opened the scoring in Saturday’s AFC Champions League final en route to captaining Seongnam Ilhwa to the Asian title, but he too has struggled for support from an Australian public not easily forgiving of his brief flirtation with Macedonia.
Like many Australians, I’m always desperate to see the most talented players we have available pull on the green and gold, but I won’t begrudge Ersan Gulum should he go on and have a long and distinguished career for Turkey.
Nor do I think we should overlook Holger Osieck’s refreshing candour.
Put simply, Gulum wasn’t on the radar of the Socceroos, so instead he’ll represent the only other national team which called him up.
I think we should wish him the best of luck for that, and simply hope that another left-footed defender comes along in due course.