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“People have been bagging us a lot, but after that performance Australia should be right behind us.”
Those were the words Socceroos centre back Trent Sainsbury used in the post-match interview after going down 2-1 to Japan.
Just out of that statement alone, there are three key questions we can possibly look into.
Is the bagging of the Socceroos warranted? How do you rate the performance against Japan ahead of the Asian Cup? And most importantly, are Australians behind the Socceroos?
The joy of opinions is that we’re all entitled to one, but a little perspective goes a long way in terms of how you formulate that opinion.
Before I even answer those three questions, let’s have a quick look at the make-up of Tuesday night’s starting squad.
Mathew Ryan (GK); Aziz Behich, Alex Wilkinson, Trent Sainsbury, Ivan Franjic; Mile Jedinak (c), Matt McKay, Massimo Luongo; Mathew Leckie, Robbie Kruse, James Troisi.
Any educated Australian football fan would either know or be able to identify that 10 of those starting 11 have all either played, started or are currently playing in the A-League, the odd man out being Massimo Luongo.
Another may even indicate that not one of these players are from the labeled “golden generation”.
Of the four substitutes that were made against Japan, two were from the A-League while the other two are what’s left of the “golden generation” – Tim Cahill and Mark Bresciano.
So in total, of the 15 players that played, we have three players to have never played in the A-League, two of which are from the golden generation, and 12 who have either started, played or are playing in the A-League.
What does this tell us?
Well prior to kickoff, Australian football legend Mark Viduka was a guest on Santo, Sam and Ed’s Total Football.
Towards the conclusion of their time with Viduka, co-host Sam had this long-winded but very relevant question to ask about the Socceroos and the current state of affairs.
“Just quickly on Australia, ’cause I mean you were part of the golden generation,” Sam said.
“Is this just the cycle that we’re going through at the moment? Are we having to rebuild or in your mind is there anything simple that we can do moving forward?”
The answer was one that makes you actually stop for a second and ponder if what he said is true.
This is what Viduka had to say in response.
“I honestly think that we’re going to have some big problems going forward … we’re already starting to see, I mean after Timmy (Tim Cahill) goes, it’s going to be hard … because we’re not producing top quality players anymore,” Viduka said.
“With this A-League it’s great, it’s a great league, we’ve got the top (players), it’s the showcase … but there’s a big gap between the juniors and getting there (to the A-League).
“Whereas before, all the old NSL clubs, they had that whole setup. Not only did those clubs create top players to play in big leagues, they also created skilful players as well.”
The current make-up of the Socceroos indicates that slowly but surely, due to the NSL’s failures, the A-League is beginning to make progress.
Not for one second should the NSL be discredited with not having produced the players from the golden generation.
Although a lot of those players like Viduka, Harry Kewell, Bresciano, Cahill and company developed overseas, it was the foundations that were laid during the early stages of their careers that created a platform for such big careers.
Currently we have quality players who are going overseas, but they’re not competing in the toughest leagues and they’re not made of the same ilk like players previously mentioned.
So is Mark Viduka right?
Although we have a strong, competitive, vibrant and growing competition, it would appear that’s the extent of our league.
There is no denying we are a development league designed to springboard Australian players overseas, but the quality is not up to the standard of the golden generation.
A large emphasis is placed on grassroots football, with the reason being that it aids in the creation of opportunity, to forge relationships within the community, while also identifying potential developmental opportunities in junior players.
The difficult task we find in the 21st century though is that A-League clubs are still trying to find its niche in an already crowded sporting market.
With rugby league, Aussie rules, rugby union, tennis and cricket on offer to children and school students, the opportunities to foster greater development are made more complex.
Unlike countries such as Germany, Brazil and Spain where football is predominately the main focus of one’s upbringing, Australian football does not have the stronghold they do and it remains to be seen if that is ever remotely possible.
Despite the highest participation rates of any sport in the country, we are yet to discover the next Harry Kewell.
The occasional glimmer of hope rears it head every now and then but that’s all it is, just a glimmer. All this hype about Tom Rogic has gone nowhere.
This topic is by and large a very time consuming debate which has many factors to consider, but at present it appears as though that despite such a strong league, we have yet to develop what NSL clubs had. That’s strong connections with the ability to foster junior development from the ground up.
So back to the first question. Is the bagging of the Socceroos warranted?
When you consider factors such as the NSL becoming defunct, Australian football requiring a re-start, the golden generation coming to an end and the A-League being left to pick up the pieces, I don’t believe the bagging of the Socceroos is warranted.
What you saw before you on Tuesday night was evidence that slowly but surely Australian football and the Socceroos will benefit from the hard work the FFA and A-League clubs are doing.
People these days are very quick to point the finger when one does venture overseas and return. They’re quick to label them as football players just concerned with money. They’re quick to point out all they’ll do for a season or two is play a bench role or the reserves.
What those people are not quick to point out is the superior difference in quality and skill level that our players are coming up against.
Players like Josh Brillante, Mustafa Amini, Aziz Behich, Mat Ryan, Ivan Franjic, Massimo Luongo, Mathew Leckie and Robbie Kruse. The list is endless. Those players are not all playing regular football nor are they dominating, but what they’re exposed to is the quality of football worldwide.
As impatient as people seem now, the results will come.
Ange has been tasked one of the hardest jobs in world football. Forget how bizarre the rankings system is and how other coaches have much worse sides, the difference is our actual ability compared to others and that there is the resources and know how to improve.
If Ange is to brunt the full force of the reality that faces us, it would be an injustice to him were we to credit the next man to come in who bears the fruits of his labor.
Question two, although a nice talking point, doesn’t fully address the issue we face come the conclusion of the Asian Cup.
Our A-League clubs were built from the top down. Now that we have a solid foundation, it’s time to address the more finer details.
As for number three, well that’s up to the individual. I know that despite what happens in the next few years of Ange Postecoglou’s tenure, be it that he continues down the path required to improve, both he and the Socceroos have my support.