Gombau must help breed the national approach

Evan Morgan Grahame Columnist

By Evan Morgan Grahame, Evan Morgan Grahame is a Roar Expert

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    During the Confederations Cup, we saw Josep Gombau, eyes narrowed and darting, prodigious jaw jutting out in thought, an unassuming, background member of Ange Postecoglou’s team.

    Postecoglou is currently wading through a particularly treacly period of his national plan; the particular mould he is, slowly but surely, forcing over the unyielding hunk of raw Socceroo clay in front of him is a complex design, and as such is not fitting quickly or comfortably. And yet, through the three Cup matches against Germany, Cameroon and Chile, we saw the team’s lumps and clods reshape themselves a little, if not quite enough to earn more than two points over three games.

    Progress was nonetheless visibly made, and the most immediate measure of it will come in two months’ time, against Japan in the World Cup qualifier at the end of August. But the longer-term view of the national set-up takes in vistas that glint and glimmer over a horizon much further-reaching than that, and Gombau, who had a sideline view of the state of the present, is also well-placed to appreciate – and rear – the flickers of the future.

    Gombau announced his preliminary squad for the Under-23 AFC Championships earlier this week, a list of 26 players that will be cut down to 23 before the trip to play Myanmar on July 15.

    This generation of players – almost half of whom were born in 1997 or later – represent the future of the national team, still in their malleable phases, with many of the most experienced members having barely spent one season in the A-League senior ranks.

    Gombau said back in February that his U-23 team would be “playing system and style that is the same as the Socceroos.” Gombau was Barcelona’s youth team coach for six years, from 2003 to 2009, and the end of his time there crossed over with the beginnings of Pep Guardiola’s management career in Catalonia.

    Of course, the team that Guardiola would end up constructing is now considered one of history’s greatest, but perhaps it’s the process, not the glittering proceeds, that one hopes made the best impression on Gombau. He will have seen, while he was at Barca, as well as after leaving, how important consistency of approach is for the success of a system.

    The little Messi’s in the making know how Barcelona play, and what’s expected of them. Gombau’s job as Australian U-23s manager, just as it was in charge of the joyful, adroit sprites at La Masia, is to propagate the ideology.

    Now, although there have been many legitimate questions raised over Ange’s system and the wisdom behind it, there can be no argument against the assertion that, if we are going to be playing a certain way at the senior national level, we must have unity of message. The current system may not succeed in the upcoming crunch qualifiers, let alone at the World Cup proper, but its long-term prognosis is surely fatal if the next generation spend their national duties learning to play in a totally different way.

    Adelaide United coach Josep Gombau. (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    Australia cannot really hope to emulate a country like Spain, whose national ethos is, by and large, a slightly modified version of the approach championed and perfected by one of its biggest and most successful clubs, Barcelona. Barca is a club that the national team also, funnily enough, sources heavily from.

    We have no flagship club that shelters vast swathes of our national team. To read the Socceroos squad sheet is to make a globetrotting journey, from Melbourne to Portugal, from Rotterdam to Yokohama. This is a group asunder, so cohesion at the national level cannot be expected to the degree the Spaniards enjoy.

    Furthermore, the bare handful of occasions that the national team, in all its ranks, actually congregates every season is hardly enough to learn a complex system all that quickly, even with the odd international tournament thrown in.

    Still, Riley McGree, Jonathan Aspropotamitis, Bruce Kamau and the rest of the U-23s will only benefit – from a Socceroos perspective – by being prepped, on-the-job, on what kind of things are expected at senior level.

    Aspro, or Thomas Deng, might be groomed to fill Trent Sainsbury’s out-stepping, ball-playing centre-back role. Scott Galloway, who began his career in the midfield before moving into a full-back position, might be taught to negotiate the teetering duties of the wing-back.

    Ange Postecoglou and the Socceroos

    (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

    McGree, the latest young starlet to – we hope, for his sake, not unwisely – leave the A-League after too short a debut, might be asked to mimic the subtle cerebral shifting and passing of Mark Milligan, so as to one day replace him like-for-like in the senior midfield. This is the purpose of the youth teams, is it not?

    A conveyor belt does not deliver its contents to the end of the line as unformed, vague assets; no, the finished product, finally brought into the senior limelight, should be purpose fit to slot right in, even better than the part it’s replacing.

    Ange’s persistence, his ideals, must bleed down the ranks, and might also – provided they are deemed worthy by a stern litmus test, say, a World Cup – linger after he has left the post. Systemic consistency at all national levels can only be good for the long-term prospects of our senior team. The sooner Gombau impresses on his shining charges what might become known as the ‘Socceroos Philosophy’, the better prepared they’ll be.

    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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    The Crowd Says (15)

    • July 6th 2017 @ 7:42am
      punter said | July 6th 2017 @ 7:42am | ! Report

      Great article Evan, again, really enjoying your insights on football in this country.

      This to me was the most important message, I have been watching Australia play for over 40 years & this change is fraught with danger, but something we need to change to a footballing nation;

      ‘although there have been many legitimate questions raised over Ange’s system and the wisdom behind it, there can be no argument against the assertion that, if we are going to be playing a certain way at the senior national level, we must have unity of message. The current system may not succeed in the upcoming crunch qualifiers, let alone at the World Cup proper, but its long-term prognosis is surely fatal if the next generation spend their national duties learning to play in a totally different way.’

      • July 7th 2017 @ 9:32am
        Realist said | July 7th 2017 @ 9:32am | ! Report

        Why not appoint the senior national coach to also be in charge of the Under 23’s as well? The transition from that level to the senior squad would be much easier.

    • Roar Guru

      July 6th 2017 @ 8:26am
      Griffo said | July 6th 2017 @ 8:26am | ! Report

      My understanding, when Eric Abrams was appointed, that the former TD role at FFA was split between U16 and below (covered by Abrams), while Ange took on a unified national team development role for U17 and above.

      So while the focus has been on the senior NT role (as coach), not as much has been written about the other role Ange plays, or how exactly that has been setup and implemented.

      So while it sounds ideal to have a national approach, I hope it is more than a system of play, given how they can change on a coaches whim, or evolve in a general global sense.

      As pointed out, not too easy given the likelihood of players moving abroad as they get older of the opportunity presents.

      While better if the A-League provides the platform for these younger players, I also wonder if Gombau’s recent selection is more about having majority of the players close at hand for training camps as well. It isn’t unprecedented, given previous U23 and U20 selections.

      It also leads to questions on Ange’s replacement: Gombau might be too early an appointment from 2018, but if he is around after 2020-2022 period, with Olyroo success and a potential national team role behind him (who is going to replace Ange’s role here, Abrams?) then he could be a leading contender if he wishes to stick around.

      Really, Ange’s replacement is going to be even more critical for a number of reasons, including not undoing any good work or foundations that has started in national teams TD role. I cannot see Ange not having some say and recommendations with that and the coaching position, either.

      • July 6th 2017 @ 9:45am
        Caltex Ten & SBS support Australian Football said | July 6th 2017 @ 9:45am | ! Report

        Griffo – I believe Gombau is a shoe in for the national coach job—especially if he has a good tournament with the 23s.

    • July 6th 2017 @ 8:43am
      Nemesis said | July 6th 2017 @ 8:43am | ! Report

      What a difference that Chile game has made.

      Before the match, football writers were scathing in their assessment of the National Team. Condemned the coaching staff, the style of play, the system.

      They poured scorn on the quality of our players because they don’t play in the big clubs (presumably they thought Fulham, Middlesbrough, Millwall, Osasuna were big clubs).

      Now, the mood has changed. Makes me realise which football analysts have something worth saying; and which ones are just hindsight experts.

      • July 8th 2017 @ 6:07am
        bobbym said | July 8th 2017 @ 6:07am | ! Report

        have to ay if Chile was on Target they would have won by 3 goals

    • July 6th 2017 @ 12:15pm
      Ruudolfson said | July 6th 2017 @ 12:15pm | ! Report

      I trust him more than the Vidmar brothers put it this way!

      He’s working with again a limited talent pool from Australia and overseas, it doesn’t help certain politics is holding him back from certain clubs especially recently with Adelaide United.

      Shame on Griffin and the football director for showing their self-interest and ignorance just for a pre-season camp, playing for your country is the highest any player can get and to say to those you can’t go smells of incompetence of the highest order.

      Australia’s youth teams have struggled a lot of late, mainly to do the with lack of preparation, organisation and of course coaching. It also doesn’t help we don’t have a big talent pool and they don’t play enough competitive football compared to our Asian rivals.
      But our young players are getting better technically and tactically its a matter of getting the final details spot on when it comes to tournament football.

      I wish Josep well, hopefully, the FFA back him with all the support that’s required with this team.

    • July 6th 2017 @ 3:22pm
      Ken Spacey said | July 6th 2017 @ 3:22pm | ! Report

      Perhaps Olympic football doesn’t grab everyone but in Oz its a big deal and success attracts kudos and funding. To be fair to Viddie they didn’t real back him up and hopefully they’ll help Josep more. As for Griffin, I agree. It’s never too soon to plan for the next international comp and as I said on another related topic, more real games is better. Sometimes we mention indigenous pathways in football but AUFC have brought a lot of African lads through during the Spanish era.

      • July 9th 2017 @ 8:17am
        j,binnie said | July 9th 2017 @ 8:17am | ! Report

        Ken – “Perhaps Olympic football doesn’t grab everyone” is a statement made showing a lack of knowledge.
        During the 1984 Olympics held in the USA,specifically Los Angeles, Adidas undertook, at their expense, a fiscal examination into what effect the inclusion of football in the Games had on the overall end result.
        It was found that without the football tournament the Games would have been a financial disaster, and remember, no new stadia were built for those games ,existing stadia were used.
        The final and semi final matches had to be moved from LA to Pasadena, where the Rosebowl could cater for 100,000 crowds.The Colosseum in LA could only cater for 60,000.
        To the best of my knowledge ,having an Olympic Games without a football tournament has never been mentioned since that investigation. Money talks. Cheers jb.

    • July 6th 2017 @ 5:55pm
      Realfootball said | July 6th 2017 @ 5:55pm | ! Report

      His jaw is permanently jutted. Don’t read anything into it.

      There’s nothing complex about the design. It’s 343 and a bunch of guys chasing a ball, not quantum physics.

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