It’s wrong to compare past and present Socceroos

Josh Barton Roar Pro

By Josh Barton, Josh Barton is a Roar Pro

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40 Have your say

    There was once a belief that to measure the success of Australian football, one had to look at how many Australians were playing in the English Premier League.

    However, with the evolution of the modern game, that is no longer a valid measure of the health of the game’s development in this country.

    Last week, Australian Craig Johnston, the former Middlesbrough and Liverpool player, spoke publicly about the apparent regression of the quality of Australian footballers. He suggested the current crop of are lacking basic fundamental skills with the ball.

    Johnston’s evidence of such a decline was the fact that 10-20 years ago, there were many more Australians plying their trade in the highest European football divisions, specifically the English Premier League.

    This comparison is brought out time and time again by critics of Australia’s current generation of players – that the lack of players in those few select top leagues is evidence of systemic problems in Australian football.

    However, this argument is fundamentally flawed.

    One of the main differences between football in the present and 10-20 years ago is the expansion of these big leagues on a global scale. They have transcended their own countries, and now employ a much wider array of international footballers than ever before.

    Taking the English Premier League as an example, 20 years ago English players accounted for two-thirds of the total players participating in the league. That figure today is around one-third.

    These top leagues have grown to such a degree that they now contain almost all of the highest talents from all across the globe. The best players are much more likely to be found in these leagues, as the financial incentives to move there are bigger now than they ever have been before.

    What does that mean for Australia? Well, simply put, there is much more competition for places in these big leagues, and only the very best are going to have the necessary qualities to make it to the top.

    Would Luke Wilkshire be able to sign for Middlesbrough in this modern era? (AP Photo/Gustavo Ferrari)

    Looking back at some of the Australian players who were in the EPL 20 years ago, not nearly as many would find themselves regularly playing in a top team nowadays. Would the likes of Danny Tiatto, Luke Wilkshire, Danny Allsopp, Hayden Foxe and Richard Johnson all find it easy to find places in the current Premier League teams?

    With this higher level of competition, it’s not fair on the current players to needlessly compare them to the generations of old. Things have changed, the world has changed. We should be ecstatic with the fact that we have even just two or more players in the EPL next season.

    That’s not to say that Australian football doesn’t have challenges ahead. But it’s unfair to say our current players are less skilled than 20 years ago – watching footage of the Socceroos of old demonstrates that our current players could more than hold their own against them.

    The skill levels and professionalism in the A-League have improved out of sight since the NSL days. It’s the world that’s caught up.

    Our Asian opponents are tougher, more skilful and better organised than ever before. The level of competition has never been higher in Asia. We can no longer have the edge on them like we once did, and we need to keep improving across the board in all areas.

    It’s not fair to measure our success against measures that may have worked in the past. We should be looking to our domestic league, the A-League. We should be keeping more of our top footballers playing football at home, rather than sitting on the bench in European clubs.

    We should be focused on doing whatever we can to win continental trophies, with both club and country. If we can turn our focus to what we are doing in our own country, and the football our players are playing practically in our own backyards, only then we can begin to make progress.

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    The Crowd Says (40)

    • July 8th 2017 @ 8:15am
      Waz said | July 8th 2017 @ 8:15am | ! Report

      Well said.

      There is undoubted room for improvement today just as there was back then but any direct comparison is compromised by changes in the global football landscape.

      Fortunately today we have an admirable national league that is more than capable of developing and sustaining talent supported by continental competitions that continue to grow in quality.

      We need to improve yes, but we don’t need to turn the clock back 20 years.

      • July 8th 2017 @ 8:55am
        j,binnie said | July 8th 2017 @ 8:55am | ! Report

        Waz – This discussion by Josh tends to ramble on a bit , basically citing economic growth within the EPL as a reason as to why our players have fallen behind in securing places in that elite competition ,a competition in which economics(money) is now starting to develop into a top six competition,just as our own HAL is doing in a much reduced scale, with Victory,,Sydney Fc, and even Brisbane Roar ,emerging as front runners.
        How does one go about “measuring” skill???. As you and I have both stated in these columns many times,touch and control have to be taught by repetition in a fun atmosphere and this should be done between the ages of 6-12.
        That is what Craig Johnston was trying to get across.
        OK,he did use a comparison,within the EPL as a measure but what Josh appears to have missed is that with the financial growth of that competition and the resultant hire of worldwide talent ,we here in Australia have dropped from having 20 or so players playing in the EPL to today’s 1 or 2.
        It is this decline,and the reasoning behind it, that Johnston is trying to highlight, the “apparent failure” of our home grown game to keep pace with the development that must have occurred 20 years ago allowing native born Australians to play,not only in the top English league ,but also in Italy,Belgium and Germany .to name a few.
        I don’t know the extent of Josh’s knowledge but the basics of out National Curriculum were introduced into our game,not 8 or 10 years, ago but 35 years ago, and many of those players who did make it to the top, 20 years ago would have benefited from that coaching information.
        How does one measure skill on a football field. Control and touch (it was called “receiving”) are relatively easy to measure ,one has only to focus on each individual player when he is on the ball,,
        Passing or distribution is also measurable by focusing on the individual,how often does his pass reach it’s target ,be it a team-mate or a space that a team-mate can exploit by using inherent speed.
        Tackling has all but disappeared out of the game as these two previously mentioned skills if practised well,don’t really give a “tackler” much of a chance to win the ball physically. At the higher levels of the game “interception” has now taken over from the tackle as a potential ball winner.
        Heading as a skill is also rapidly declining as medical people,rightly or wrongly focus on damage that may or may not occur when heading a ball.
        That brings us to the fan’s favourite,dribbling,or “close control”,, and that almost takes us back to the original discussion point, close control,the only difference being ,close control at speed.
        I think Josh is ignoring these basics when assessing local players, our lack of those skills being what Johnston was trying to highlight.
        That is the real wrong that has to be righted in our game ,but then again the problem is 40 years old.
        Have our latest players improved?. Of course they have, but has that rate of improvement kept pace with the rest of the world?????
        I think that’s what Craig Johnston was trying to highlight. Cheers jb.

        • July 8th 2017 @ 12:40pm
          Waz said | July 8th 2017 @ 12:40pm | ! Report

          good post jb; I struggle with the past v present comparisons, not because they don’t tell us anything but because it’s difficult to draw meaningful conclusions. And in some cases the former Socceroos who are often the mouth-pieces for this message have limited knowledge of coaching at a junior level today (I don’t include CJ in that mind you, there are several like him making sense but many more no sense at all) and our past “greats” achieved what they did in quite different circumstances. It’s far better to do as you have done and analyse the facets of the game that we feel are impoertant and work to improve upon them.

          For me, the speed and physicality of our domestic game leaves much to be desired – if Ange introduced the benefits of style and technique, and Arnold the benefits of discipline and teamwork, who will introduce speed to our game? I don’t see it happening at our junior levels nor any professional club yet taking up that challenge – maybe Adelaide, City or Nix in the HAL with their new foreign coaches this season? But speed “of everything” is our next revolution imo.

          You said “Tackling has all but disappeared out of the game” (you’d need to be of a certain age to fully appreciate that comment) and I agree; but I particularly enjoyed the introduction of Avraam into the A League last season – he tackles the way a bullet ant bites and it was a pleasure to watch him play, earning him the nickname “The Angry Greek” in a short period of time … he’s not angry, just one of the few that tackles with power and aggression. a dying breed.

          • July 8th 2017 @ 1:07pm
            punter said | July 8th 2017 @ 1:07pm | ! Report

            Great inputs JB & Waz. The more we are discussing what is needed in this country to improve football in this country the better, I thought CJ brought is beautifully in in video.

          • July 8th 2017 @ 1:20pm
            j,binnie said | July 8th 2017 @ 1:20pm | ! Report

            Waz – When doing the live in coaching course back in 1975 one of our tasks was to analyse the number of “tackles” made during a game between West Ham and Leeds United.
            The two players to be “charted” were Bobby Moore and Norman Hunter, both defenders and Norman who had the reputation of being the hardest “tackler” in English football.
            Imagine our surprise when after 90 minutes we found Hunter had only made 7 tackles in that time, and Moore ? —–Wait for it—– None.
            Moore ,as a centre back had mastered the art of intercepting passes before they reached his immediate opponent,thus nullifying the chance of “losing possession” in a 50-50 tackle situation.
            That cut-down of “tackling” has been evident for some years now at the highest level..
            Cast your mind back to the Australia v Italy World Cup game when Neill dived in on his backside and gave the Italian the opportunity of trying the referee on for a penalty,,which the ref duly awarded. Now if Lucas had stayed on his feet and shepherded his opponent nearer and nearer the bye-line??? —–no penalty.
            A classic example of when not to dive into a tackle leaving yourself vulnerable as you sit on the ground and admire what is going on around you. Cheers jb.

            • July 8th 2017 @ 1:40pm
              Waz said | July 8th 2017 @ 1:40pm | ! Report

              I can imagine your surprise with old “bite your legs” Hunter lol. You touch on another facet of the game there jb. I often tell my kids football is a thinking game, you have to think quickly and learn on your feet. It frustrates the hell out of me to see professional players dive in unnecessarily.

              Your comment is also why the performance of a DM often goes unappreciated by the masses – it’s not what they do in tackling/passing etc but it’s the work they do blocking opponents passing channels, reducing options, applying pressure. A good DM can have a great game and hardly touch the ball much to the confusion of the casual observer.

              • July 8th 2017 @ 3:36pm
                punter said | July 8th 2017 @ 3:36pm | ! Report

                Franco Baresi, one of the greatest defenders of all time, was such a great reader of the game that he too hardly ever have to tackle

              • July 8th 2017 @ 4:02pm
                RBBAnonymous said | July 8th 2017 @ 4:02pm | ! Report

                One of my pet hates too Waz, the unnecessary diving in for a tackle.

            • July 8th 2017 @ 6:31pm
              Nemesis said | July 8th 2017 @ 6:31pm | ! Report

              Argentina consistently produces highly technical players. Apart from Leo Messi, every Argentinian player in their WC2014 squad who were close to being Champions of the World, started their senior football playing in Argentina’s Primera Division.

              Based on this video footage of the league, it seems agricultural tackling helps improve technical skills. If you aren’t able to control the ball quickly & move it on, you’re in trouble.


    • July 8th 2017 @ 8:44am
      Buddy said | July 8th 2017 @ 8:44am | ! Report

      Lies, damn lies and statistics! We all surely know by now that a few stats thrown here and there make a “truism” and if it sounds true it must be true!
      Comparisons of the past – of just a decade ago are difficult enough to validate, never mind the 80’s when CJ,was plying his trade. These days everything is measured. We know how many kilometres each player runs in a game, we measure assists, completed passes, tackles made etc etc. In the past we watched the game and observed whether or not someone had a good game and perhaps how many chances or half chances were converted. I grew up in the UK watching the likes of Jimmy Greaves- the latter part of his career, Peter Osgood, Rodney Marsh, Stan Bowles, Charlie George, Johnny Giles, to mame but a handful of very talented and skilful players and I occasionally wonder how they would fare in today’s game? They probably wouldn’t make it until half time fitness wise as the game is entirely different in that respect and with understanding of diet and gym work physique is often quite different. After the 78 world cup we saw the first influx of overseas talent in the uk with Ardilles and Villa leading the way at Spurs and that began a massive change in team make up. We can look and comment pn young talent emanating from these shores and lament that there is not a crop of players in the EPL but then we look again and see a lack of home grown players playing at that level too. If you get to watch some of the youth team games there is some fantastic talent on display and yet it is rare for those players to find themselves in a first team squad in the epl. The game is changing, the competition is global and enormous, the bar is set higher season by season… I tend to just sit back and enjoy watching it all unfurl around the globe and occasionally watch some “old school” matches and just enjoy them for what they were at the time.

      • July 8th 2017 @ 9:12am
        j,binnie said | July 8th 2017 @ 9:12am | ! Report

        Buddy- Lot’s of good reading .However,the players you mention were all talented individuals who probably did their football learning around the early 60’s when Britain was still an economic disaster area.
        Would they have made it today????That is an imponderable, for one cannot say,without knowing the individual if, under extreme financial pressure,the individual would buckle down and do what is done today at professional football teams. As you suggest, there could be some who would “chuck in the towel”, but remember there are some,who, looking at the financial benefits, ,would change completely their outlook on the game,and what it provides,
        eg Was Jimmy Greaves a better striker than Wayne Rooney????
        One thing is for sure ,Jimmy never ever earned $250,000 per game and neither you or I can say with any certainty how that would affect JG were he playing today. Cheers jb.

    • July 8th 2017 @ 9:52am
      Nemesis said | July 8th 2017 @ 9:52am | ! Report

      Thanks for writing this article. Finally, someone understands the reality of how the European football leagues have gone global over the past 20 years.

      When ManUnited won the English Premier League title in 1992, only 3 players in the squad (of 25) were from outside the UK & Ireland: Schmeichel (Denmark), Kanchelskis (Russia), Cantona (France).

      When Chelsea won the EPL title 25 years later, 18 of the 25 squad were from outside UK & Ireland (Spain [5], Belgium [4], Brazil [3], France [2], Netherlands, Nigeria, Portugal, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovenia).

      That’s how globalisation, the EU & the Bosman Ruling have changed the dynamics of the football labour market in Europe.

      As soon as anyone talks about “20- years ago Australian youth teams were great & Aussies played in top leagues” I know immediately those people don’t understand the realities of globalisation on the supply of goods & labour.

      • July 8th 2017 @ 8:38pm
        Swanny said | July 8th 2017 @ 8:38pm | ! Report

        I’d back any Socceroos team from 1987- 2015 agsinst the rubbish team in 2017

      • July 8th 2017 @ 8:42pm
        Swanny said | July 8th 2017 @ 8:42pm | ! Report

        That man utd team full of English players would slaughter there current team with 3 English players


        Stick to your strengths like the Bulgarian premier league next time

        • July 8th 2017 @ 9:13pm
          Nemesis said | July 8th 2017 @ 9:13pm | ! Report

          @Swanny, your insights on football are nonsensical and not worthy of adult conversation.

    • July 8th 2017 @ 10:11am
      Lionheart said | July 8th 2017 @ 10:11am | ! Report

      Watched the Liverpool game when they won UEFA 2005, not all that long ago, but they had not a single player of African heritage on the park. Nowdays they will always have four or more. The EPL has changed, and quickly.

      • July 8th 2017 @ 10:42am
        Caltex Ten & SBS support Australian Football said | July 8th 2017 @ 10:42am | ! Report

        African football leagues are no better than our A-League—yet we see more African players in the EPL than our own Australian boys. Why?

        • July 8th 2017 @ 10:56am
          SM said | July 8th 2017 @ 10:56am | ! Report

          Probably because talented African youngsters are picked off early and are developed in European academies.

          They’re not coming through Hearts of Oak, Kaizer Chiefs and other African clubs.

          • July 8th 2017 @ 11:03am
            Caltex Ten & SBS support Australian Football said | July 8th 2017 @ 11:03am | ! Report

            Absolutely correct—read my comment below.

        • July 8th 2017 @ 1:02pm
          Lionheart said | July 8th 2017 @ 1:02pm | ! Report

          not all players of African heritage in the EPL are out of Africa. Take Paul Pogba for example, a Frenchman who was recruited by ManU at age 16, and at LFC there’s Sturridge and Sterling, also Mane who is from Africa but came via France around age 20. A lot of it has to do with changed attitudes, less racist attitudes are giving these guys a fair go, at last.

    • July 8th 2017 @ 10:28am
      Mahler said | July 8th 2017 @ 10:28am | ! Report

      It’s a worthwhile exercise to take a look at the old Pathe News film of games played in England in the 1950s. Don’t tell me that football played then was up to the class of today’s standard. What does thrill me is the massive crowds packed in to the stadiums, most spectators standing up. Amazing visuals.

    • July 8th 2017 @ 10:34am
      Caltex Ten & SBS support Australian Football said | July 8th 2017 @ 10:34am | ! Report

      “We should be keeping more of our top footballers playing football at home, rather than sitting on the bench in European clubs.”

      This is an admirable notion, however, not a practical one; if we are at all serious in that, we want to win the FIFA world cup; we need world class players.

      In order to do that, we need at least 5 world class players and we are not going to get them playing in the HAL––this is not to say our A-League is a worthless Australian domestic league. I enjoy and support our domestic league as much as anyone. Nonetheless, I want to see at least 5 of our best players playing for: Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Inter Milan, AC Milan, or Chelsea––playing and starting in their first XI––along, with having our own domestic league, in a very healthy and competitive state.

      Some of our young players need to dream big; and go to Europe at 16yrs old and get involved with these world class clubs’ youth teams, which I have mention above. If need be, we need the FFA to find ways, to break down the barriers, which prevent our very best and youngest kids from getting into these world class clubs at an early age to develop into world class players.

      • July 8th 2017 @ 11:23am
        Marcus said | July 8th 2017 @ 11:23am | ! Report

        Correct Caltex – the best teams we ever produced were trained and taught top level football in Europe. This will never change. A League at best will produce 1 or 2 top level international players in the foreseeable future.

      • July 8th 2017 @ 1:00pm
        Waz said | July 8th 2017 @ 1:00pm | ! Report

        “This is an admirable notion, however, not a practical one”

        I disagree, it is practical. The A League is of a good standard although there is room for improvement before a player could go through his entire career in the HAL and not feel they’ve missed out.

        There are many reasons why young Aussies go overseas, first of all its perfectly natural and in our DNA – whi hasn’t had a colleague who announced they’re going to travel and work overseas for a bit?

        Money is still a good reason – Nathan burns hasn’t developed as a player through any of his overseas trips but he probably won’t need to work again when he retires. So we need to up salaries to keep more players at home longer.

        And our season is way too short; young players are routinely told by agents they need to be able to play 50+ games in a season so move overseas when you’re young. We need a 34 game season soon reinforcing why the HAL should expand (could we stand 10 teams/36 games?).

        Finally our league is not well scouted, unlike Africa, so fewer of our players are getting picked up so again they tend to move early to leagues where they feel they will get spotted. There’s no easy fix for this but our former Socceroos could help and instead of just doing media work actually start scouting for overseas clubs.

        So if we continue to improve the standard of play (coaching, style etc), increase salaries (better imports, more retained Socceroos) and lengthen the playing season along with improved scouting it is practical … but we have no plan for any of this, just the ffa fighting over control

        It’s practical but we’re not quite there, yet players are better staying in the HAL until their early 20’s rather than leaving aged 15-16 as they used to. That’s proof we can change and must continue to do so.

        • July 9th 2017 @ 1:21pm
          Caltex Ten & SBS support Australian Football said | July 9th 2017 @ 1:21pm | ! Report

          “Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Inter Milan, AC Milan, or Chelsea”

          Waz — So you would pick players for the national team playing in the HAL above those who are playing first team football in the European clubs I have nominated, (Let’s presume all players are starting XI players in HAL and European clubs).

      • July 8th 2017 @ 1:37pm
        Nemesis said | July 8th 2017 @ 1:37pm | ! Report

        This is not correct. The world’s best players generally are still playing in their home country at age 16. In fact, I think FIFA has laws that prohibit kids being signed by foreign clubs at such a young age, unless they can show some familial link to that country, or a neighbouring country.

        Viduka, Zelic, Okon, Chipperfield, Lazaridis, Grella, Bresciano, etc. etc were all playing in Australia in their mid-late teens.

        Didier Drogba was playing for mid-table team in France Ligue 1 until age 23.
        Serio Aguero was still playing in Argentina in his late teens.
        Luis Suarez still in Uruguay in late teens.

        Complete myth that the best players are going to Europe in their early teens. Right now, England best junior players are World Champions at u20 level are not playing EPL they’re in 2nd & 3rd Division teams in England.

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