Always look on the bright side of the Socceroos

Stuart Thomas Columnist

By Stuart Thomas, Stuart Thomas is a Roar Expert

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    While the reflection and analysis of Australia’s failure to secure an automatic qualifying spot for Russia 2018 starts to simmer, two things have become obvious.

    Firstly, the assault on both the players and the manager has been persistent, ruthless and at times completely misinformed, and secondly, Australian football fans have the bonus of two further qualifying matches.

    I was as pleased as punch when the Australia versus Syria match venue was announced. Being a member of ANZ Stadium, it was an unforeseen benefit, not thought of amid the frustration and angst of the Thailand result.

    With a successful result against Syria, a tough test against Panama, the USA or Honduras awaits and another home game for the Socceroos. Greedily, I would love ANZ to host what could be a dramatic encounter yet I am sure Queenslanders would appreciate the opportunity even more, having been starved of national team action for some time.

    Being able to enjoy the bonus internationals, forgetting the horrors of a third-place finish in the group stage and celebrating the rare joy of watching the national team in action, will undoubtedly be a case of adorning a rather obvious pair of rose-coloured glasses.

    Most would prefer to sacrifice the upcoming games for the automatic qualification that looked well within our grasp. Instead, it might be wise to face some cold hard facts and practice some humble acceptance when it comes to the Socceroos.

    We seem stuck with a low-on-confidence coach, an ageing legend whose effectiveness is waning, a group of attackers unable to produce consistent goals and a back three who appear yet to have introduced themselves to each other.

    Perhaps the time is nigh to just accept the reality and use one of the most awful cliches in our current lexicon.

    ‘It is what it is.’

    The raw data appears to suggest that we aren’t where we thought we could or should be after the Asian Cup triumph. Ange Postecoglou trialled vast numbers of players trying to mould a squad to bring home the biggest prize in our confederation.

    He backed A-League players, blooded youngsters and had the team humming along. Sure there were dips along the way yet the trend appeared upward.

    Lately the graph has started to taper off, descend and, in the view of many, flat line. In the midst of all the doom and gloom, perhaps we need to think back to the Chile game, reflect on the attacking chances we did create against Thailand and accept the fact that qualification in Asia is tougher now than ever.

    Throw in the fact that we might not be as good as we thought we were and the frightening fact sinks in.

    As grassroots football, participation numbers and the attention the game is grabbing in Australia continues to rise, we need the national teams to be consistently tracking the same curve.

    Having both the Matildas and the Socceroos in World Cups is vital, however, it cannot always be the case.

    Matthew Leckie Australia Socceroos 2016 Football

    (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

    Much of the commentary around the disappointment of the qualifying campaign has been cutting yet has it all been deserved? Sharp-edged criticism from football writers, analysts of the game, ex-players and commentators seems fair play.

    However, some of the vitriol I have heard informally, anecdotally and through interactive media sources has been astonishing.

    Postecoglou, once touted as potentially the best coach of any code in the nation, has been reduced to a rude and media-shy mentor, with the frustrations of leadership beginning to erode his belief.

    The journey from ‘In Ange We Trust’ to ‘Ange Must Go’, has been an astonishing one. This week I have read of his mental instability, crazily optimistic formations and wonky selections for the Thailand game, which all supposedly led to our downfall.

    I have witnessed the man himself reach his wits end with the expected inquisition that has taken place as we lament our performance. I have even heard commentary that his original appointment was merely a cash-saving exercise by the FFA.

    Talk-back callers have told me he is out of step, out of ideas and frankly, out of time. Sportspeople whose greatest achievements lay in other codes and pursuits have suggested that Tim Cahill, Mathew Leckie and Brad Smith should never have been considered for the matches against Japan and Thailand.

    Their expert analysis tells me that Mustafa Amini and Jamie Maclaren were better options. Bernie Ibini’s name even got a mention.

    For many, it is clear. The coach is floundering, the back three is a nightmare and our passing game is slow, conservative and ineffective. However, for all the tactical criticism, most still throw a little rider on their comments.

    It usually goes a little something like this, ‘We just don’t have the players’.

    The cyclical nature of the argument is doing my head in. If the depth and quality in the squad is lacking at this point, then why is the coach copping heat from all quarters?

    Alternatively, why is he experimenting in the middle of a World Cup qualifying campaign with a revolutionary change to a back three, if he doesn’t possess the players to execute the plan?

    And what of the players? Things seemed positive in the Confederations Cup. Has the coach merely been let down by underperforming players and their inability to connect and gel when they gather in the national squad.

    Something tells me we are lacking in the playing stocks a little right now. And he technical experimentation might have been somewhat bold and foolhardy and some players do look out of form, slow and ineffective.

    In addition, the coach looks lost, frustrated and bereft of ideas to fix the issues. Conversely, Postecoglou is and always has been, a blue-sky thinker and has a history of doing the unexpected.

    Perhaps there is some truth and merit in each and every one of these ideas. In turn, it might be high time to just sit back and enjoy the bonus international matches, all the while acknowledging two simple realities.

    Maybe we aren’t that good right now and ‘it is what it is’.

    Stuart Thomas
    Stuart Thomas

    Stuart Thomas is a sports writer and educator who made the jump from Roar Guru to Expert in 2017. An ex-trainee professional golfer, his sporting passions are broad with particular interests in football, AFL and rugby league. His love of sport is only matched by his passion for gardening and self-sustainability. Follow him on Twitter @stuartthomas72.

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    The Crowd Says (33)

    • September 12th 2017 @ 6:13am
      punter said | September 12th 2017 @ 6:13am | ! Report

      Love the article Stuart, let me be the first;

      • Columnist

        September 12th 2017 @ 9:27am
        Stuart Thomas said | September 12th 2017 @ 9:27am | ! Report

        Poor Bwian. I think a few pundits need to follow the old rule of typing an email or a column and perhaps waiting a day or two to let the venom subside and then pass judgement. Things are far from perfect yet I can’t recall a time when things did look perfect for Australian football.

        As David Helfgott once said “It’s a constant struggle, isn’t it Sylvia?”

        Look at the intertextuality we have happening here Punter! Such Sydneyites, with our lattes, gluten free cookies and quinoa crackers.

    • September 12th 2017 @ 8:17am
      chris said | September 12th 2017 @ 8:17am | ! Report

      Well said Stuart. In regards to commentators from other sports having a go, well that’s just laughable. I think Ange does really well in giving them respect with an answer that they dont even deserve.

      • Columnist

        September 12th 2017 @ 9:29am
        Stuart Thomas said | September 12th 2017 @ 9:29am | ! Report

        Ex – cricketers and footballers telling me that Bernie Ibini should have been in the team! Strewth, I nearly drove off the road.

        • September 12th 2017 @ 10:05am
          Caltex TEN & SBS support Australian Football said | September 12th 2017 @ 10:05am | ! Report

          Very good read Stuart. As far as Bernie Ibini is concerned, he was very unlucky not to get in the squad. If MacLaren was given the chance then surely Bernie should have been considered as well. At SFC, he was never given the recognition he rightly deserved by Arnold. The young man was built perfectly to run the front line with speed and bulk in his physique—-a perfect striker’s build for the front line in Socceroos. It’s a shame he has now drop out of contention, considering he was ripe and ready to go last season to relaunch his Socceroos career.

    • September 12th 2017 @ 8:31am
      Nemesis said | September 12th 2017 @ 8:31am | ! Report

      When we read rational & calm voices like this, it makes the hysterical rants even more embarrassing.

      So, thank you, Stuart!

      Just one point that I need to dispute.

      Whilst I agree this cohort of players is not as technically gifted as I would like, I think we need to understand the glib “cattle not good enough” is quite ridiculous when we have dozens of examples from international football where the very best cattle – the prime cuts – are involved with teams who are struggling at international level.

      Argentina, Chile, Netherlands, France have all had results that are well below expectations. Is this because “they don’t have the cattle”?

      Argentina had Messi, Di Maria & Dybala on the park against Venezuela. They couldn’t score & were saved an embarrassing loss at home by a Venezuela own goal.

      Can you imagine if Australia had Messi, Di Maria & Dybala on the park?

      Additionally, Argentina’s coach is considered to be one of the best in the world, so let’s realise international football requires more than technical proficiency & coaching smarts.

      • Columnist

        September 12th 2017 @ 9:33am
        Stuart Thomas said | September 12th 2017 @ 9:33am | ! Report

        Thanks Nemesis, it’s actually a pretty simple rule of mine, that I follow almost all of the time. I could have jumped on the Bosnich, Slater and co bandwagon and written a vitriolic piece late at night full of venom and gusto. In the light of day, it would have seemed harsh.

        Some of the commentary and accusation I have heard from talk-back callers has been frightful. Too knee-jerk and lacking poise and a strong sense of our limitations as a team.

        And that is okay, because we are, and always will be, a work in progress. Postecoglou had a vision to lift this team to the heights. Playing like a 1980’s Socceroos team would never cut it.

        With mixed success, he has tried to take the national team into the true international sphere.

      • September 12th 2017 @ 2:26pm
        c said | September 12th 2017 @ 2:26pm | ! Report

        we aren’t that good right now

        • September 12th 2017 @ 11:38pm
          Nemesis said | September 12th 2017 @ 11:38pm | ! Report

          Who is that good right now?

          Germany, Brazil, Belgium. Maybe, Spain & Mexico.

          Anyone else?

          It can change very quickly.

          Brazil were rubbish 3 years ago.

          Aust were Kings of Asia 2yrs ago.

          Nothing stays the same forever in international football.

          • September 15th 2017 @ 6:07pm
            holly said | September 15th 2017 @ 6:07pm | ! Report

            >Anyone else?

            France (even allowing for the 0-0 with Luxembourg)

    • September 12th 2017 @ 9:03am
      Waz said | September 12th 2017 @ 9:03am | ! Report

      “Greedily, I would love ANZ to host what could be a dramatic encounter yet I am sure Queenslanders would appreciate the opportunity even more, having been starved of national team action for some time” ….

      … both games will be at ANZ so your NSWs greed will be satisfied lol. But the debate over socceroo match distribution is a debate for another day and whether we want a national team that plays across this continent or not?

      It’s high risk but if we qualify for Russia the hard way it will be well worth it; I suspect much of the angst is coming because a large volume of people don’t believe we will qualify now.

      • Columnist

        September 12th 2017 @ 9:36am
        Stuart Thomas said | September 12th 2017 @ 9:36am | ! Report

        Thanks Waz, I didn’t know the second game was locked it. Good news. I truly feel sorry for Queensland.

        • September 12th 2017 @ 10:10am
          Waz said | September 12th 2017 @ 10:10am | ! Report

          Ah, we’ll get there. The NRL/AFL are lobbying the government not to waste time on the Sok-ha and the FFA are buying in to it. But did these two games (if we get them) ANZ is an ideal location so no argument there… if we get a WCQ match next time around it will be 12 years between drinks and that’s unacceptable, it can’t be allowed to go to 16 years ?

          • September 12th 2017 @ 10:26am
            chris said | September 12th 2017 @ 10:26am | ! Report

            I really feel for you up there in Qld. It must be so dis-heartening to have a myopic govt only interested in SOO and the broncos.

            • September 12th 2017 @ 12:10pm
              Waz said | September 12th 2017 @ 12:10pm | ! Report

              Not for me personally but it does impact briadersupport as we have the second highest playing base of any state, massive growth in kids playing, and yet no Matildas or Socceroos games.

              And everyone says “blame the QLD Government” which is true to some extent but the lobbying behind this is coming from competing codes stoping it happening … if the FFA came to Suncorp themselves they’d make a healthy profit but the insist on selling the games to reduce the risk. It’s crazy and leaves our growth strategy open to manipulation from competing codes.

              • September 12th 2017 @ 12:27pm
                clipper said | September 12th 2017 @ 12:27pm | ! Report

                In saying that, the ANZ can fit 30k more and does get big crowds – the derby got more than any NRL match and the sport is really growing in Sydney.
                It does seem a shame that Brisbane misses out though.
                The play off, if against the US, would be huge and would receive a lot of media coverage.

              • September 12th 2017 @ 1:50pm
                chris said | September 12th 2017 @ 1:50pm | ! Report

                clipper heres hoping we dont get the US. Whilst a massive game insofar as interest etc. i just feel that the US is slightly better than us atm.

          • September 12th 2017 @ 5:58pm
            AR said | September 12th 2017 @ 5:58pm | ! Report

            “The NRL/AFL are lobbying the government not to waste time on the Sok-ha and the FFA are buying in to it.”

            Really Waz?

            I hadn’t seen that.

            Do you have a link for these lobbying efforts…or for evidence that the FFA is buying into it?

            • September 12th 2017 @ 7:33pm
              valhalla said | September 12th 2017 @ 7:33pm | ! Report

              like …….. any evidence at all

              • September 12th 2017 @ 8:41pm
                punter said | September 12th 2017 @ 8:41pm | ! Report

                The Hills are alive!!!!

    • September 12th 2017 @ 11:44am
      Eamonn Flanagan said | September 12th 2017 @ 11:44am | ! Report

      Good article Stuart

      We dont have the cattle.

      If we assume Australia and Japan have the same number of players playing in Europe, at the pointy end their players are playing at a higher level. Not by much.

      So say we have a right back problem (although it could be any position) Where do we look? Convert Leckie, persevere with Mcgowan, Geria, Milligan, Ridsden, Franjic etc.

      or like Japan we look at our resources.

      In Australia we have ten teams, three of whom have right backs named above. Others may include Hingert Marrone, Neville, Grant and a Kiwi and a few younger bods. Who you gonna pick and who is so good we can play a very strong 442 or 433.

      Japan, if they have the same problem, look to the J League 18 teams, or even J2 22 teams, where presumably a good young un could be on his way. That is a potentila 44 right backs playing, many many more games than our little shrinking pool of Aussies in the A League.

      With the talent pool available Ange is playing a style, dominating possession far above the level our group may be expected to perform at.

      Tomi and Timmy, Matthew and Robbie are they really in the same finishing mode as many Countries who have a Champions League player or three in their front 4. Of course not.

      And our defenders either dont play, or play at places many dont follow, or are a part time footballer playing 27 games at best with an A League Club.

      We are competing against Japan, Saudi etc, we really dont have the Bailey Wright set of players to walk in Oceania never mind Asia.

      Im with Ange. It aint the formation, when Brad Smith clearly marking in a back 4 as Bozza and his mates wants, cant be bothered to track for Japanese 1st goal. And it aint the formation that produces 45 attempts at goal against Thailand, and 2 goals.

      Enjoy the ride if you can, but give Ange a lift. Do we really think Gus Hiddinck could do better with our group? Really?

      Support the guys and the Coach and get the team to Russia At the end of the day it could come down to the support around the ,Coach and the players.

      Support or whinge? You decide. The time is now. Your country needs you:)

      • September 12th 2017 @ 1:22pm
        Midfielder said | September 12th 2017 @ 1:22pm | ! Report

        Eamonn Flanagan …. welcome back to these boards and don’t stray away as long ..

        You summed it i[ when you posted the following…

        Support the guys and the Coach and get the team to Russia At the end of the day it could come down to the support around the ,Coach and the players.

        Support or whinge? You decide. The time is now. Your country needs you:)

      • September 12th 2017 @ 1:23pm
        Midfielder said | September 12th 2017 @ 1:23pm | ! Report

        OMG Goods… please advise what word or phase sent this post for moderation…

      • September 12th 2017 @ 2:29pm
        Midfielder said | September 12th 2017 @ 2:29pm | ! Report

        mods your kidding why is my post still under moderation…

    • September 12th 2017 @ 11:52am
      Ken Spacey said | September 12th 2017 @ 11:52am | ! Report

      In some ways though it shows that Football is available. Any state with a HAL team can host a grand final, FFA Cup final or anyone can have NT matches at any level. Here in SA we spent a bloody fortune on Adelaide Oval and the AFL is the star tenant but we can’t host the event our leaders and much of the public crave. So most of the money generated by the AFL GF goes to Victoria and most of the tourism income as well. I also reluctantly agree that if in doubt give it to Sydney and the Olympic stadium. If NSW stands by its word to make it a rectangular sports only, that is a massive boost for ‘football”. Look at the Giants getting dodgy home final at Spotless (home city not home ground is the norm). The NRL are not clicking the turnstyles and take the All Blacks games out of it and Football of all forms is slowly moving up the charts in our second biggest venue. EPL, Barca exhibitions etc also smashing it so that doesn’t do any harm.

      Fan of Ibini but in the ideal world the idea of Bernie in the Roos and the intriguingly name Princess regularly starting for the Matildas is a marketing dream you couldn’t manufacture.

      • September 12th 2017 @ 12:49pm
        valhalla said | September 12th 2017 @ 12:49pm | ! Report

        out of interest, when was the last time you posted without making reference to the AFL?

        • Roar Rookie

          September 12th 2017 @ 8:14pm
          Grobbelaar said | September 12th 2017 @ 8:14pm | ! Report

          a cat can look at a king

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