When FFA appointed Dutchman Bert van Marwijk as coach back in January we all knew what we were getting.
A gun for hire. A short-term approach. A man who made no bones about his mandate – to get Australia out of Group C at the FIFA World Cup. Long-term plans were to be shelved. Short-term thinking was now in vogue.
How else can you explain the decision to leave Jamie Maclaren, Australia’s most in-form striker anywhere in the world, out of the 26-man World Cup squad to travel to Turkey for the pre-tournament training camp?
It is a baffling decision however you look at it. Let’s just look at the cold hard facts.
Maclaren has scored eight goals for Hibernian in 22 matches since joining in January, averaging a goal every 131 minutes. The next best of those named as a forward in van Marwijk’s initial squad is Andrew Nabbout with a goal every 212, followed by Apo Giannou (goal every 231 minutes) and Nikita Rukavystya (goal every 235 minutes).
At this moment in time, Australia doesn’t have a better goal scorer anywhere on the planet. And off the back of his incredible hattrick against Rangers on the weekend, making it five goals in as many matches to finish off the Scottish season, his confidence is sky high.
Maclaren is a confidence player, there is no better time to bring him back into the Socceroos setup than now. This is his time to shine and cement his spot in the side for the foreseeable future.
But not according to van Marwijk.
So if he misses out, who takes his spot? Rightly or wrongly this will now be pitched as a battle between Maclaren and Tim Cahill. Van Marwijk even admitted when naming his 32-man squad last week that Cahill, who has barely played since leaving Melbourne City for Millwall, is a ‘special case’. Make of that what you will.
Debate raged on social media on Monday morning about the merits of selecting one over the other. I am firmly in the camp that if it is a choice between the two, and given the other attacking options almost select themselves it pretty much is, that it has to be Maclaren every day of the week.
It beggars belief that you would select a 38-year-old who has played a grand total of 157 minutes of club football this season, in which he failed to find the back of the net (in fact Cahill’s last goal at club level was back in April 2017), ahead of a 24-year-old in arguably the best form of his career.
No one doubts Cahill’s contribution to Australian football. He will rightly be remembered as a legend of the game in Australia. His legacy, pardon the pun, is well and truly intact. But as Brisbane Times journalist Cameron Atfield tweeted on Monday, “…the World Cup isn’t a testimonial match.”
For all that Cahill has done for the green and gold, no one owns a Socceroos jersey. It was that very attitude and culture that Ange Postecoglou was tasked with changing after the ignominious end of the so-called Golden Generation.
Yet here we are again just a few short years later. A player, with barely any club football under his belt in the last 12 months, taking the place of a younger, more deserving player simply because of his past exploits.
But where does it end? How long do you keep taking the safe option? And what message does this send to the younger generation coming through? We’re constantly fed the message that you need to be playing regularly and playing well to earn your spot at the World Cup. But it seems that rule applies only to some.
And yet this was entirely predictable the moment FFA threw the long-term out the window when it appointed van Marwijk. His mandate is to get Australia out of its group at the World Cup. He cares not for the future of the game in Australia beyond July. Pragmatism will always win out in that scenario.
That’s what made Postecoglou so refreshing in his four years in charge. There was always an eye on the future. Pragmatism was replaced with daring. There’s not a chance that Maclaren, in his current form, would’ve missed the cut under Postecoglou. He valued players in such form.
Oh to have him back in charge. Where art thou, Postecoglou? I’m sure as he sits on a beach somewhere in the world, watching the World Cup on TV rather than experiencing it in person, Maclaren is asking himself that same question.
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