The Olyroos may have reached Tokyo 2020 with all the finesse of Eric the Eel, but there’s no doubt their qualification is a huge achievement and a major boost for Australian football.
The return of Robbie Kruse to Melbourne Victory could very well be marketed as Robbie’s Redemption Tour.
There is certainly no love lost between Kruse and a very large, vocal number of Australian football fans. His return to the A-League gives the 75-cap Socceroo the opportunity to demonstrate to all his doubters why he remains a familiar member of the Australian national team.
For some time now, Kruse has become a singular source of frustration for Socceroos supporters.
The volume of criticism has reached a crescendo over the last 12-18 months, with Kruse widely criticised for his role in Australia’s struggling attack.
My reading of the situation is that the majority of the criticism Kruse receives is borne out of the fact that he is actually quite a talented player – perhaps one of the finest exports every produced by the A-League – and as such, he is a victim of his own success.
The nifty winger has a fantastic knack for getting himself into positive positions, but does have a bad habit of letting himself down with a poor final ball – only adding to the sense of frustration he elicits from Socceroos fans.
At times, it seemed the only reason Kruse retained his spot in the team was because he was contracted to a club in Europe and not because he was playing well on a regular basis.
At other times, the criticism has reached ridiculous, sometimes disgusting levels.
Despite his critics, the former Bayer Leverkusen winger must be doing something right, however, because between Holger Osieck, Ange Postecoglou, Bert Van Marwijck and Graham Arnold, he has been given a role to play in the team.
The 2019 Asia Cup suggested that role may become increasingly limited under Arnold, but at the very least it seems he may remain an option for a role off the bench during the upcoming World Cup qualifiers.
Regardless of the feelings of the wider Australian support, Kruse has, for the most part, maintained the fierce backing of his Melbourne Victory supporters, who are rightly excited about his return to the club.
At 30 years-old, Kruse returns to the league at a fantastic age on the back of a nine-year journey spent mostly in Germany and is well-positioned to make a telling contribution to what is shaping up to be a very new-look Victory squad under Marco Kurz.
The return isn’t without its critics, who argue that the signing is just another example of the propensity of Victory – and the A-League as a whole – to recycle players.
But surely, the return of a player like Kruse should be considered a special circumstance.
This is not the tired old example of the Isaka Cernak’s of the A-League who trot from club to club.
This is the return of a Socceroo still close to the peak of his powers on the back of a marvellous career built up from the A-League.
His return is not “more of the same”, but rather brings its own compelling storyline to the competition.
This is about the return of a much-maligned Socceroo to the domestic competition with the club at which he built his game, name and reputation to prove his doubters wrong and prove his worth to the national team.
As some commentators have suggested, this is a mark of the growing maturity of a competition.
What’s more, with so much upheaval at Victory, perhaps it is not such a bad thing for the club – which has been the bastion of stability in the A-League thus far – to be welcoming back a player with strong ties to the club’s proud history.
During an off-season which has seen Kevin Muscat depart for the first time since the club’s inception, as well as the departure of many other Victory players (Kosta Barbarouses, Carl Valeri and to a lesser extent, Terry Antonis) who have been a massive part of the team’s recent success, bringing a player like Kruse into the fold may ease the transition into Victory’s new look.
New coach Marco Kurz still has a mountain ahead of him when it comes to compiling a squad capable of challenging Sydney FC for the A-League this season – as no doubt is the minimum expected of him – but the acquisition of Kruse is a solid start to his recruitment drive.