The season is kicking into gear and the evenness of the competition cannot be denied, allowing us to delve into the finer detail of the talking points from Round 8.
RIP Pim Verbeek
In the lead up to Round 8 we received the news of the passing of former Australian head coach Pim Verbeek, aged 63.
Social media and mainstream media was aflush with the warmest of tributes, perhaps none more stunningly heartfelt than Simon Hill, who referred to the Dutch coach as a kind and genuine human being.
In fact, one of the more personal tributes was given by former football writer Jesse Fink through his Twitter account.
Pim Verbeek was one of a kind, a rare human being, a great husband, father, grandfather and friend, a man who lived his life to the full and achieved his potential. He went in peace. I love you, mate. https://t.co/aWBHyOSDhP pic.twitter.com/5nNTuM48VI
— Jesse Fink (@JesseFink) November 28, 2019
The minute’s applause before each game this weekend to commemorate the passing of a figure who played a key role in the modern-day form of Australian football history was a more than fitting tribute to a man who, at the time of his tenure, was something of a polarising figure.
It is the “genuine” part of Simon Hill’s assessment of Verbeek than perhaps worked the against him at times when, having been asked about the standard of the A-League at the time, Verbeek commented that the standard was poor and would our teams would struggle against lower-level Dutch teams. It was him being genuine that came across as instead critical.
For a home media that is used to foreigners heaping praise on our own, this never sat well, but of course, Verbeek was simply being honest. He did not mean any harm.
The further irony of the criticism that Verbeek had to withstand over his A-League critique was that today, the standard criticism of the league is that it is poor, not up to standard, and the main reason why people stay away from the domestic game.
So, if anything, perhaps Pim was ahead of his time.
Pim ultimately leaves a positive legacy on the game in this country.
If his criticism at the time about the A-League was not openly and warmly received, maybe even a little unnecessary, it was a critique that was bred out of his drive to make the game better, because ultimately, he loved the game itself, and upon reading multiple tributes since his passing, his ceasing to be our head coach did not in fact end his association with Australia.
Pim it turned out continued to stay in contact with his friends here, following the game, staying in touch, because he was just that type of man.
Perhaps his greatest triumph was in leading us to that last round-robin win over Serbia, as the last of the supposed golden generation played until the death to get us into the knockout rounds, although it was not to be.
But in 2010, as Australians woke up early in the morning to witness Brett Holman score a goal of the tournament contender, Australia stood tall above a European opponent, and finished the World Cup with a win.
I like to think that the victorious manner with which we finished that World Cup might have inspired one or two younger players to take up the round ball game and pursue the football dream.
And yet it was Graham Arnold who, as Simon Hill wrote, gave the highest praise to Pim: “The greatest man I ever met. He was a real father to everyone.”
Arnold served as Pim’s assistant at the 2010 World Cup, after which Arnold would go on to win a championship with the Mariners and multiple trophies with Sydney FC, and to be sure, it is often said that Arnold was a coach who cared deeply about his players during his A-League stints and has transferred that method to his current Socceroos undertaking.
Perhaps Pim’s legacy on the A-League runs deeper than we realise.
Rust goed Pim.
Welcome back Robbie Kruse
Has there been a player in the last five years that has been at the centre of hot debate when it comes to Australian footballing talent more than Robbie Kruse?
Everybody who watches Australian football broadly has offered their opinion on Kruse’s talent, ability, production, and places in various teams.
The well-travelled player, having started out his career with the Brisbane Roar, before heading to Germany via Melbourne Victory, made his way back to the A-League and the Victory outfit this season, however in the opening seven rounds did not take the field.
The man has so often been criticised throughout his career, none more so than while wearing the gold jersey of the Socceroos.
However, making your season debut at home and scoring what would be the winner?
That is the type of fairy-tale stuff that dreams are made of, and it was not clear who was happier when he scored: Kruse, the crowd, or perhaps even Ola Toivonen finally realising he is going to get some help up front this season.
Andrew Nabbout completes a handy front three for the Victory, and there is no doubt that if those players stay fit for the rest of the campaign, the early season stutters will be a thing of the past.
For Kruse though, on a late Spring Friday night in Melbourne, he tapped home the winner against Perth, and ran to an adoring crowd in celebration, his arms raised in triumph.
Welcome back Robbie, and here’s hoping that you can have a season to remember.
Young by name, experienced by nature
Football is a game that, for all the talk about possession, formation, statistics and analysis, nothing compares to the final outcome that matters most: taking your chances.
Jamie Young has found himself out of the side for the start of this campaign, and coach Robbie Fowler recalled the veteran for the crunch game against the Mariners.
Fowler’s men were clearly on top at Suncorp, if having failed to create any big moment chances, but of course games aren’t won by possession stats, they’re won by goals.
The Mariners probably already felt hard done by not to be in front early, having hit the crossbar through Kim Eun-Sun.
And while it was the veteran between the posts for the home side, he was contending with the veteran up from for the Mariners, Matt Simon, he of the pressure acts if not the goals accumulated.
Tommy Oar slid through the ball for Simon to run onto, but it was the wily Young who ran off his line, made himself big, closed the space for Simon, and saved the goal.
That would ultimately be a sliding door moment for the Roar, because while the Central Coast themselves would finish the half with Mark Birighitti saving from a one-on-one situation, followed shortly by a goal-line clearance, the Roar would come out in the second half and take the game with Roy O’Donovan kicking things off.
But you go back to that Young save.
Matt Simon puts his chance away, and perhaps the Mariners are a bit steelier at the back protecting a 1-goal lead, rather than pressuring from a nil-all position.
Sure, clean sheets don’t win you games, but they do save you from losing, and for the veteran Young doing the job for the Roar, he would have come from the field hugely satisfied with his efforts.
The Port Macquarie Pele
There was a fair amount to unpack from this game.
It would be easy to say that the wrong goalkeeper was talked about in this round in the above point about Jamie Young, given that Daniel Lopar put on a first-half clinic not of conventionally brilliant goalkeeping, but of out-of-this-world superstar goalkeeping that would normally win your team matches.
However, Lopar’s first half extravaganza was then nearly matched by Glen Moss in the second half, at no point more so than his double save in the 61st minute that saw the Jets maintain parity, when they were still scratching their heads about how they weren’t in front.
And were it not for the VAR-embargo I put on myself at the season’s start, then the two shouts for penalties that the Wanderers are still scratching their heads about might have got even more attention.
Yet for all the goalkeeping heroics and VAR controversy, it is still the scoring of goals, not the stopping them, that wins you games, and to that end, we must take a moment to congratulate the substitute’s performance of Angus Thurgate, dubbed the Port Macquarie Pele.
Thurgate came on for the tireless Arroyo with half an hour to go, and left his impact, shooting true for the go-ahead goal, and setting up Dimi Petratos for the second clincher.
Thurgate’s finish was superb, but it was his perfectly timed run to set up the second that was more incredible, given that for all appearances he looked a solid ten feet offside.
Instead, replays showed that Thurgate had timed it to perfection, and simply left the Wanderers’ defence in his wake.
Thurgate has now played his part in the last three goals the Jets have scored, and is enjoying a good patch of form.
More notably for the Jets though, they are making his form count with wins on the board.
As a side note, some of the Jets faithful either laughed at the irony, or scowled at the unjust nature of it, that the Wanderers came to Newcastle wearing a golden away strip.
For some Jets fans from the early days, the idea of the away side in Newcastle being cast in gold was an unhappy thought, leaving some Jets’ fans wishing that they could return to their golden roots, and ditch the red and blue more attributed with their rugby league brethren.
Everyone is feeling the effects of the drought
The thing about scoring droughts is that the longer they go on, it is not necessarily a given that you are getting closer to breaking them.
Failing to score for a while sort of creeps up on you.
You miss one game, you think to yourself that just wasn’t your game, you will get one next game.
Then that next game comes along, you don’t’ score, and ever so steadily the doubt starts to creep in.
Third game, and you start to panic.
Now, that’s fine if you are an individual player, because generally speaking you have other players to pick up the slack and get goals on the board for the team.
So when your whole team is going scoreless, that becomes a slide that is hard to fix, as the weight of expectation starts to slowly and steadily crush your spirit.
Western United have now failed to find the net for three games, and that is a lot of time.
They have gone from a handy eight goals in five games, to a far-from-sustainable eight goals in eight games.
So bad is it that their mere failure to score saw them drop below Western Sydney on the ladder on goal difference.
With a front three that has the likes of Scott McDonald and Besart Berisha, known marksmen, the ability to score should not be a problem for the new franchise, yet here they are three games into a drought, and losing ground on the pack at the top of the table.
United will score again eventually, but how much damage will be done by the time they do?
Wellington have a gem in Davila
He may not get the plaudits and the coverage on these shores because he’s plying his trade in the land of the long white cloud, but Ulises Davila is proving to be an astute acquisition by Ufuk Talay and the Wellington Phoenix club.
He was lively against Adelaide, and hugely unlucky not to get on the scoresheet in the first half.
Paul Izzo continued the tradition of keepers having a stellar round to ensure that after his one-on-one save that the home side went to the sheds still at parity at half-time.
But Davila was in a rampaging mood in Adelaide, and was working as hard as possible to get his team on the scoresheet.
He has quietly accumulated himself four goals leading into this round, and has proven to be a constant threat up front for the Phoenix.
He was in the mood again in Adelaide, and while Talay will have a few headaches as the season goes on, if Davila can keep up this output, the forward third for Wellington at least will be something that Talay need not devote too much of his attention to.