The list of young players coming up through the ranks who could be Socceroos is getting quite long and there’s plenty of talent to choose from.
This is creating a sense of real optimism about the future and Graham Arnold has already said this could be the next golden generation.
The first criticism that immediately follows, of course, is that the ‘golden generation’ were all playing at top European clubs in top European leagues and that these new players aren’t. But that’s a point that Arnold himself seemed to acknowledge when he said that this “could be” the next golden generation.
Having said that, he’s already proved his doubters, who said that the squad he selected for the Olympic Games qualifiers in Thailand wouldn’t make it, wrong. This criticism may have also been a hangover from the World Cup in Russia and the Asian Cup in Qatar where goal-scoring was an issue.
But the squads who were sent to Russia and Qatar were unusually poor at goal scoring. In the final World Cup group match against Peru, the players in the starting front four had just 28 goals from 201 games between them, or less than one in seven. In Qatar, no player had more than ten international goals to their name and the entire 23-man squad had just 49 goals between them, which was only one less than Tim Cahill’s career total of 50.
Compare that to who we have now and who’s coming through.
Adam Taggart is fit unlike in 2018, while Jamie Maclaren seems to have improved as well. Deni Juric is going berserk in Croatia and Nikita Rukavytsya is making a real name for himself in Israel.
All four of these players have goals per match ratios around the one goal per two matches benchmark that you would expect from a good striker. These are the older experienced players, but the youth ranks don’t look bad either.
Dylan Wenzel-Halls has been a standout at Brisbane Roar and it’s hard not to see him scoring consistently as long as he’s given the opportunity and improves his fitness. At Adelaide United there’s a whole production line of talent, but Mohammed Toure seems to be the best prospect for the future. Like Wenzel-Halls, it isn’t hard to imagine him being a prolific goal scorer in years to come.
His older brother Al Hassan Toure also looks like he’s going places and once he makes up for the time he lost from his injury setback, he’ll be a serious goal threat once again. Then there’s Riley McGree, who’s another Adelaide United product that we can expect to see in the national squad at some point. He’s now at Birmingham City after scoring ten goals from 23 matches in the A-League last season.
There also look to be some very good prospects in academies overseas, too.
Marlee Francois scored a bunch of goals for Bristol City in their U18 squad last season and has now signed a professional contract with them. He plays on the left-wing but likes to make runs direct into the box and score from there, which he seems to be good at. His coaches have also noted that he’s hard for opposition players to try and mark.
In Germany, John Iredale has now recovered from his broken foot, which doctors described by saying it looked like it’d been hit by a truck. He had scored ten goals from 13 matches for the reserves at Wolfsburg before the injury and seems to be back on track again with five goals from eight matches so far this season. He’s tall at 189 cm which allows him to be an aerial threat, but he can also score with both feet and can turn his back to goal and hold off defenders.
Then you come to the big two future prospects, Alex Robertson and Cristian Volpato.
Alex Robertson was signed by Manchester City from Manchester United after their scouts saw how good he was at their youth side and didn’t want their rivals to have him. He was doing so well that Pep Guardiola even considered giving him time in the EPL squad when he was just 16, but an injury got in the way.
Robertson had scored six goals from six matches in the U18 side before the injury, but has now recovered and has scored seven goals from as many matches with the U23 squad.
Cristian Volpato, meanwhile, has just signed a professional contract at Roma, with Francesco Totti as his agent and mentor. Born and raised in Sydney, his talent was first noticed when he scored 25 goals in a match at Abbotsford juniors as a five-year-old, after which a parent asked for him to go to the AC Milan Academy in Sydney and then later went from there to the Australasian Football Academy. His coach there, Tony Basha, saw his potential and called his contacts at Roma to set up a trial, where he scored a hattrick within just 15 minutes of being brought on.
Now coming back to the idea that this could be the next golden generation, I think there’s good reason to be optimistic about that. All the players I’ve mentioned have goals per match ratios of (or look like they soon will) around one goal in every two matches. That means you could fill the front four attacking positions three times over with good goal scorers, or even more if you extend the list a bit, which means there’s plenty of depth.
There’s also a good chance that most of the 12 I’ve mentioned will soon be playing in top European leagues, too.
That sounds pretty good to me.