Some months back at a swanky book launch in Sydney, I was engaged in conversation with a group of football fans about the Socceroos and their chances of qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
At that exact moment in time, I felt Graham Arnold’s men were as good a chance as any based on the performances of the players he appeared likely to select.
I doubled down by suggesting, honestly, that I believed the current crop of youngsters slowly but surely earning the respect and confidence of the manager, had the potential to do something quite special in national colours, so talented they were.
The fella to my left raised his eyebrows and sipped on his chardonnay rather dismissively, the mover and shaker directly in front of me looked left and right to gauge opinion and said nothing at all, whilst a woman to my right simply turned her back and said, “Well, I can’t say I agree with that.”
As a bit of a glass half full kind of fella, I smiled and moved on to another conversation. It was only later that I reflected on the inbuilt negativity that often rears its head when it comes to the Socceroos and those seemingly determined to downplay their chances in a qualifying situation within which the team has fared well in recent times.
I wondered why all three of the people in my company at that moment appeared somewhat emphatic in their disapproval of the current crop of Socceroos and to me, almost expectant that qualification not be achieved.
All three are Australians, smart folk and very nice people. So why the negativity when, based on my fairly consistent viewing and analysis of the current players in Arnold’s squad, I expressed a view that Australian football is about to witness the most competitive men’s team we have had the pleasure of watching for some time?
Since that evening, the Socceroos have won six straight matches to add to the four won in late 2019 during the second round of Asian Confederation qualification. Statistically, that places the Socceroos in the box seat when it comes to automatic advancement to the big dance in Qatar; with crucial matches against Oman and Japan looming in the next week.
Saudi Arabia await soon after, in early November, and those three match-ups could well be the determining factors in deciding the Socceroos’ qualification fate.
Graham Arnold is confident, the players no doubt share his view and count me in as another feeling extremely assured that this Socceroos squad has a steel and skill about it that many others in recent memory have lacked.
My theory is that the void of Australians playing in the English Premier League has somewhat flattened the over 50’s view of the current crop; completely ignoring the reality that insane EPL wages have lured the best from right around the globe, at the expense of many local English lads and subsequently, some of the best Australia is producing.
There appears to be nowhere near enough credit given to players like Aziz Behich, Tom Rogic, Awer Mabil and Ajdin Hrustic, men who ply their trade in top class European leagues. Not to mention those playing consistently in other corners of the globe like Aaron Mooy, Mitchell Duke and Adam Taggart.
Toss in a host of brilliantly talented young men such as James Jeggo, Kenneth Dougall, Callum Elder, Jackson Irvine, Harry Souttar and Riley McGree who are engaged in lower league European play and one could easily be persuaded to think that the current generation of Socceroos actually have the potential to be something quite special.
Considering that the current campaign has been hampered by the logistical challenges presented to Rhyan Grant and the absence of the nation’s first choice goal sneak Jamie Maclaren, as well as the unavailability of other domestically based players, the current run of success points to something real and tangible.
There does appear to be depth available to the manager and competition for starting spots is seemingly invigorating the squad and spurring them to a level of consistency we have not seen for some time.
The football world is now truly global and for those folk with whom I shared a drink just a few short months ago, a rethink around the definitions of success and quality when it comes to Australian footballers abroad appears to be required.
Frankly, despite the challenges, the Socceroos are doing very, very well. Bring on Oman and Japan. I think the boys are ready.