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Opinion

Why are so many people frustrated by the fact that the Socceroos are simply not good enough?

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Expert
4th April, 2022
101
4505 Reads

I am the guy standing next to you at international fixtures, cheering on the Socceroos to the point of exasperation; the idiot clenching his buttocks in anxious fear over opposition raids into the penalty area and the fool praying for that rare moment when a striker finds the net and, for just a second or two, Australian football fans believe.

The night Australia defeated Honduras in the 2018 inter-confederation play-offs in Sydney, I arrived home, a few sheets to the wind mind you, and cuddled my youngest daughter at the front door shouting, “We are going to Russia, we are going to Russia!”

Of course, what followed under Bert van Marwijk was disappointment personified; just two goals across three games and losses to France and Peru saw the Australians once again leave the world’s biggest sporting event with their tails between their legs.

However, the Socceroos were at the World Cup for their fourth consecutive appearance, a place many Aussies had grown to feel they actually belonged and in turn, deserved. Surely, that is all that matters?

Perhaps it isn’t.

The football world has changed immensely over the last 30 years. The explosion of African and Asian representation in the biggest leagues in Europe has completely refocussed the radar of recruiters who once predominately sought the best young English, German, Spanish and Italian boys.

Now they look far wider and more broadly, uncovering talent in previously untapped corners of the globe.

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Egypt, South Korea, Japan, Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire are prime examples of nations of which talent scouts were highly sceptical in the past, yet places where they now seek out the next genius to emanate from a once unlikely source.

No longer is the next world star assured to be Spanish, Argentinian or Portuguese, he could well come from anywhere on the planet and that says all that needs to be said when it comes to the immense changes we have seen in the world game.

Such a broadening of talent identification is at the heart of the foolish lamentations of people wondering why there is not more Australian talent honing its craft in the English Premier League; a ridiculous musing based on the rather flawed belief that Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka were competing in an equally international league as they enjoyed success during their primes.

In reality, Tom Rogic, Aaron Mooy, Mathew Ryan, Ajdin Hrustic and Harry Souttar would have also played consistently and enjoyed long careers in England at a similar time, yet now find themselves just a step or two off the pace when it comes to consistent selection at the top level in the EPL.

That reality is not a reflection of their talent, more a clear reminder of the expanding global game and the uber-challenging path to the elite level that players right across the world now face. In essence, the talent pool has been funnelled into the narrowest of places, with access to the English Premier League now reserved for the best 300 players in the world.

Celtic's Australian midfielder Tom Rogic heads the ball.

Tom Rogic is one of Australia’s brightest overseas stars. (Photo: Paul Ellis/Getty Images)

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Currently, there are few Australians worthy of such a position. However, this is also the case for many young English players who now head abroad to the United States, India and even Australia in search of a kick, when in the past, they may have been able to find a spot on the roster of a mid-table English team.

There has never been fewer English-born players competing in the top English flight.

Thus, Australian football fans need to shift their thinking and see the new global game for what it is. After the move to Asia and what many saw as ensured advancement to World Cups for many years to come, the new reality is that nations such as Oman, UAE, China, Vietnam and Thailand have caught up with Australia, with Iran, Saudi Arabia, Japan and South Korea careering into the distance.

Even with an expanded tournament in 2026, qualification should never be taken for granted and is likely to become increasingly difficult.

As a football nation, Australia needs to face a simple and somewhat sobering reality that others in our confederation do not face the same intense competition thrown at them by a multitude of other sports, have clear government and corporate support that fuels growth in the game and are getting better with each major tournament in which they compete.

Ex-Socceroos can sit and lament the losses to Japan and Saudi Arabia, questioning commitment, passion and unity in the camp, yet they all miss the point. Australia is still a football minnow, with the odd highlight to show for its efforts. That is nothing to be ashamed of, just an inconvenient truth that some fail to acknowledge.

Right now, the Socceroos are a team not quite good enough to qualify for the FIFA World Cup, barring another miracle in the play-offs. I’ll be cheering them on as always, yet even if the team somehow does manage to succeed in its quest, the chances of doing anything significant in Qatar are slim and none.

The Socceroos will and should always strive to perform better in international football, yet understanding just where we sit in the pecking order and accepting that as reality might also provide an oft-absent sense of perspective and self awareness.

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