Posts tagged ‘European’

Finding Her Identity

Last week’s result by the Socceroos securing a draw with World Champions Germany n Kaiserslautern was another feather in the cap of national team coach Ange Postecoglou. It was also a wonderful result on the back of the team’s Asian Cup victory.

Despite these successes there is something that Ange Postecoglou has managed to achieve that no other Socceroos coach has achieved, and for that the game should be eternally grateful.

Rale Rasic back in the Seventies awoke the nation with is team of part-timers making it to the World Cup in 1974 being one of just 16 teams that participated in the finals. It was almost a surreal experience according to those who remember it.

Guus Hiddink broke the jinx, and in truth had some luck in seeing the team qualify for Germany in 2006; in a penalty shoot-out the result can go anyway, unless you are playing Germany! Yet when the tournament started he showed his tactical acumen and managed to steer the team past the group stage, and almost past eventual Champions Italy.

Pim Verbeek achieved the remarkable steering the team to the 2010 finals conceding just a single goal against Japan in the final round of qualifying, with a team that was clearly on the wane. His mission was accomplished. He has suffered major criticism for the 4-0 defeat against Germany, yet the same team went on to beat England 4-1 and Argentina 4-0 before bowing out to Spain in the semi finals.

No one except the FFA and Holger Osieck will ever know what the total brief was at the time of his appointment. One key factor was another qualification for the World Cup which he achieved. He was criticised for not blooding enough young players, yet he achieved the task that he was set.

What all of these failed to do, that Postecoglou has managed to do in his short time as coach, was play a style of football that taps into the Australian psyche.

In the past week this writer has spoken to three people who confessed they never watched the Socceroos before ‘because they were boring.’ They still admitted they did not watch most of the game but they would tune in because the current team is ‘exciting to watch.’

There is no doubt that the Golden generation featuring the likes of Schwarzer, Viduka, Kewell, Bresciano, Grella, Neill and co, were technically more gifted than many of the current crop of players. There were also more of them playing football at a higher level than most of the current crop. Yet the team never managed to achieve what Postecoglou’s players have achieved.

Postecoglou is without doubt one of the best home grown coaches Australia has produced. Like many of the great coaches an injury curtailing his career – just as happened to Brian Clough – saw him enter management at a very young age. Success in the NSL was a regular achievement. When the A-league started he was coach of the national Youth team, which proved with hindsight to be a great learning experience. Back in club football in the new A-League with Brisbane Roar he again created a team that played attractive football and won championships. When he became national coach many wondered how he would fair and early results were not promising. Yet during those games a pattern was evolving.

A pattern that has seen Australia for the first time have a football team with an identity. By that we mean an identity in terms of the style of football that the national team plays.

Australian football under Frank Arok was again blessed with extremely talented players, many who were still forced to be semi-professional. The team was always combative, the team never ever gave up, but the style frequently changed depending on the opposition or the importance of the match.

It was the late Spurs and Northern Ireland captain Danny Blanchflower who once said “Our tactics have always been to equalize before the other team score.” It may sound crazy but one feels the sentiment is there in this Australian team.

Postecoglou has tapped into the Australian sporting Psyche, that Australians in every sport like to be the aggressor. Look at the Cricket team, the Wallabies, the Kookaburras, all are teams that are immediately on the front foot against their opposition. All of them like to take it up to the opposition and make them know that they are not in awe of them. Previous Socceroos coaches have focussed on trying to limit the scoring opportunities of the opposition and therefore tended to play very defensive football. It appears Postecoglou realises that currently Australia’s defensive stocks are not world class, and therefore the team is bound to concede against quality opposition. However rather than sit back and try and limit the damage, his teams go on the attack. The theory being that Australia will score more than their opponents. It is a style that has resonated with many Australians who have never followed the game, and he may well have finally given the nation a style that becomes synonymous with the Socceroos.

Japan knew they could never compete physically with the bigger European players, so they developed a fast paced game based on speed touch and fitness in order to be competitive and it has paid dividends to their national team and is now a style that is expected from their teams. They focussed on their strengths and improved their weaknesses.

Postecoglou has done exactly the same. He has tapped into Australia’s desire to be the team on the attack and a new style of football has evolved. A style that seems to have captured the public’s imagination. Hopefully is a style that can be maintained, and will just like Japan become synonymous with the Socceroos.

To quote the inspirational Danny Blanchflower again ” The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It is nothing of the kind. The game is about glory, it is about doing things in style and with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.” It would appear that Postecoglou shares those sentiments.

Blanchflower was a part of a Tottenham team that won the double and also steered Northern Ireland to the quarter finals of the 1958 World Cup in the same year he lost his brother Jackie in the Munich Air disaster. Spurs with him in the side played an attractive brand of football, a brand of football where they believed if the opposition scored one, they would score two.

It would appear the Socceroos under Postecoglou have the same sense of belief. It certainly appears that they have found a style that resonates with the people of Australia. Let us hope they continue to win fans over playing football in this manner and like Spurs and Northern Ireland with Blanchflower in their side are rewarded with success. Most of all let this be the style of football for which Australia is known.

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March 30, 2015 at 10:35 am Leave a comment

Premier League Clubs Looking Local For Success.

Despite football clubs always on the look out for big name signings to not only perform on the pitch but also help sell merchandise off of it, a recent report has shown that home grown talent is in fact proving a very successful and beneficial way to go for many clubs; a fact many fans have been promoting for years.

Manchester United were the first club to show what home-grown talent could achieve, when the likes of Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Nicky Butt and Gary and Philip Neville broke through and lifted the Champions League title.

How times have changed since then, when Manchester United played Tottenham Hotspurs a fortnight ago they had spent GBP149million over the Summer on their squad. Tottenham on the other hand had five players who had come through the juniors sides at White Hart Lane.

As one of those young players said in the national press in England, it is harder for youngsters to break through than in other European nations, where they actively promote local talent.

“There are a lot of talented players who are not given the chance and then they get lost in the system and maybe things don’t work out for them in football.” Ryan Mason was quoted as saying. “The more clubs who give players these chances the better.”

Mason praised coach Mauricio Pochettino for giving youngsters a chance at Southampton, and carrying on that ethos at Tottenham. Mason said that he believed that England had the depth of playing talent, but that many managers opt for foreigners to fill key positions rather than entrust that responsibility to a local player.

Interestingly Paul Scholes, a player who knows the importance of being given a chance when young has backed Mason to break into Roy Hodgson’s England squad sooner rather than later. Mason may not have made the recent squad but his Spurs team mate Harry Kane aged 21 did.

This season Tottenham has given five local players who came through their youth system and who are aged 24 and under regular starts. Arsenal have given 8 players who came through their youth system games, the oldest player being 25 year old Kieran Gibbs, while Ainsley Maitland-Niles is the youngest at 17. QPR has given three local players games, West Ham, Crystal Palace and Chelsea two each.

With a shift to local talent being given a chance one has to question the benefit of young Australian players heading to Premier League clubs and their chances of breaking through. As Massimo Luongo has shown, having come through the Tottenham youth ranks, a move to a lower division side and playing regularly for that side may be the better option in the long term. Luongo showed in the Asian Cup that he can step up and perform at international level and with consistent performances at club level has a number of clubs in higher divisions monitoring his progress. As the old saying goes all that glitters is not gold.

It will be interesting to watch in the coming seasons whether the trend being followed by Arsenal and Tottenham is taken up by other clubs. Is buying big still a guarantee for success?

March 26, 2015 at 9:18 am Leave a comment

Football Must Unite for Change

It is refreshing to witness that Football appears to be finally be awakening from a slumber that has lasted almost four decades.

The BBC and Sky Sports have cleverly offered to host a live television debate amongst the candidates for Football’s top post the Presidency of FIFA. As they quite rightly state the current incumbent Sepp Blatter has frequently claimed that the rille is the equivalent to that of a head of state, so why not treat the run in for the Presidency in the same vein and have a televised debate, where all candidates get to air their views on key issues?

For too long Blatter and his acolytes have ruled with a complete air or arrogance and untouchability. Their lead has sadly been followed further down the pecking order by individual national Federations. On occasion FIFA has pulled them into line despite the hypocrisy of such actions, and on other occasions they have let sleeping dogs lie. On both occasions the game has been the one to suffer, along with those who support and participate outside of the professional game.

FIFA’s mission statement has been “For the Good of the Game.” Yet such a statement is ridiculous when one looks at the actions of the men in FIFA and insults the intelligence of those fans of the game. “The Football Family” is another annoying and equally condescending mission statement, especially when only the head of the family has a say.

News that there may in fact be a breakaway from FIFA is refreshing and long overdue. When you are unable to change something from the inside, that is if you can in fact get inside, then it is time for change.

The awarding of the next two World Cups to Russia and Qatar may well be the tipping point for change. How can a country where racism is endemic, as is the case in Russia host such a global party? How can a tournament traditionally played at the same time of year be moved and hosted by a nation built on slave labour and where the stadia construction has resulted in hundreds of deaths?

To show just how much FIFA does not care about due process, Secretary General Jerome Valcke has effectively admitted that FIFA bought off the threat of legal action on the timing of the 2022 World Cup by awarding the USA television rights to the 2026 tournament to Fox and NBC- owned Telemundo without going through the usual tender process. Compensation to all of the European Football leagues that will be disrupted by the 2022 World Cup being run in the lead up to Christmas will no doubt be settled in a similar way, because money talks. Greed saw the World Cup awarded to Qatar and greed will see many Football Federations roll over and have FIFA tickle their tummies with wads of cash, when it comes to compensation for a December tournament. Although Mr Blatter has assured his member nations the tournament will not run past the 18th of December; the final day of the tournament no doubt, as this is also coincidentally the National Day of Qatar!

Should the European and South American nations boycott the 2022 World Cup? Many fans believe that they should. Whether they do will be a different matter altogether, although momentum for such a move is building.

Germany, Spain and Italy are believed to be strong supporters of a new world order, and they have the support of the home nations in the United Kingdom. Emerging power bases in Asia, Africa and South America are also said to be aligning themselves with these nations. The question is are all of these nations prepared to get their own houses in order, and crush the corruption within their own Federations?

This is a great opportunity for Football to act, the time has never been better. If Football fails to act it may well get left behind.

This may sound a strange statement for a game that dominates world sport in terms of participation and spectators, but other sports are changing the way they operate in order to survive.

Rugby Union is looking at a similar closed shop operation that sustains Baseball and American Football so well in the USA and sees both of these sports with strong and healthy bank balances. Cricket is going through a metamorphosis as its commitment to traditional Test Cricket is being eroded by commercial necessity driven by Indian administrators and ably supported by England and Australia. Even the Olympic Games market is being manipulated to try and pull in a younger average age of viewer, this is being done courtesy of new sports being introduced and traditional ones being thrown out.

Fans across the globe are no longer happy funding multi-millionaire players who behave abominably and fail to perform. With more and more internet viewing, and some via illegal streaming, football has to change. Just as the music industry has had to adapt, so too does football have to change.

Apart from crushing corruption football needs clear thinkers to be driving the game forward at this point in its history. If key nations do boycott the 2022 World Cup, there will be a great deal of shouting and posturing from those at FIFA unwilling to relinquish control, they will try and issue bans but guaranteed new similar competitions will spring up and will thrive, history has shown that. It just takes the courage of a few to stand up and be counted.

Maybe it is time that UEFA President Michel Platini did follow through on making the European Championships the biggest tournament in the world and just like the Copa America invite the top nations from South America and Africa to perform as guests at their tournament. (World Cup By Invite Only).

In football there are too many top dogs for whom the game is not their true passion. It is a job, a steeping stone to big money illegal or otherwise, as well as free tickets to plush events. Administering sport should be more than that, as the great Bill Shankly believed, it must be a passion. Then you can guarantee the person will go the extra yard for what is best for the game, and they will be happy to do so and put in that time. They will never want to harm their club or the game itself.

There is a line in Don Quixote that reads “Tragedy is to see life as it is, not as it should be.” This is how football is at the moment. Yet through times of difficulty come opportunity. The question is will those nations with the power to make change grasp that opportunity. Hopefully they will try, and when they do they would do well to remember the words of Martin Luther King, “Right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.” Something Mr Blatter will hopefully be beginning to realise, along with many others in the game who are not there for the real ‘good of the game.’

March 3, 2015 at 10:20 am 1 comment

A Good or a Bad Time to Return?

What motivates an athlete in todays sporting world? Is it money? To earn enough that he will be set up for life? Is it success in the sport that they play? To play at the highest level possible and pit their wits against the best, to know exactly how good they really were when they reflect back on heir career? Is it all about winning trophies? To be honest each individual is different, so there is no definitive answer.

Australian striker Nikita Rukavystya is no doubt asking himself many of those questions at this very time, as he ways up a possible return to Australia from a career in Europe, and then whether he opts for Western Sydney Wanderers or the club he left in his hometown Perth, Perth Glory.

In the back of Rukavystya’s mind will be the fact that he was overlooked for the squad that new Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou took to the World Cup in Brazil. To many this was a baffling decision as Rukavystya’s blistering pace late in a game when defenders are tired is always likely to earn a penalty or see him outstrip a defence and possibly score. Did the two fall out after the Western Australian made himself unavailable for a camp? Opting to play in Australia and scoring regularly would put him under the nose of Postecoglou and make it hard for the coach not to select him.

Yet a return to Australia would bring to an end Rukavystya’s European dream at a time when he should be at his peak aged 27.

It is interesting to compare Rukavystya’s career path with that of his former Australian Institute of Sport colleague Nathan Burns who opted to return to the A-league in 2013-14 on loan to Newcastle Jets. Burns is a year younger than Rukavystya at 26.

Both attended the AIS in 2006. Burns joined Adelaide United after his one year in Canberra while Rukavystya joined Perth Glory after his two years in the nation’s capital. Both spent two seasons with their A-League clubs, Burns played 35 games and scored 9 goals, Rukavystya played 42 and scored 16; The latter was an out and out striker, whereas Burns was often used wide or as a second striker.

Burns moved to AEK Athens on a four year deal Rukavystya went to FC Twente. Both players were loaned out to other clubs, Rukavystaya was eventually sold to Bundesliga 2 side Hertha Berlin while Burns contract was terminated, and he headed to South Korea and signed for Incheon United. Rukavystya was a regular starter at Herha and helped steer them back to the German top flight, yet right on the transfer deadline he switched clubs and joined Mainz. He has struggled there and spent a season on loan to Frankfurt back in Bundesliga 2. Burns struggled at Incheon and was loaned to A-League club Newcastle Jets and has now signed permanently with Wellington Phoenix.

Both of these players were selected for the AIS because they were stand out players in their age groups around the country. Both were destined for higher things, yet some may say have not quite managed to fulfil their potential. Was this bad management, in the choice of clubs they signed for? Were they sent to top flight clubs too soon? Did the AIS prepare them adequately for a career in top flight football?

Both of these players at 26 and 27 should be at the peak of the playing powers. Yet instead of playing their football amongst the best in Europe, there is a chance that both could be back in Australia playing. As much as many will say it is great that some of our most talented players are back in Australia playing it is very sad that they are. They shouldn’t be here. We should not want them back here playing at 26, 27 28 years of age. This is when we need them playing at the highest level so that our national team benefits from that experience, and the standard at which they are used to playing.

Burns had moments last year where you saw the player that excited as a youngster at Adelaide, but in the main he looked a shadow of that talent. This year under Ernie Merrick expect him to be revitalised.

It will be hard for Rukavystya if he comes back to Australia. There will be huge expectations attached to his performance, and inside there would no doubt be huge disappointment that realistically he is unlikely to ever play in Europe again. His best option if he wanted another move overseas would be Asia, but unless you are playing in Japan or possibly Korea, it is again a questionable move and one that is usually made purely for a retirement plan.

One cannot help feeling that if his management was more careful and thought about which team would best suited his skills and temperament, he could still carve out a successful career in Europe; yet some agents will always opt for the easy option, which is a return home and security in a regular game and good money.

Many will celebrate if Rukavystya returns, yet there are those of us who will be very sad to see it happen. He showed the year Hertha Berlin won promotion back the Bundesliga that he can play, and hold down a regular place in a side. He was second highest in the league with assists that season. He should be at the peak of his playing powers, and therefore he should be playing at the highest level possible. Whatever anyone says the A-League is a big drop from the level he can and should still be playing at.

The final hard decision will be his. How he reaches that decisions only he will know but ultimately it may all come back to that key question, what motivates a player?

October 7, 2014 at 11:03 am 7 comments

Do as I Do, Not as I Say

There is an old saying one swallow doesn’t a summer make, and it is wise to remember that in sport as one game does not make a great team.

The Netherlands destroyed current World Cup holders Spain in their opening game of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Slotting five goals passed the Spanish for the first time since 1964. It was a joy to behold. Beautiful football played by nation that gave us a total football; a style of play that has been adopted by the Australian Hockey team to great effect. Total football was, and still is, a theory where any outfield player can take over the role of any other player in a team. IN simple terms a player who moves out of his position is replaced by another team-mate, thus retaining the team’s intended organisational structure.

Whereas this cover was still very evident in the Dutch performance against Spain what stood out was the pace of the players and the passing into space for those players to run onto.

The Dutch have for a long time been associated with “Possession football” something that their coaches have tried to force on Australia. The trouble is you can have all the possession you like, but it depends on where the opposition let you have possession.

If they are happy to sit back and let you keep possession then you need pace and movement from the players ahead of the ball, you also need players who can thread accurate long passes either aerially or along the ground into the space that those forward players are running into.

Keeping possession will not win you games, unless you can score. Italy have been proof of that for years. They carve out a goal and then keep obsession superbly to restrict their opposition.

The Netherlands were superb against Spain playing some of the best counter attacking football you will ever see at the highest level. Ange Postecoglou is looking to also play counter-attacking football with the Socceroos. Whether he has the players with the skill or pace to match the Dutch is yet to be seen. It is unlikely based on the leagues the Australian players are playing in compared to their European counterparts, but this is the style of game Australia should be looking to play. Australian teams in every sport are naturally aggressive, so why try and curb that natural asset?

Hopefully Postecoglou as national coach will see that the current coaching curriculum needs tweaking to encourage a style that resembles the one employed by the Netherlands against Spain. If as Football Federation of Australia CEO David Gallop stated the Socceroos brand is beginning to wane, this is one sure way to see it rise again.

For the future of Australian football it is time to do as the Dutch do, rather than the way they say.

 

June 16, 2014 at 10:51 am Leave a comment

Super Rugby to Shun South Africa?

Where to for Super Rugby? It comes as no great surprise that SANZAR officials are struggling to agree on the best format for a new Super Rugby competition. Some will ask why does the tournament need to re-invent itself once more, and if the competition is expanded even further what impact is that going to have on the International game and the toll on the bodies of the top players from each nation. Australia has already proved that it does not have the talent pool within Australia to sustain a World Cup challenging Wallabies outfit; it must accept that players should not be excluded from selection if they opt to play overseas.

Meetings have been carried out for months between Australian, New Zealand and South African rugby officials but still they seem unable to reach a simple solution for expanding Super Rugby. They have agreed to admit a sixth South African team and also an Argentine side; which was logical after this nation became a part of the Rugby Championship Tournament.

There is a strong push to welcome a franchise in Asia, expected to be from Japan, which would open up huge sponsorship potential as well as a new television market.

Interestingly former All Black Andrew Mehrtens has said that he believes the competition should look to exclude South Africa as it moves forward. Writing a column for Stuff.co.nz he said “I can’t help thinking we might have lost a little interest in playing South African teams, and that ultimately the future of this competition might be more localised round time zones.”

Could this view stem from the fact that South Africa has for a while eyed off the opportunity of linking into the European competitions and six nations as opposed to the Southern Hemisphere competitions? This has been based on travel and time zones and in theory makes sense. The downside is Australia and New Zealand playing each other year in year out is not going to have the same appeal as having a powerhouse like South Africa in the mix.

Saying that, the performances of the South African teams on the road this year in Super Rugby is terrible, they have not won a single game in ten outings in New Zealand and Australia.

“The logistics of involving South Africa are problematic – the travel and time difference – and maybe it would be better for all concerned just to play within our time zone and include teams from the Pacific Islands and Japan. You might have 20 teams in our time-zone – eight or so from New Zealand, maybe six in Australia and the rest from the islands and Japan.” Mehrtens wrote.

Some have felt for a long time that SANZAR should have welcomed the island nations into Super Rugby long ago, that it was almost their duty to assist these nations in improving. Promises were made and broken twice as Super Rugby expanded and no doubt they will all be miffed that once again they may be overlooked in favour of an Argentine or Japanese team.

What option do the island players have than to move to Australia and New Zealand and then pledge allegiance to those nations in order to play test rugby. The sad thing is if you speak to most of the players who have done that, most will tell you they would rather have played for their island nation.

Interestingly New Zealand is currently bemoaning a similar issue, that of their top coaches being poached by European clubs, and up and coming players by Australian franchises and then donning the colours of the Wallabies.

Mike Harris at the Queensland Reds had only been living in Australia for two years and playing Super Rugby for a year before he was selected for the Wallabies. He had not been picked up by a New Zealand franchise despite starring in the ITM Cup. Western Force full back Jayden Hayward, who hails from Taranaki, had spells with the Highlanders and the Hurricanes before crossing the Tasman, he even played Sevens for New Zealand, but now is looking to make himself available for Australia. The Melbourne Rebels too have New Zealanders who may switch allegiance in Jason Woodward and Scott Fuglistaller. Both come from Wellington, Woodward never played Super Rugby in his homeland while Fugilstaller played a couple of games for the Highlanders but was unable to hold down a regular place.

Is this good for Australian rugby? Surely the loss of South Africa to the Super Rugby competition as Mehrtens has suggested would see more New Zealanders moving to an Asian franchise and the drain on players continuing.

Whichever way the leaders at SANZAR eventually opt to take, the IRB needs to put in stronger rules in relation to players switching nations at international level. Obviously there should not be a restraint of trade in terms of the franchises signing players in order to be competitive, as that benefits the tournament as a whole, but qualification periods should be enforced for International appearances. That honour should never be given away lightly.

As for the worrying issue of New Zealand and South African players strengthening the Australian Super Rugby franchises at the expense of local talent, that too needs to be monitored and controlled by the Australian Rugby Union. If these players add to the development of Australian players as is currently evident at the Western Force, and also instil a rugby culture and make competition for places stiffer thereby raising the standard of Australian players then that has to be a good thing. It can only benefit Australian rugby in the end. It does however need to be monitored and the ARU.

As for South African born Mehrtens idea that South Africa be left out of Super Rugby, that could well be the death knell for the competition as we know it. One thing is for sure he was never greatly loved in the Republic and his comments are not going to have helped improve that relationship; but he will not lose any sleep over the matter.

April 17, 2014 at 9:40 am 1 comment

Sisters Are Doing it For Canada

Freestyle Canadian Skiers Maxime, Chloe and Justine Dufour-Lapointe are about to become only the second trio of sisters and only the fifth siblings to compete in the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

The three Leduc sisters from France simpered in the 1980 women’s slalom – when the Winter Games were held in the same years as the Summer Games- and the Jerman brothers from Argentina competed in Cross country Alpine skiing in 1976.

Three Stastny brothers from Czechoslovakia played Olympic ice hockey in 1980 and four Tames brothers made up the Mexican bobsled team in 1988 in Seoul. The Stastny brothers defected to Canada and their move has been credited as being the catalyst for more European players to head to Canada and the USA.

Peter Stastny had the most successful career scoring 450 goals and 789 assists in a 15-year NHL career that included spells with New Jersey and St. Louis before he retired in 1995. Brother Anton also had a strong career, scoring 636 points in a nine-year career with the Quebec Nordiques. Younger brother Marian, who the two initially left behind in Czechoslovakia,  arrived in North America in 1981 and managed 294 points in 322 games during a five-year career with Quebec and Toronto.

The three girls from Canada about to make history are inseparable. Chloe will be competing in her second Olympics  where she finished fifth in her event. Apparently skiing started out as only a winter hobby when the weather prevented them sailing. Now that pastime sees them creating a piece of Olympic history.

January 30, 2014 at 7:26 pm Leave a comment

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