Get On Board The FIFA Bloat…or Platini’s Presidential Ploy

In the world of FIFA politics if the electorate needs pandering to come presidential election times no idea is too silly, no gerrymander too outlandish. That would be my take on UEFA supremo Michel Platini’s recent hypothetical regarding the expansion of the World Cup finals from its current 32 team basis to 40, which if it got up would mean two and a half times as many teams participating say in 2026 contrasted with 1982. As interviewed in the British Times newspaper Platini stated:

“Instead of taking away some European [nations], we have to go to 40 teams in the World Cup We can add two African, two Asiatic, two American and one from Europe. I support this idea totally.” (source)

This comes in the wake of recent comments by the arch-Machiavellian at FIFA HQ, Sepp Blatter, regarding the supposed under-representation of African and potentially Asian nations at the World Cup finals:

“From a purely sporting perspective, I would like to see globalisation finally taken seriously, and the African and Asian national associations accorded the status they deserve at the FIFA World Cup. It cannot be that the European and South American confederations lay claim to the majority of the berths at the World Cup (18 or 19 teams), because taken together they account for significantly fewer member associations (63) than Africa and Asia (100).

Africa, the confederation with the most member associations (54), is woefully under-represented at the World Cup with just five places. As long as this remains the case, African sides may never win an intercontinental trophy, regardless of progress on the playing side.” (source)

So on one hand you have the man who has seen off every rival since his own ascension to the throne of world football looking at CAF and AFC, loving the numbers of national member associations and thus considers that ‘from a purely sporting perspective’ particularly African teams have no chance to win the World Cup due to under-representation. On the other the man who is in charge of the richest and most important continental football federation in the world wanting to retain his power-base but also bring into the tent those 8 nations who miss out now, making a bigger cake not just for Asia and Africa but also for other continental federations.

Excuse me whilst I laugh cynically.

Let’s put aside for now the relevant (but far weightier) issues of the social and economic cost of a 40 team World Cup Finals. Instead, how about a momentary reality check regarding the nominal strength of each affected confederation and their worthiness to be represented at the World Cup simply according to their FIFA rankings. Right now nineteen UEFA teams are in the top 32 ranked countries in the world, followed by six from CONMBOL (South America), three from CONCACAF (North & Central America), three from CAF (Africa) and none from AFC (Asia) or OFC (Oceania). It seems a little rich for Sepp to be talking about increasing the exposure of the World Cup Finals to more African and Asian teams when they represent less than 10% of the actual 32 highest ranked teams in the world right now. Admittedly there is the potential for this to change in the future, but can anyone seriously suggest that European or South American continental groupings will become less capable of fielding better teams in the near to long term future? There has been talk about both Asia (since 1966 and the North Koreans) and Africa (since 1990 and the Cameroon team) becoming the new forces in world football and after at least 23 years these supposed seismic changes in world football have not substantively occurred. Yes, it is fair to say that both these two continental areas have generated some increasingly sizable numbers of good individual players and competitive national teams, however the status quo in terms of actual national football achievement still lies in the game’s continental heartlands of Europe and South America.

So on that count Blatter seems to be hold a less tenuous grip on reality than his current rival Platini, however the numbers still barely improve for African and Asian teams if we include the teams currently ranked 33-40. AFC fails to add any more current candidates from these places whilst CAF can only add two more to the pot. Again there is the possibility things may change over time, but as long as UEFA particularly holds all the economic and political power, and South America continues to have a dominant cultural role in football then the capabilities of either African or Asian teams to drastically revolutionise things in the process of world cup structures is far less significant than the raw political power of their FIFA general assembly numbers. And that, dear reader, is where the true crux of Blatter’s argument lies.

What is most fascinating is that the man who is championing Africa’s right for more representation at the World Cup was back in 1998 at his election as president able to work with the man who is arguing for an expansion of the entry list of nations for the finals to knock off a far more corporately transparent candidate backed by UEFA and CAF. Lennart Johansson was forced to back out of a 2nd round ballot for the role of FIFA president after Blatter and Platini both successfully split the bloc of European and African votes behind the Swede’s candidature (source). Since the selection of the 2010 World Cup Finals Blatter has used the plum prize of hosting the event to help either facilitate his own agenda (such as pandering to CAF via the South African successful bid) or undercut rivals (as seen in the negation of AFC boss Mohammed Bin Hamman’s presidential candidacy with the Qatar 2022 selection). If a continental federation’s support was deemed important for his continual presidency it was given certain benefits (such as the 2002 confirmed direct qualification route for Oceania to the 2006 Finals which was then removed by FIFA’s ExCo in 2003). President Blatter has always found it very convenient to use continental and federation aspirations for world cup success as a tool for political power, and he is again dabbling in this murky world in the lead up to 2015’s election.

Blatter’s 1998 henchman, UEFA president Michel Platini is using the same playbook as his old boss in hanging out offers of prestige, wealth, power and fame to national federations and their delegates, whilst making damned sure he doesn’t piss off his core constituency. We’ve already seen Platini fight against the insanity of the scheduling of the ridiculous Qatar 2022 World Cup, and more recently the Frenchman has tackled Blatter’s stumbling comments on racism in the sport (which funnily enough seems most problematic in Platini’s own European backyard, in Italy, Spain and Russia particularly). Unlike Sepp who is willing to hunt for votes and dollars from the increasingly wealthy and powerful African and Asian delegate associations whilst not giving in to European sensitivities, Platini wants to make sure he has his arse covered whilst growing the World Cup golden goose for other greedy parties. It could be a political masterstroke from the first truly great and globally recognised French footballer, however the inevitable questions over cost, relevancy, bloating bureaucracies etc will be useful tools for Blatter to exploit, as well as Platini’s obvious protection of UEFA power (something the FIFA delegates from CAF, AFC and maybe CONCACAF and OFC will always have problems with).

In summary the undeclared war for FIFA’s presidency in 2015 has begun to hit its stride, with two the two leading contenders (i.e. the old master Blatter and his now disaffected old henchman Platini) using the avarice and lust for power inherent in every national and continental delegate to FIFA as a means to their Machiavellian ends. As Brazilians protest about the exorbitant and socially destructive cost of 2014, as Russians are engaged in racist and homophobic politics in the lead up to 2018, as Qatar’s 2022 World Cup is mired in controversy over scheduling, corruption, worker’s rights and political freedoms, the king and the king maker at FIFA HQ are duking it out for the right to lead the rotten empire.

Whether there are 32 or 40 teams at the World Cup Finals, eventually the only winners are Blatter or Platini.

A-League 2013/14: Round Three Review

Melbourne Victory versus Brisbane Roar (1-0 win Victory)

This was a game that was dominated by one man, and he wasn’t actually on the field. Ange Postecoglou was saying farewell to his latest club whilst his previous employers were visiting, in the hope of carrying on their spectacular form shown in their demolition of a hapless Sydney FC last week. Instead, with the assistance particularly of one of his key players at both clubs (i.e. Mitch Nichols) and a former Serie A Socceroo in James Troisi, Ange got the perfect farewell from the Melbourne Victory. It is arguable as to how much the Roar missed Berisha however there was certainly a tailing off of their quality from the last round. Theo was exposed more often in this game and their midfield was underdone thanks to injuries to Brattan and Miller. For the home team Coe made a great save and Thompson was there with the assist for Troisi however the score could’ve been more in Victory’s favour but for some stout last ditch defence from the Roar. A crowd of just over 21,000 was a good effort but in all honesty it could’ve been bigger if not for timing and issues regarding home active support.

Central Coast Mariners versus Adelaide United (1-0 win Mariners)

The new ‘Barcelaide’ that Josef Gombau is trying to build with the Reds is coming along nicely; as the stats re passing and possession demonstrate the home team were dominated by the visitors. The problem is the Mariners made sure as early as the 2 minute mark to put the ball in the back of the net, thanks to a great shot from Nick Fitzgerald, and from there without Neumann the Reds didn’t really seem to have any hope of scoring. In fact the Mariners could’ve been 2 or 3 up if it hadn’t been for Galekovic or the wood work. Aside from a near chance from Tarek Elrich the Reds didn’t have enough poke to get through the usually solid Central Coast defence, whilst for the home team McGlinchey and Simon both had decent opportunities that weren’t converted. A 9,000 plus attendance was a par for Mariner’s home attendences, outside the F3 derby and games against the Wanderers and Sydney FC.

Sydney FC versus Western Sydney Wanderers (2-0 win Wanderers)

(For my more fulsome report see ‘A Tale of Two Cities…’)

Sydney FC’s woes continued with their lamentable efforts from being bashed by the Roar hardly improving for the big cross-city game against the Wanderers. In front of 40,388 fans (a record for a regular season A-League game in Sydney) the visitors pummeled the ADP-less home team, although the inclusion of del Piero would not have solved the defence problems for SFC. The Wanderers were uniformly very good, with some stand out performances from Shinji Ono, Jerome Polenz, Youssouf Hersi and Iacopo La Rocca. Ono’s goal that took the Wanderers up to 2-0 was one of the best of the season so far, and ranks up there with his efforts against the Victory and Roar at Wanderland last season. Tony Popovic had every answer and every tactic sorted for the game whilst Frank Farina was yet again embarrassed by his charges. Marc Warren is without doubt the least capable defender in the entire A-League and Nicky Carle the most overrated ex-Socceroo in the competition. Right now the Wanderers look to be on a similar roll emotionally and culturally, if not in number of victories as they were last season, with still room for improvement. Sydney FC are already tracking to replicate last season’s poor result and with so many crocks (including Grant who is now gone for the season) most Cove fans will feel like they need to be on suicide watch.

Wellington Phoenix versus Newcastle Jets (0-0 Draw)

The Kiwi provincial city of Napier hosted the Phoenix and whilst the 9020 on hand didn’t see the Wellington Phoenix win they did see a very competitive game. However it was not the type of competition that saw two great clubs nullifying each other’s brilliance, but more a case of last ditch desperate defence saving both clubs from embarrassment. Birighitti for the Jets and Bertos from the Phoenix both stopped shots with millimetres to spare, whilst the woodwork denied Zadkovich for the visitors and Hernandez also struck the goal frame for the home team. There is definitely an air of concern over the young Newcastle Jets team, as whilst they had plenty of run and mad some incisive sweeps their overall finishing was absent (this leaving them in the invidious position of not scoring a single goal in over 270 minutes of 2013/14 A-League action). Ernie Merrick is under less pressure than Gary Van Egmond however he too must be wondering where the first win of the season will be coming from. Regarding the venue I believe that it is grounds of this size and environment that will benefit the Phoenix, not the echoing canyon that is Westpac Stadium. 

Perth Glory versus Melbourne Heart (1-0 win Glory)

In what was their first home game of the season (played at a very well appointed and filled nib Stadium) Perth showed why you simply can’t tip a win for the Heart away from home. Even without gun striker Shane Smeltz or newly signed French marquee William Gallas the local team looked to have the measure of John Aloisi’s team for almost the entire game. Whilst it was Jamie Maclaren who scored the goal for Perth the player who seemed to create the most conniptions for the visitors was their Brazilian import Sidnei. Scott Jamieson also was in good form for the Glory, and Thwaite kept Heart striker Michael Mifsud quiet. The Heart can draw some comfort in Patrick Kisnorbo’s efforts before he was injured, but with him in doubt for at least next week, alongside Kewell’s continued absence plus the inability of the team to win away from home already the signs are not looking good for 2013/14. Williams had a cracking chance to equalise at the death and Mebrahtu toil away without much luck, but in the end it was more a case of Heart not doing enough to challenge the Glory than the visitors throwing away the game.

Best Game: Sydney FC vs Western Sydney Wanderers (a passionate derby which has made the A-League the talk of the town in Sydney like never before)

Best Goal: Shinji Ono (Western Sydney Wanderers vs Sydney FC)

Best Team: Western Sydney Wanderers

Worst Team: Sydney FC

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A Tale of Two Cities (Well, Half and Half of the Same One)

Saturday night saw Sydney’s first A-League derby game of the current season. For the fourth time the two clubs that represent the largest city in Australia in our premiere domestic football competition were going to face off, with every expectation of this most recent of fierce tribal rivalries in the A-League drawing a huge crowd to Allianz Stadium. The home team was at a disadvantage thanks to the non-appearance of their creative heart and soul, as Alessandro del Piero had been injured in last week’s submission to the Roar, however like any (supposedly) proud club they were expected to defend with honour and pride their own turf. The Western Sydney Wanderers, still barely out of their sophomore season build up had shown some tentative form in their first two games of 2013/14, and without defensive midfielder Aaron Mooy might have had some doubts cast on their ability to do the deed required. Instead…

Instead anyone who was there at the game, or watched from the comfort of their own home or a friendly pub, club or tavern would’ve seen two utterly divergent clubs, two teams and their associated fans who only have a postcode starting with 2 as a common factor. By game’s end it was like a football version of a bloodied and bedraggled mess of wounded, defeated soldiers after the battles of Stalingrad, Dien Bien Phu or El Alamein streaming away in utter disorder whilst the rampant invading forces time and time again showed their superiority, both in and out of the arena. Sydney FC capitulated in a way that underscores the cultural, tactical and morale crisis that is haunting that club, whilst everything associated with the Wanderers, whether it be the players, the supporters, the admin staff looked inviolate, unstoppable, all-encompassing.

It must be said that at the very beginning of the game the Sydney FC faithful (a diminishing band no doubt) made a vainglorious attempt at asserting some pride and passion on behalf of their club, but from thereon even this misguided and ill-informed attempt at asserting tribal prominence seemed overshadowed by anything and everything in red and black. On the main field of combat the Wanderers players assumed control very early and barely looked threatened. The first goal came from a magnificent dead ball cross from Shinji Ono, which was connected with by a sweet header from Italian midfielder Iacopo La Rocca and hence went arrow-like into the back of SFC’s net. Within a few moments of this 12th minute goal Youssouf Hersi had nominally taken the Wanderers up to 2-0 however the linesman correctly called an off side, however within a quarter of an hour the Japanese Tensai struck again with what must be considered one of his best in red and black. At this point I feel it important to state what should be obvious except to any one-eyed fan of ADP; Shinji Ono is the best overseas marquee player to have played in the A-League in the last couple of seasons and alongside Thomas Broich and perhaps Dwight Yorke has done more for the success of both their respective clubs and the domestic comp than any other import. I recognise and appreciate the importance and genius of ADP within an incredibly faulty and disconnected SFC structure, but being a sole hand of quality in a dysfunctional situation is more readily seen than being excellent within a better than competent squad. Shinji Ono is not necessarily vital for the Wanderers to be successful, however he has been able to both sit within a holistic or organic team vision that is more often successful than not, yet when necessary take the lead and stimulate the very best from his team mates. It’s the difference between being an ace among rookies and being a leading professor among learned scholars. Shinji inspires and is inspiring, and whilst he is a fulcrum for the Wanderers he is also not above his station as a cog in the red and black machine. He is a champion in a team of champions.

For most of the derby’s first half the Wanderers looked in control, with Hersi, Juric, Polenz, Poljak, Ono and La Rocca being at their best. From the shambolic ranks of Sydney FC only Petkovic could arguably hold his head above his Adam’s apple, with his shot on Covic’s goal rattling the woodwork. The same terrors of incompetent defending that haunted SFC last week returned and particularly in the battle on the right flank Hersi toyed with the underwhelming Warren. In what might be considered an inverse relationship almost everything attempted by the Wanderers was met with an equal amount of wastefulness from the home team. Nicky Carle who has a reputation for style and flair looked out of touch, whilst Adam D’Apuzzo (the most flawed player in the WSW ranks in the last couple of weeks) came back with a vengeance. No longer hirsuite Nikolai Topor Stanley and Mark Bridge demonstrated that clean shaven or not they were superior to their opposite numbers, whilst  Tomi Juric reminded everyone that he has so much potential; a semi-formed talent that needs a little more polish from Popovic. Jerome Polenz was aggressive in defence and insightful in attack, and by half time the myth that Sydney is supposedly sky blue was utterly debunked.

Now as this point I would like to raise an issue that may or may not be germane to the club culture at Sydney FC, or the structures and fan base. However I could not fail to notice the lack of any major numbers on the field at half time of small children playing short games for entertainment and the experience. There was to my count only one micro-contest between the littlies at Allianz at half time, which may be a one off situation. Perhaps the timings were wrong for junior teams to involve themselves in such a home game context, or perhaps Allianz, the SCG Trust and/or Sydney FC couldn’t find enough willing takers. Having seen plenty of wee tackers running around on the pitch at half time at Wanderland though I have to ask a question that may or may not be fair; where the fuck are the kids who are SFC’s future? When the little boys and girls come to Wanderland and play their small games for the enjoyment and the privilege of all involved they always have good numbers plus shout out their support for the Wanderers on leaving the pitch. It may be a moot question however there is a readily apparent pre-teen support basis for the Wanderers; Sydney FC seem to be at best hiding theirs.

The second half of the derby was unfortunately goal-less however there were plenty of opportunities for the Wanderers as Sydney FC’s squad continue to blunder along. I must say that Brendon Santalab looks to be settling in quite nicely with Popa’s squad. He had one major chance that was blown, however not only did he add some spice to the attacking options of the Wanderers he also didn’t look out of place combining with Jerome Polenz. Things did get a bit willing with the yellow cards flying thick and fast, and there was some egregious moments particularly from Warren and Carle. However amid all the disciplinary issues Ono, Bridge, Juric, Poljak and Polenz all had solid chances at scoring. On the other side of the coin aside from a shot direct to Ante Covic the Sky Blues failed to have any meaningful go-forward. Again and again they lost the ball in midfield, failed to cover their flanks or simply didn’t know where they were or what they were doing. When the final whistle came it was like euthanizing a terminally ill goldfish; Sydney FC flapped around out of their comfort zone then quietly passed into oblivion (for at least another round).

It’s only proper at this point to make a few points about the level of support shown in the stands for the two teams. It could be argued that it was for the first 10-20 minutes an even contest between the RBB and the Cove, which in itself is a Pyrrhic victory for the supposedly rusted on Sky Blues. In their ninth season and with premierships and championships behind them at their home ground the Cove should’ve been larger and louder from the start than their junior opponents. Instead by the middle of the first half there was a definite tailing off of the intensity of the active SFC support that was in direct correlation with both the on field impotence of their players and the growth in energy coming from the RBB. There was plenty of support for the Wanderers coming from non-active stands, and by the time came around for the Poznan not only were the RBB fully engaged there were plenty of bays and pockets of red and black supporters contributing from other parts of the stadium. The signal effect of the SFC’s supporters’ defeat was in the closing minutes of the game, where a consistent stream of departing fans from the sky blue bays exited Allianz. Contrasted with the spirit and passion shown by the Wanderers faithful after their most recent defeat at Allianz Stadium, where the vast majority remained behind post-whistle to commiserate with their team after the 2012/13 grand final, it was a pretty piss-poor demonstration from the self-proclaimed ‘best fans’ in the A-League.

So, whither the two clubs? For the Western Sydney Wanderers it would seem the immediate to mid-term future is theirs for the taking. The current squad is certainly better in terms of depth and achievement than that which was in place a year ago, and with such a solid support base that has translated into over 16,000 financial members and future sell-outs at their home ground even if they fail to win any titles this season they are streets ahead of arguably all other clubs in the A-League bar maybe Melbourne Victory. Tony Popovic has kept the team hungry and even with three good results there is still room to improve. It would need some kind of utterly unexpected disaster for the Wanderers to run off the rails. Culturally, professionally and from a spectator’s point of view they are building an empire in football’s heartland that would make every member of the FFA incredibly satisfied. Yes, the need to sell off the club is a process fraught with potential hazards but so far David Gallop and Lyall Gorman have shown astute leadership and good old common fucking sense. If the Western Sydney Wanderers realise their potential then we won’t be talking up the annual derbies between them and Sydney FC; the talk will be of Asian Champions’ League and maybe even greater.

Sydney FC on the other hand are in a hell of a bad pozzie. No one would deny that before the Wanderers came along they had every reason to be proud of what they achieved on the field for most of their short life. I’ve already pointed out their failings as a club that didn’t embrace all of Sydney as they have boasted, and those chickens have come home to roost most pointedly in the last 36 hours. What is more frightening for Sydney FC must be what does their club culture portend for the future? Alessandro del Piero’s absence in the derby was obviously an influence on the basic football brains of his co-players, and at his age with injury always more likely, or at least with his fitness needing careful safeguarding, there could be more non-ADP Sydney FC line ups as the season progresses. Then when he leaves at the end of this season will he take with him all the hype, revenue, on-park nous and appeal for a club that has essentially ridden on his back? Frank Farina and the rest of the coaching staff are patently failing in either their ability to guide their players, keep them fit or develop younger talents, and the fans of the Sky Blues are close to revolt over their continual incompetence (which in turn is damaging the reputation and management of Tony Pignata, Scott Barlow and David Traktavenko). The ‘Sydney is sky blue’ facade is as cracked as a dozen eggs placed under a hippo’s bum, and the continual questions over whether Sydney FC is a popular club or Bling FC eats at the heart of their raison d’etre (if in fact there is such a thing). If ever the FFA looks to expand the A-League with a reborn Wollongong club it is highly likely SFC would lose a significant reservoir of junior talent, and  the continual turn over in coaches will make them even less appealing to anyone foolhardy enough to take over if Farina gets dumped.  It would seem to me that Sydney FC has dug itself a hole through willful incompetence, delusion and overly-exaggerated expectations that has created a perfect shit-storm of misery. Joe Gorman’s article in The Guardian sum’s this up perfectly:

As much as he has boosted the profile of the A-League, off the pitch time is fast running out for Sydney FC to capitalise on his presence. He was rarely spotted in pre-season, and when he returns home at season’s end, the club is likely to be back at square one. How many of the new fans that came to see Del Piero play will hang around to watch Sydney FC in the long term, particularly considering the lacklustre football on display? Sadly, Sydney’s marquee player might be just another costly short term investment.
The lack of boardroom stability and vision has left the club in a perpetual state of flux, constantly agonising over whether to embrace or shelve the Bling FC tag they’ve been burdened with. They’ve flirted with stars and experimented with blue collar cred, but nothing has really ‘stuck.’ Perhaps the only consistent message has come from the home end in The Cove.
It is said that Sydney is a city that loves winners, but in a 10-team competition levelled out by the salary cap, no club can hope to hedge their future on success alone. There needs to be a more nuanced understanding and articulation of why Sydney FC exist, who they represent, and what they stand for. Otherwise, the Wanderers will win more than just the west.

In this A-League Tale of Two Cities everyone at Sydney FC is up for the guillotine and there is no nobility in their sacrifice; they have been a wastrel club whilst their new cross-town rivals have won all the plaudits, all the honour, all the recognition they have sought. The 2-0 win for the Wanderers was just a symbol of the clash of cultures that has coloured Sydney red and black.

A-League 2013/14: Round Three Preview

Friday 25th October – Melbourne Victory Vs Brisbane Roar (Etihad Stadium)

This should be an absolute cracker of a game with two very good teams competing for early bragging rights this season, with some additional atmosphere being added by departure of Ange Postecoglou from the Victory to take up the role of Socceroos coach. Brisbane are coming into the game with two wins and some excellent form as demonstrated against Sydney last week, whilst the Victory showed in their last gasp draw against the Reds last Friday they will never die wondering. Berisha is out for the Roar however I don’t believe his loss will be as badly felt as say del Piero being missing from SFC. With the likes of Troisi, Pain, Thompson, Milligan and Nichols all capable of putting some serious hurt on opposition teams, and with the passion and energy that should be drawn from a huge crowd at home wanting to see Ange farewelled in style, Victory look to have some distinct advantages. However Mike Mulvey has already welded together a deadly squad including the likes of Broich, McKay, Franjic, Henriques and Hingert. The only concern that must be at the back of Mulvey’s mind is how capable are the Brisbane Roar against a Victory defence that will be far tougher to crack than the lamentable Sky Blues line up was last Friday. If Broich and McKay can lift even further from last week then they will have a very good chance for an away win, however the Victory will be extremely motivated to win. I just can;t split either team for now.

My Prediction: 2-2 Draw

Saturday 26th October – Central Coast Mariners Vs Adelaide United (Blue Tongue Stadium)

Another very evenly poised match with the Reds traveling for their first away game of the 2013/14 season. Blue Tongue is a hard place to play when visiting and considering the work in progress that is Adelaide they will find the task quite challenging. The Reds will also be boosted by the return of their round two suspended Boogaard and Sanchez, although I am not 100% convinced that they will add that much to the Gombau’s squad. The Mariners were lucky to get out of jail against the Heart last week and have yet to dominate any of their games this season, yet they will be playing at home and Graham Arnold can put any distractions vis-a-vis the Socceroos job out of his mind. Flores will be key to the Mariners however what will be most decisive will be the work in the back from Roux, Sainsbury and the emerging quality goalkeeper Justin Pasfield. Galekovic in the Reds goal will no doubt be ready for another big performance, and his response to what will be the most potent threat of Duke and Flores will be crucial to who wins and who loses. Perhaps the most telling element will be the match fitness and conditioning of the Reds; they definitely ran out of puff last week whilst the Mariners ground out there draw last week without similar concerns. Again, very hard to call a result here one way or the other…

My Prediction: 1-1 Draw

Saturday 26th October – Sydney FC Vs Western Sydney Wanderers (Allianz Stadium)

Yet another great game on this weekend’s card and already the history and passion surrounding this derby is developing a similar vibe to the rivalry between Heart and Victory, Victory and Sydney and Reds and Victory. A sold out Allianz Stadium will see a very downcast and dare I say rabble-like Sydney FC take on a Wanderers squad that is still coming to grips with the new systems, new players and new season. The core issue for each team is who will be available; when the Sky Blues lost del Piero last week they fell apart quicker than a wafer in acid, whilst the injury to Aaron Mooy made life far harder for the Wanderers in their draw against the Phoenix. ADP is in the squad however I honestly can;t believe he will play, and even if he does the major issues with the home team relate to their defensive capabilities. One player under pressure for the Wanderers must be Adam D’Apuzzo; he has had two bad weeks in a row and he will need to lift, however his troubles are far less than those plaguing the injury wracked SFC with Petkovic, Ryall and Warren desperately out of form. The attacking potential of the Wanderers midfield and forwards is looking very good again this round, and it would be hoped that Mark Bridge particularly improves his work. Shinji Ono needs to be more engaged with the game for a longer term, whilst for Sydney FC Nicky Carle could be ADP’s replacement as playmaker. Don’t be surprised to see Brendon Santalab get lots of time in this game against his old club for the Wanderers, and Ante Covic will logically be the most capable keeper on the park. because it is a derby and because no team can play as badly as they did last week again I will expect an improvement from Sydney, but my love of the Wanderers plus the sheer quality of their team and coaching staff tip me in their favour.

My Prediction 2-1 Wanderers

Sunday 27th October – Wellington Phoenix Vs Newcastle Jets (Westpac Stadium)

Arguably the least attractive game of the round, the Kiwi team are coming into this game off the back of two very good performances with Ernie Merrick getting lots out of his squad, whilst the Jets under Gary Van Egmond have simply been bloody ordinary. The young and exciting talent in the Jets’ ranks are not demonstrating enough cohesion or penetration to get goals as yet, and with Heskey still out it will be hard to see that problem being surmounted away from home on Sunday. Wellington were written off by many (including yours truly) before last week’s round and instead showed with Bertos, Ifill, Brockie, Caira, Hicks and Lia they can put their imprint on a game promptly and efficiently. Merrick may be the canniest coach going around this week based on last round’s efforts, and of course with the swirling wind and a home crowd it doesn’t feel too unreasonable to expect them to do the job on the Jets.

My Prediction: 2-0 Phoenix

Sunday 27th October – Perth Glory Vs Melbourne Heart (nib Stadium)

Perth come home for the first time in 2013/14 and the Heart travel away from Melbourne for the first time, again without Harry Kewell. Coming off the back of no wins in all four games played by these two teams I would not be surprised to see another dour bout. Glory are still missing Shane Smeltz and have not brought into their squad new signing Willie Gallas, and to be honest with the combination of injuries to the likes of Cernak, Dodd and Risdon the only bright light in their immediate future is Ryo Nagai. Heart should’ve won last week against the Mariners but couldn’t avoid silly penalties. Gerhardt, Murdocca, Williams and Mebrahtu are very handy indeed and it will be interesting to see how Maltese striker Michael Mifsud goes. Home ground advantage for the Glory may not count as much in their favour contrasted to other teams and grounds, but Heart are notoriously bad away from AAMI Stadium. It also must be said that neither Allie Edwards nor John Aloisi have gotten the best out of their cattle this season.

My Prediction – 1-0 Heart

The Socceroos: Ange’s Way Forward?

Like every other person who has watched the Socceroo debacle unfold since the losses against Brazil and France, I have some ideas as to how the team needs to progress and what we as a football country and culture need to see implemented by all the relevant powers-that-be. With Ange Postecoglou appointed as the next national team coach, here are my thoughts on how he may (with the assistance and support of the FFA) move us forward on the international football stage

  1. Ange’s agenda must be defined by the long term role he has been appointed to,. Whilst no one would want him to fail to record improved results in the coming months or at next years World Cup Finals in Brazil, the strategy must be to accept potential bad results now for long term gain further down the road. The FFA and Frank Lowy particularly don’t want to see the national team embarrassed, however if Postecoglou can begin a more youth focused approach over the next 12 months, improve the reputation of the team and get the best out of the squad in those crucial games next year then maybe some losses will be accepted more equanimously than those recently incurred during Holger’s regime.
  2. Postecoglou must work closer with the coaches of the junior Australian teams such as the Olyroos and the Joeys. In the last decade or so our youth players have not done as well in international tournaments as we have done in the past, and as we need to see in the future. The most recent examples of this decline were the defeats suffered by the U-19 team against Vietnam (5-1 in the AFC U-19 championship qualifiers), and the failure of the U-20 Young Socceroos to escape the group phase in the U-20 World Cup in Turkey earlier this year. The so-called Golden Generation was built upon a swathe of great young players who did well at junior World Cups and the Olympics (such as the 1992 Barcelona Olyroos), and there needs to be more connection across the entire board regarding the progress of our juniors to senior representation. Technical skills being introduced as part of the national training curriculum by Hans Berger are very important, however how is that being utilised by our national coaches as a means or a goal for squad development and success? Our national coach needs to be both informed of and informing this process; to all intents this never happened with any of the imported coaches like Osieck, Verbeek, Hiddink, Venables etc.
  3. The FFA must be willing to be both harder in its approach to critiquing the national team and its coach, but more flexible in giving Postecoglou the support and directions he needs. One of the failures seen under both Osieck and Verbeek was the scant regard given by either for the supposed goal of rejuvenation of the Socceroos, or the lack of definitive publically expressed directions regarding the the implementation of a football philosophy beyond winning as many games as could be achieved. Frank Lowy set parameters for recent coaches that brought concrete successes but they were hardly ones that will have long term benefits, nor were they a result of a cooperative and informed ethos within the teams, the coaching staff and the administrators joint collective. It’s a very fine line to walk, being both unobtrusive in the day-to-day coaching and management of the Socceroo squad, but being willing to call a spade a bloody shovel if things aren’t being done the way the FFA wants. This is a crucial challenge for Lowy, Gallop and others, and it will be interesting to see if the current or future FFA are up to the task.
  4. Too many of our best young prospects have been seduced by lucrative contracts and the lure of going to a European club into career choices that have led them down a cul-de-sac. Whilst much of the criticism aimed at Holger Osieck’s squad was rightly directed at the coach, a great deal of opprobrium needs to be directed at the players. Part of that critical reaction has to be targeted at younger players who went overseas to clubs that have either not served them well, or have led them into dead-end situations (either of their own or of the club’s making). Right now I believe there has to be a significant question over Tom Rogic’s decision to go to Celtic, although his is not the only example. Whilst Celtic are a substantial team in the SPL, his recent lack of fitness and more importantly inability to get quality game time is a major concern. It would seem to me he may have been better going to a Belgian, Dutch, or maybe if possible a Bundesliga I or II team, as per Robbie Kruse or kiwi Marcus Rojas. I would argue the likes of Matthew Spiranovic and Dario Vidosic lost a great deal of their prospective growth and momentum as key young Socceroos for this campaign because of badly managed overseas excursions early in their career. Even younger players like Eli Babalj and Aaron Mooy have had misadventures in Europe, whilst those that are a little older like Brent McGrath, Ruben Zadkovich, Nathan Burns and Bruce Djite have also learned from their foreign sojourns and come back to the A-League. Whether any or all of these players could have been or maybe will be major Socceroos in the future is debatable, however I firmly believe that longer and more consistent involvement in the old NSL was a hallmark of the development of our so-called ‘golden generation’ and in the last 10 years there has been an inordinate rush for much of our talent to look for foreign clubs as their first or most important early signing. It would do the Socceroos cause some good I believe for the FFA to try and manage the timing and targeting of foreign adventures in a cooperative manner that doesn’t leave players looking back at wasted times or unsuccessful engagements overseas. Ange must be ready to be up front with players looking to make less advantageous career choices, when talking to them regarding their national team selection. If Postecoglou can help inform and guide these career choices then that will be very helpful for the development of the Socceroos. Perhaps with Ange’s deep knowledge of the A-League and junior talent, and the coaches who are involved in the development of younger players he may have more impact as an advocate for more careful foreign club choices.
  5. Concomitant with this aspect of misadventures in timing when committing to overseas clubs is the actual league which those players, whether young or old, are playing. Naturally everyone wants to play in the best European leagues, however identifying which ones these are and how easy they are to crack is always difficult. In my opinion the four giant pillars of UEFA (EPL, La Liga, Bundesliga and Serie A) are the obvious leagues we would want our current and potential Socceroos to play in. Within that structure I believe it would be more beneficial if we had more players in the Spanish and German leagues, insofar as they both have incredibly high standards and reflect two differing football philosophies that I think our players can learn from. For all its money and power the EPL to me seems to offer less, although it has to be said the money and reputation of the league is a powerful lure to those who want to further their careers. The problem I see however is that the great majority of those players we have trying to break into the EPL are languishing in Championship, League One or lower clubs, and may never escape the perennial battle of promotion and relegation. Now in light of this our best players who are heading to Europe may be better served by spending more time in those leagues they can get regular quality game time in, and at this time it looks as if the Belgian, Dutch and Swiss leagues are where they should be aiming. Mat Ryan, Jason Davidson, Adam Sarota and Tommy Oar have already shown the way and it looks as if Oliver Bozanic and Dario Vidosic are following up on this. I wouldn’t discount the efforts of the players in the Bundesliga II either, specifically Rukavytsya and Leckie, and there is hope that these guys will form a significant part of our next generation Socceroos. If the next national coach and the FFA can work to facilitate these kinds of pathways in Europe then that will be of greater benefit than what we see right now, with a raft of players in nondescript Middle Eastern leagues or in China.
  6. The non-European leagues need to also be looked at from a national team perspective and where possible have Postecoglou and the FFA again try and work with the players to help them avoid the dross and find the quality they need to develop. The Middle Eastern leagues have been the graveyard of quite a few Socceroos (arguably with the exception of Mark Bresciano) and unless that player is looking for a superannuated career end and has nothing further to add to the national team the coach and administration should be doing all in their powers to discourage any current or potential Socceroo from going there. China is also a problem, in that the CSL has the sniff of too much cash, too many old stars and some major corruption issues to deal with. Comparing the CSL with it’s more senior Asian counterparts in South Korea and Japan is like chalk and cheese. The K-League has potential but it’s the J-League where any Australians should be focusing if they can’t crack Europe and aren’t back home. Standards are higher than the other Asian leagues plus some European competitions. Josh Kennedy has certainly not gone backwards since he started playing for Nagoya Grampus. Away from Asia I would love to see some players head to South America to play in Argentina, Brazil or Chile, as I am a firm believer we need more of the Latin flair in our national style of play. However the cultural barriers as well as the sheer murderous competition for players in those leagues must be taken into account. Finally the MLS could be another promising league to work in and with, and whilst Tim Cahill is the only major success story right now from an Australian perspective I can see in the future the Americans making more of their competition. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to look there for opportunities down the road.
  7. Ange Postecoglou must find a way to either coordinate and/or polish off the technical attributes of younger players coming through the new national curriculum and have them performing regularly well in the national team, within the general frameworks set up by the FFA, or take a top-down approach to the improvement of our players. Having some knowledge of his work with most recently the Victory and the Roar  I think we can assume he will be taking the former approach. Robbie Kruse would be perhaps his star pupil with some other notable achievements from players like Matt McKay, Connor Pain and Mitch Nichols. Postecoglou has shown a propensity for working up a squad that meets his tactical vision whilst inculcating and refining certain skill sets or qualities, which fits more into a longer term vision built around a deeper foundation than simply assembling what are supposedly the best players and going from there. It will be interesting to see how his preferred style of play melds with the tactical principles being taught through junior structures under Hans Berger’s technical guidelines.
  8. Our new coach must also be willing to take on overseas and domestic clubs as well as the FFA itself to protect and enforce his vision for the national team. As an Australian he will encounter nominally more resistance from particularly European league clubs if and when he wants to use one of their Aussie signings, than someone like a Guus Hiddink would. He may also be held in a slightly less respected position by the FFA, partly because there is an aura still around the foreign ‘gun’ coach as well as Ange’s history both as a junior Socceroos coach and his past media commitments. He will need to be strong in voice and forthright in communicating what he wants and how he is going to get there to the key parties directing his squad’s evolution.
  9. Thankfully Postecoglou should be something Pim Verbeek never was and Holger Osieck less so, and that is fully cogniscant of the capabilities of the A-League players. As demonstrated by Ricki Herbert and the All Whites at the last World Cup Finals there is plenty of competitive quality in the ranks of the local league, and there were plenty of good signs in quite a few of the players given a go by Holger in recent years from the A-League. Duke, Juric, Milligan, Zullo, Brillante, de Silva, Mooy, Pain, McKay, Galekovic, Spiranovic and Antonis are just some of the A-League players who might be given more consistent runs with or will continue to be part of  the national team. If Postecoglu can take the bits and pieces team that played under Holger at the two East Asian Football Federation tournaments and use those players to add depth and competition for other more established or foreign league based players he will be accomplishing something very valuable.
  10. Postecoglou must be given free reign to develop his own support staff team. The problems with Holger’s coaching must not be purely his burden alone; Aurelio Vidmar and the conditioning team must also be looked at and if found wanting on past achievements or potential with Ange then the new coach must pick who he wants in there.
  11. In what is a huge plus for his future role as Socceroo coach Postecoglou has a very prominent and well respected voice in the media in Australia, and he has a lot of goodwill in the back from both his preceding clubs in the A-League fans, and I would suggest a lot of his colleagues in the game. His style of play and his results are but part of his public image which is very important to the Socceroos future, if not crucial like issues of the transition of players and on field success are.

Let’s be blunt; the next few years could be pretty bloody and not too enjoyable for those who want to see lots of Socceroos wins. The stocks in quality junior players demanding inclusion in the national team are lower than they should be. We have still immense problems with the transitional phase of our squad and we also have stylistic and tactical challenges that may take years to resolve. Our competitors in Asia and further afield aren’t happy to just watch and wait; they too are working on new squads, coaches, systems that in the specific case of Japan demonstrates the growing gulf. Every national team and football administration goes through these patches, and as the Hungarians, Scots and other past champion teams understand it’s easier to lose national football momentum and status than it is to gain it. We are on the cusp of something rather unique now, when the domestic game in Australia is roaring ahead and the Socceroos are the ones in need of help. However I believe unlike his predecessors and perhaps his rivals Ange Postecoglou can take our game and our national team into a new era, where we no longer ride the cycle of just qualifying for the World Cup Finals, but instead look to excel across the board, in as many arenas as we can compete in. Like thousands of other football fans in Australia I wish him good luck.