Australia’s most capped player and the goalkeeper of choice through much of the era known as the Golden Generation, Mark Schwarzer, earned the ire of many fans back in his native Australia last week. In an interview with Australia’s premier football magazine FourFourTwo, it was reported that the Leicester man had less than complimentary remarks to say about the national competition in Australia.
No one enjoys hearing a high profile Australian footballer make negative assessments about the A-League or standard of football in Australia, especially the fans. Other stars such as Tim Cahill and Mark Viduka have also faced public backlash for comments adjudged to be negative assessments of the national competition. Everyone is entitled to an opinion but some people’s opinion is given more weight in certain circumstances where they are undoubtedly in a better position to judge. It also must be remembered that in these cases the players were responding directly to questions posed to them by interviewers. Honest and frank assessments is what we should be after if we want to move forward.
With headlines such as “Schwarzer takes veiled swipe at A-League” and “Mark Schwarzer claims A-league is an easy way out for players” it is no wonder a reader can go in to the story with a certain mindset that they are going to see a player unleashing on a league. I know when I saw the reactions from people that I thought something terrible must have been said which made me keen to see what all the fuss was about. However, before unleashing the fires of hell upon this naysayer who was taking potshots from a distance I decided I better read at least what his actual quotes were.
The first thing I noticed is that in the quotes I saw he didn’t mention the standard of the A-League nor did he say anything suggesting players avoid playing in the league. What he did mention was the attitude of players who are hoping to reach the top of their field or at least the highest level their talent and dedication can achieve.
“All of us who played at the 2006 World Cup campaign went through the hard times in Europe. It’s not happening any more. We have very few guys getting their head down and digging in in Europe.”
Referencing the 2006 squad indicates he’s talking more for the elite level player who hopes to play international football which is fair enough because the best players should be the ones playing in the national team. Does he say that players in the A-League shouldn’t be picked? It doesn’t appear so but there is a suggestion that a player would benefit from playing at a higher level and this in turn would be beneficial to the national team. It seems reasonable so far that competing in the more intense environment that the dog eat dog world of European football is could benefit a player.
“You see it more than ever – guys come overseas, they last six months and then they turn around and return to the A-League.”
I don’t think this can be argued against as there are many examples of players who have struggled to walk into teams abroad returning or signing on a loan with an A-League club to get regular senior football. Again it’s not a shot at the A-League but more the mentality of the player. The mental toughness that the top players have is what can propel a gifted individual to the top levels of their sport. Would Tim Cahill be who he is today if he decided to come back to Australia instead of stick it out in League One? Would Mark Viduka have reached the heights he did if he held off on a move to Europe until an offer came from a top four league?
“As the Socceroos most capped player, a PFA Tobin Medallist and someone that continues to ply his trade at the very pinnacle of the game Mark has an in-depth understanding of what it takes to play at the very highest level,” PFA Chief Executive Adam Vivian told Football Central.
“The challenge that confronts all of the game’s stakeholders is to provide both an outstanding development pathway and the support and development programs that allow our players the best possible chance of emulating Mark’s success.
“Going abroad to play is extremely demanding and challenging. It is vital the we support our players when they do go abroad to the highest possible standard as their success goes to the very heart of our international competitiveness.
“The PFA wants our members playing at the highest possible level. The challenge for us is to assist our members in making the right career choices. With a relatively small pool of players in comparison to many other footballing nations this is vital in ensuring our success on the world stage.”
At the end of the day each individual player has to make decisions based on their own life and how it benefits their career, family, and of course own ambitions. The residual effect of the decisions of these individuals though can impact the collective of a national pool. Many very good footballing nations across the globe from Argentina to Nigeria and even Asian rivals Japan have accepted the fact that their best and brightest must move abroad, particularly to mid to top tier European competitions to further their development as a national team.
The A-League is a fantastic launching pad for young Australian footballers aiming for the stars while offering a comfortable living for others. But it shouldn’t be considered the final destination for any player with the ability to represent Australia at senior level.