The other day I was surfing the net and came along a well written article on Fox Sports News by football journalist Guy Hand. Mr Hand explored the issue of whether or not A-League players were good enough for the national team. This is a question many have asked ever since the infamous, harsh but arguably true at the time observation made by then Socceroos coach, Pim Verbeek: stating that training in Europe was better than playing in the A-League.
Since the comment made by Verbeek was five seasons we once again ask if playing in the A-League in season 8 is good enough for a spot in the current national team?
The main point that most national team coaches look for in their selection of players and what our current coach, Holger Osieck, reiterates whenever the team is announced to the public: Players must be playing regular first team football at their clubs in good leagues!
OK so let’s put this into some context and lay some markers.
If we look at Bailey Wright (20), a versatile defender playing regularly week in week out for League One team, Preston North End, who are currently lying in 8th position. He can play left back, a position that has given Australian coaches headaches since the retirement of Scott Chipperfield in 2006, however he has had no contact at all from the national set up. Therefore going by this we can assume that League One is not a high enough standard for Holger.
Another example would be in the Championship with Shane Lowry. A regular in defence for Millwall ever since making his loan move from Aston Villa a permanent one last season. This versatile defender has also yet to be given the chance of getting his first cap. Perhaps the Championship, like League One, is not quite at the standard required?
Now compare this to David Carney (currently without a club) who received his last call up when he was playing in Uzbekistan for Uzbek champions and ACL semi-finalist, Bunyodkor. Actually, there wasn’t that much playing as he had been out of favour with the head coach there for awhile. His selection though suggests that just belonging to a team in the Uzbek league has been deemed worthy enough of a call up.
Socceroo regulars like Matthew Spiranovic, Lucas Neill, Mark Bresciano and co playing in the Middle East after leaving more internationally renowned competitions like the J-League, Turkish league and Serie A, clearly proves that the competitions in this region are still viewed good enough to warrant call ups to the Green and Gold.
Richard Porta has recently moved to the Middle East due to not being considered whilst playing for River Plate and Nacional in Uruguay. Lo and behold Holger has finally taken a look at Porta in a recent match that also featured Nick Carle who left Sydney FC to go on-loan to the Middle East in the hope of getting back in the Socceroo picture, further enhancing the fact that Holger holds these leagues in high esteem.
With most of the above players (with the exception of David Carney) achieving the requirement of regular football the focus is on the perception of the leagues by Holger. This now needs to be clarified not only for the Australian players but also for the Australian public. Are the lower tier English leagues, South American leagues and A-League really that far behind the premier competitions in the Middle East and Uzbekistan?
It’s only fair that those aspiring to play for Australia clearly understand what they need to do and where they need to be to achieve their ultimate dream of playing for their country. Our A-League players in particular need to know whether or not playing in the ever-improving national competition can earn them a shot at representing their country.
The start of season 2012/2013 Hyundai A-League has been something to remember, not only for the arrivals of superstars Del Piero, Heskey and Ono but the return of Socceroos, Richard Garcia and Vince Grella.
Also with the return of Johnny Warren medalist Marcos Flores, a sprinkling of surprise packets such as Jeronimo, and lets not forget last year’s standout players, Thomas Broich and Besart Berisha, the standard of our league on the field has taken another step forward.
Emerging Australian talents such as the technically gifted Tom Rogic and Aaron Mooy, Newcastle flyer Craig Goodwin and consistent youngsters like Melbourne Heart’s Aziz Behich and Mate Dugandzic have given hope to young Aussie players that A-League coaches are willing to give them an opportunity to shine and showcase their talents.
With the standard of our league again taking another step forward in the technical and tactical side of the beautiful game, shouldn’t the above-mentioned young Australian players, as well as the likes of Garcia, if playing well and regularly, warrant a call up alongside players playing in other parts of Asia and in particular, the Middle East?
If the answer is no, then Holger should come out and say so like Verbeek had the courage to do. As it stands, confusion and frustration is growing amongst players and fans of what is considered an acceptable league.
Is training in Uzbekistan really better than playing in the A-League?