Posts tagged ‘Champions’

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.

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

Winning Needs Some Perspective

For the past fortnight in India every newspaper is full of speculation on the Cricket World Cup, and whether the current World Champions can retain their trophy. Turn on the television and there are replays of previous tournaments, interviews with former World Champions, it has been wall to wall cricket as the country works itself up into a frenzy.

There are however some who feel that Australia may well have exposed fans to simply too much cricket prior to the World Cup, with the Test Series with India, The Big Bash League and then the Tri-nation series. Some believe that despite losing to Australia, India should have taken a break from playing ‘down under,’ and the players should have returned home for a couple of weeks break with their families before looking to defend their title.

This brings into question what is the perfect preparation for a tournament such as this. It has now become the norm that all the competing nations have warm up games against each other, games attended usually in the main by those unable to get tickets to the actual world cup games. Games in which neither side wants to reveal too much, saving their best for the tournament itself.

If India is under pressure how must South Africa feel having been warned by their Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula that they better not fail, and forbidding them to ‘become a bunch of losers.’ This comment was made during their official send off.

“we don’t want you in the World Cup to add numbers and just become a bunch of losers.” he was quoted as saying. He went on to say “You are not going to be playing with robots. You are playing with people. You are the special ones. You are the chosen ones. It does not mean you are irreplaceable but all of you are capable of doing the duty for us.”

Not happy with these inspiring words he continued by reminding the team of previous losses at previous World Cups. Proving that he is no Nelson Mandela when it comes to stirring inspirational oratory.

Having already labelled the national football team a bunch of losers a year ago, no doubt his words were water off a duck’s back to the players, but they can hardly have helped their preparation.

One team not expected to win a game is Afghanistan, competing in their first World Cup. Cricket has miraculously skyrocketed in popularity since the Taliban permitted the game to be played in 2000. A year later the ICC welcomed them to international cricket as an affiliate member.

Their preparation has faced a different set of problems as coach Andy Moles, who played for Warwickshire explained. ” I spoke to one of the players who was late to our late camp. I asked him the reason why he and he turned around and told me that he had to go to the funeral of his cousin who was shot dead by a drone.”

It would appear that many teams this time around are having their own set of problems when it comes to preparation for the World Cup, but for the sake of the players and everyone back in war-torn Afghanistan it would be great if sport can show just who wonderful it can be, and they could record a famous and unlikely victory to help the game grow and lift the spirits of the people back home. If they can that will be the equivalent of them winning the cup itself, and will hopefully give the tournament and certain politicians some perspective.

 

February 9, 2015 at 8:53 pm Leave a comment

Could FFA Cup Spell the End of Finals Football in the A-League?

When Australian football moved Confederations from Oceania to Asia there was a long debate between those at the top of the FFA and those at the Asian Football Confederation as to which teams from Australia would earn a place in the Asian Champions League.

The AFC believed that it should be the team that finished top of the League, the FFA stated that they would be sending their Grand Final winner. After six months of going back and forth eventually Australia was granted two spots – at the expense of Vietnam- and both teams were accepted into the Asian Champions League.

Now with the dawning of the FFA Cup Adelaide United as inaugural Champions believe that they should be given a place in the competition and there will be many who will agree with them.

Currently Brisbane Roar who were last season’s premier’s plate and grand final winner will play, along with runners up and losing Grand Finalists Western Sydney Wanderers, as well as the Central Coast Mariners Mariners who finished third on the league ladder have a play off spot to qualify for the competition. Surely the FFA Cup winner should move ahead of them?

To be fair the Football Federation Australia announced earlier this month that next year’s FFA Cup winner is in line to win a berth at the 2016 Champions League, however Adelaide are believed to be keen to fast track the Cup winners into the tournament in 2015.

Adelaide Chairman Greg Griffin has been quoted as saying “We are the cup winner, I don’t know yet (if we’ll contest the decision), it’s disputable (the rules). Cast your mind back when it was Adelaide United versus Persipura in the ACL (Champions League).’’  Griffin was referring to 2012 when the Indonesian club was granted a play off spot in the Asian Champions League at the 11th hour.

Adelaide wrote to the Asian Football Confederation asking for clarification on the ruling of Champions League clubs participants before the FFA Cup final was played.

Despite Adelaide’s claims in a ten team league where the top six make the finals series and have a chance to be crowned Champions it is ridiculous that a third of the teams in the competition should be competing in the pinnacle tournament in the region. Also with Australian teams currently struggling financially within the A-League surely clubs need to get their house in order here before trying to compete in Asia, and have to cover the extra costs of competing in the ACL?

There are many who feel if the AFC wants the Asian Champions League to be taken seriously, there honestly should be no more than two teams from any country taking part in this still fledgling competition. The more you dilute the competition by bringing in non-champions the competition will take longer to take a hold in the psyche of the average Asian football fan.

There is a bigger issue at play here though, and one that could change the face of Australian football.

The AFC has specific rules for Australia’s Champions League allocation for 2015 in the “Manual for decision method AFC Champions League participation” document.

In phase five of the document it states that member association (Australia) is allocated three Champions League slots, which shall consist of the “winner of the national top division league, winner of the national knockout cup and the runner-up of the national top division league.”

Based on that Adelaide have a very strong case, and the teams representing Australia in the 2015 Champions League should be Brisbane Roar, Western Sydney Wanderers and Adelaide United.

The issue here for the FFA is that they have stipulated in the past that the grand final winner is the cup winner.  If the AFC opt to recognise Adelaide United ahead of the Grand Final winner, suddenly there becomes little value in winning the Grand Final and the finals series has to be looked at as a different competition from the League season.

The AFC may well have met the FFA halfway almost ten years ago, but will they eventually get what they always wanted, the team that is the top of the league at the end of the regular season being the team that is crowned Champions?

Just another situation for the FFA to manoeuvre their way out of without harming the current competition in Australia. It will be very interesting to see how this plays out.

December 29, 2014 at 9:01 am Leave a comment

Promoting Relegation

One reputation that Australian sport has around the globe is that the nation is not a good loser. Frequently when beaten, the officials are blamed, the conditions, etcetera, rather than accepting that maybe on the day they were beaten by a better team.

Is this strong hatred of losing, that has embedded itself into the psyche of Australian sports so strongly, the reason for the current aversion to punish teams appropriately by throwing them out of a competition for, for want of a better word, cheating? Is this the same reason why the FFA, and in fact many sports in the country are against bringing in relegation to their league competitions at national level?

With a failure to perform not being punished by relegation elite sport becomes extremely protectionist, a closed shop. CEO David Gallop’s comment last week that the A-League expansion would be based on population rather than merit, was one that disappointed many football fans across the country.

It would no doubt have disappointed the Asian Football Confederation who requested relegation to be implemented, and the fact that the National Premier Leagues is supposed to in the words of the FFA “underpin” the A-League.

Many believe that the Champions of this competition should earn the right to replace the bottom placed team in the A-League. Although there are so many issues attached to such a move.

Firstly as the FFA Cup has so far proved, full time footballers are a lot fitter and stronger than their semi-professional counterparts. That is not to say that the semi-professionals with the same training and commitment could not match, or even surpass those playing at the moment. However it will take time.

Another problem is that the FFA model for the A-League, which involved private investors owning clubs, creates another massive issue when pitted against a community based semi-professional club. If the privately owned club is relegated, the private owner will most likely walk away and the FFA faces either finding a new owner for the club, or an established club folding. What about “Parachute Payments” to the relegated A-League club as per those teams relegated from the English Premier League to the Championship? These are payments to assist clubs in paying higher wages than in the league the find themselves playing in, and assist them to adjust their books to meet their new environment. The problem here is the FFA does not have the money for such payments. Another issue is that most A-League clubs do not have a ground that they can call “home.” So where are they going to play their games and generate income?

Many will say that the players will walk away, but how can a player under contract walk away? If relegation were to come in, and the A-League was to be a league based on reward, then a transfer system would need to be implemented, so that newly promoted clubs could in fact purchase players from the relegated team should that club wish to release them. With the FFA struggling to handle international transfers as it is and still taking a percentage of these, even though FIFA stated that this was illegal (Cashing In), a domestic transfer system is extremely unlikely to happen in the near future. Although there is no reason why it should not occur at NPL level.

What about the Salary Cap? Newly promoted clubs would be faced with making the leap from administering a wage bill in the hundreds of thousands to one in the millions. Could they cope? Do they have the experience and wherewithal to handle such larges sums of money? Many of these clubs are currently run by well meaning committed volunteers, who love football, but many clubs are struggling to make ends meet. How therefore would they cope in a professional environment? Would they be prepared to bring in experts to run the club and relinquish their control? Ultimately this is a decision for each club, but it is a real issue that needs considering by those who advocate the promotion and relegation system.

There are many who say that new clubs to the A-League should not have to make such a giant step in terms of meeting the current salary cap. That they should instead be allowed to build their club based on a budget that they feel is achievable, and will not put the established club in a financial position that could ultimately see it fold, if it fails on the pitch. There is merit in this school of thought, however yet again clubs need to become professional in the way they operate. At NPL level we need to see contracts back in place, clubs not approaching other players without doing it properly, by asking the President first. Unless these clubs are run along professional lines and employ proper football etiquette, they will never survive in the full time professional environment. Is this an area the FFA should be helping? Maybe, but do the FFA really want any true community-based clubs with history in the A-League? It is unlikely they will invest time and money in helping the clubs they claim are “underpinning” the A-League, as the last thing they want is the possibility of a former NSL club resurfacing. They would rather create new clubs “where there are millions of people not hundreds of thousands,” as Mr Gallop said last week.

There is no doubt that Promotion and Relegation would enhance the football experience in Australia. It is a fact that the AFC want to see it introduced. There is no doubt it would benefit the players immensely as suddenly they know what it is to play in do-or-die games, something many A-League players have never experienced, because they have been cotton-wooled from this environment, by travelling the “football pathway.”

Former Australian coach Terry Venables stated to this writer that his biggest challenge as national coach was trying to teach Australians how to hang onto a 1-0 lead and kill a game. The problem he said, was they did not play enough competitions where they needed to do that, and were happy to continually bomb forward and attack; The Iran game in 1997 maybe a case in point, although Venables was blamed for his tactics. Whatever your thoughts on that, this is where Pim Verbeek’s achievement of having the Socceroos qualify for the World Cup in South Africa without conceding a goal is an underrated achievement. His was the first real change in approach since Venables comments, he built a team that qualified on a strong defence. Now pressure from the media and others has seen Australia revert to type. Ange Postecoglou, who has done a great job since taking over as National coach is encouraging attacking football, but the Socceroos are leaking too many goals, an issue that needs to be addressed quickly. To win or progress in international tournaments you need to learn to kill a game when you have a lead, as unattractive as it may seem, Italy are masters of it, hence their repeated success at the highest level. Sadly the National Youth League is still not teaching this. Fighting for promotion and the prize of a place in the A-League, or the threat of relegation may well help develop this side of the game in Australia. An important part of a player’s development and one that will assist in the national team progressing in major tournaments.

Will we see promotion and relegation happen in the next ten years of the A-League? Hopefully. Will we see it realistically? Unlikely.

 

 

The trouble is with A-League clubs being privately owned, most owners would walk away once their club was relegated as few are genuinely there for the game as a whole. Hence the reason the FFA needs to protect those clubs.

September 24, 2014 at 8:49 am Leave a comment

Will the Kookaburras Pay the Price for A Lack of Planning?

The application date for the coaching position of the Australian men’s hockey team closes in less than 24 hours and then the rumours will commence as to who has applied, and who is likely to be given the role.

One thing that has baffled many in Hockey circles is the fact that Hockey Australia have in fact advertised the position. Surely with Ric Charlesworth’s tenure due to come to a close after the Commonwealth Games the powers that be would have had a plan in place should he decide to step aside, which he ultimately did. Why was there no succession plan? One would have expected a “Plan B”  to be in place that would have included a shortlist of candidates who they believed were ideal to follow Charlesworth and ensure the team maintain its lofty standards.

When it was announced that Charlesworth was to step down after the Commonwealth Games – an event that was brought forward – reading between the lines of comments made by Hockey Australia CEO Cam Vale there was a strong indication that the next coach may well be one from Overseas. “The brief I have from the board is to find the best coach possible,” Vale is quoted as saying.”And I would imagine we will get a fair bit of interest – they are world No.1 and World Cup champions.”

The timing of all of this is not the best, and neither it would appear has been the handling of the affair. Graham Reid and Paul Gaudoin, Charlesworth’s assistants have been appointed joint Head Coaches for the Commonwealth Games. To appoint joint coaches for the Commonwealth Games was in many ways a cop out, and has been viewed as a lack of strong leadership. Although understandable, it is not an ideal position for either coach or the players. Both men who undoubtedly applied for the role will be hampered by the fact that both operate in very different ways, that was fine when Charlesworth was coach, as ultimately he had the final word, but who has the final word now?

Unfortunately unless a decision is made extremely quickly speculation is going to be rife while the Commonwealth Games are under way as to who will get the job on a permanent basis, who has been interviewed, etcetera. All things that could derail the Kookaburras campaign.

The Kookaburras are strong favourites to win the Gold medal at the Commonwealth Games having just won the World Cup so emphatically, but the leadership issue is one that cannot be ignored and they will still have to perform to take Gold. Keeping the team focussed unders such conditions with many senior players announcing their retirement may be harder than many imagine. England are a much improved team, as are the Colin Batch led New Zealand side; a man who will be keen to show his coaching prowess against his former team.

Following Charlesworth is going to be hard, ask David Moyes how hard it is to follow a legend. There will be many ambitious coaches who will look at the talent and style that Australia play and see the chance to make a name for themselves, yet they may be unaware of how Charlesworth lived, breathed and ate hockey, in order to attain success. Coaches with such dedication are few and far between and that was what made Charlesworth special.

There is a strong argument that his successor should come from that inner circle, as they will know exactly what went into the success of the past five years and will simply carry on the good work, but in their own style. To go outside of Australia, when the country has had so much success in the past 30 years, would seem needless, but sometimes administrators like to make a statement of their own.

Whatever the outcome there is a strong belief that this could have been planned and handled better than it has been, and that Hockey Australia was not working in the background lining up a replacement for the day when Charlesworth walked away, until that day finally came. Hopefully that will not ultimately affect the team’s performance.

 

July 7, 2014 at 11:19 am Leave a comment

A Welcome Guest – But Hopefully Not The First of Many

News that Spain’s David Villa has signed for newly named Melbourne City – Formerly Melbourne Heart- in the Hyundai A League is indeed exciting news. Villa could well be the most exciting signing since Dwight Yorke in the inaugural season. The reason being this is a player still at the top of his game.

Villa has just won the La Liga and is headed to Brazil for his third World Cup Finals. Villa has won a World Cup and a European Championship with Spain, as well as UEFA Champions League, La Liga and FIFA Club World Cup. At 32 years of age he is almost five years younger than Alessandro del Piero was when he decided to play in the A-League.

The deal has undoubtedly come about because Villa has signed for New York City a club also owned by Melbourne Heart/City’s new owners the City Football Group. A Group who also are involved with English Premier League Champions Manchester City.

There are however warning signs as there always were with a club like Manchester City buying into smaller leagues around the World. Sending players out to these lesser clubs will assist Manchester City in avoiding fines similar to GBP49million one it just received for failing to comply with the UEFA Financial Fair Play rules; GBP32million of which was suspended.

Manchester City may have plenty of financial clout behind them but they have posted combined losses of almost £149m for the past two seasons – £97m in 2012 and £51.6m in 2013. The FFA need to be on top of monitoring the financial running of Melbourne City and ensure that this club’s debts do not spiral out of control, as a withdrawal by the City Football Group could leave the league and the club in a precarious position.

Perhaps though the other big warning sign came in a comment from David Villa following the announcement of his guest stint. “It’s very good for me in every sense,” Villa is reported to have said. “From a football point of view it’s the opportunity to play in a new league in a different country, and of course it will be ideal for me to get some competitive football in the period before the MLS season gets under way.”

The last thing the A-League needs to become is a pre-season training facility for the MLS and with the City Football club owning New York City and with all due respect to Melbourne, the pulling power and marketing potential is far greater in New York than it is in Melbourne, as well as the USA against Australia.

If the FFA allows such a thing to happen, the A-League being used to keep MLS players fit, this will ultimately be more damaging in the long term than the owners withdrawal. Fans relate to players and expect players to be loyal to their club, the last thing they need is the season to start superbly thanks to a number of “Blow-ins” only to implode when they go to play in a competition they feel is of a higher standard.

Having David Villa coming to play in Australia is great news and superb for fans of football in Australia. As stated he is not over the hill and will no doubt have a massive impact on and off the park, it is just his move flags other potential issues, and the game must look at its long term future and not short term fixes.

 

 

June 5, 2014 at 1:01 pm 6 comments

Can Boxing Unite For the Greater Good?

Change requires one person to make the first bold step, and new World Boxing Council President, Mauricio Sulaiman is to be applauded for attempting to implement change.

Sulaiman who took over from his father Jose after he passed away earlier this year is carrying on where his father left off, with the WBC leading the way once again in trying to implement changes in the sport, for the long term good of the sport.

The meeting of Boxing’s Championship bodies has been talked about but has not happened for far too long. The last meeting was when Gilberto Mendoza the President of the WBA met in Mexico some years ago with the then WBC President Jose Sulaiman.

Mauricio Sulaiman is trying to re-ignite that initiative. He has said that the main reason for the meting is to try to unify rules, so that there is an agreed united standard in the sport, as in most sporting activities, that fans and boxers alike know and understand. One issue the fans would like to see is the restoration of less World Titles, with the “Super” weight categories being put to bed once and for all. There are quite simply too many world titles and as a result some boxers are able to adopt that moniker, yet are honestly not worthy of it. Sadly this is unlikely to happen.

At the moment it is expected that the big four will take part in the proposed summit meeting of Boxing’s super powers,  the WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO. These are the established bodies and the one’s whose titles carry the most kudos. Fight fans would like to see these trimmed back to two, possibly three at the most, but that will never happen.

Some would say that there should be one, which is agreed, but there is some magic in boxing when there is a unification bout between the two Champions of the WBC and WBA. One thing that all of the boxing bodies must do is make their Champions fight the number one contender within a set period, as in the past. Sadly in modern day boxing, to increase their worth as the World Champion too many fighters avoid the top contenders and fight lower ranked opponents to stay at the top that little bit longer. This does the sport no good whatsoever.

No date has been set for the meeting as yet, but let us hope that progress can be made and as proposed the bodies can indeed unify many of the rules.

April 24, 2014 at 8:07 am Leave a comment

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