View Count: 84 |  Publish Date: May 25, 2013
New brigade hit by blowback

Out of the A-League: Kaz Patafta is one player who disappointed. Photo: Jonathan Carroll
Political analysts and policy wonks talk of the concept of blowback - something we ordinary folk might call the law of unintended consequences. This is when a decision taken or an action at a certain moment produces the expected result at the time but delivers a long-term outcome that might be the opposite of that hoped for.
In 2003 and 2004, there were few dissenting voices in the Australian soccer world when the decision was made to reform the game, blow up the old Soccer Australia and remake the sport completely with a new administration and a new A-League to replace the National Soccer League, which was seen as too ethnic and appealing to too narrow a fan base. The NSL was shut down on a rain-sodden afternoon in April 2004 when a Nick Mrdja golden goal gave Perth Glory a 1-0 victory over Parramatta in the last grand final.
Then there was silence for nearly 18 months. As traditional clubs regrouped and went back to the state leagues, the Australian game endured a protracted hiatus as the A-League was developed.
And those who were most badly affected were those whom the revolution was expected to help the most: the nations most promising 17 to 20-year-olds, who were primed and ready to grab first-team places and develop their game in tough competition against the best and most experienced operators in the domestic game. They did not play any high-level senior soccer for what amounted to a season and a half, a critical gap in their crucial development years. Advertisement
Thus, it might be asked, are the Socceroos current problems in part related to the blowback from that era, the absence of high-class players from that age group who would now be aged between 26 and 29?
In May 2006, Guus Hiddink held a training camp in Germany for the Socceroos prior to the World Cup. He brought with him a handful of youngsters to swell the numbers at training. These were the best and the brightest from that age group who had missed out on that critical year and a half of development, although they had begun to show promise in the fledgling A-League.
Included were the likes of Kristian Sarkies and Kaz Patafta. Defender Adrian Leijer had been part of the train-on squad in Australia.
They were just a handful of kids of whom great things were expected, but who have failed to reach the heights forecast. Sarkies and Patafta are not even in the A-League any more, while Leijer, although Melbourne Victorys captain, has not made the progress to international level pundits expected.
Its a long bow, I admit, but looking at Holger Osiecks squad for the crucial World Cup qualifiers that will determine Australias fate over the next month, it is at least a question worth asking, and a point to consider in mitigation for the national teams lack of progress.
During the formative years of the A-League, many coaches would remark, off the record, that the youngsters in their squad lacked the street smarts required to survive in the professional world. A number pointed to the NSL shutdown and the 18-month gap at that critical stage of those players development and wondered whether that did indeed have major ramifications for their long-term futures.
It could be argued that the most talented were already out of the country at that point, trying to make their names and establish themselves in Europe. But few of that generation have done so and there remains a huge gulf between the remnants of the golden generation, now all in their mid-30s, and the best of the new brigade, such as Robbie Kruse, Mitch Langerak, Tom Rogic and Tommy Oar, who are a decade or more younger than their most senior teammates.
The revolution had to occur, of course, and in all regime change there are casualties. The game has reached levels of popularity that it never managed to in the old days, while the Socceroos have been the poster boys of Australian sport through two World Cups.
The task against Japan on June 4 is formidable, but Australias fate will most likely be decided by its performance in its two final home games against Jordan in Melbourne on June 11 and Iraq in Sydney on June 18. For the games continued development, these are simply must-win fixtures.
Failure to qualify will see the demise of Osieck, the curtain descending on the likes of Tim Cahill, Lucas Neill, Mark Schwarzer and Mark Bresciano, and a complete makeover of the national team. One thing that can be predicted with certainty, however, is that whatever happens, there will be some unexpected consequences. Be ready for more more blowback.

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Time: 16:37  |  News Code: 266893  |  Site: brisbanetimes
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