In the wake of Australia’s absolute mauling at the hands of Brazil last weekend, calls for a regeneration of the Australian squad and the sacking of Holger Osieck have flowed in thick and fast.
In a three part series, The Blog FC looks at Australia’s squad position by position and identify potential areas for change. First up, a Case for the Defence.
GK: Mark Schwarzer
Our 40 year old keeper is probably still the Socceroos best option between the sticks. But in a friendly match with nothing on the line, what exactly did Holger expect to learn from this performance that Schwarzer hasn’t shown in his 108 previous caps? Surely this could have been a chance to give the man Osieck sees as his understudy (be it Jones, Galekovic or Federici) some much needed experience, or – better yet, give a youngster like Langerak or Ryan a chance to show off some of their undoubted talent.
LB: Matt McKay
Poor old Matty McKay has copped a lot of stick since being moved into the left back position for the Socceroos. This is unfortunate, because any player (or anyone!) would happily play out of position if it meant representing their country. McKay should certainly be persisted with – his age (30), and his form at the Asian Cup say that he cut it at international level – but as a midfielder, not a fullback. Experienced alternatives to play in the LB role are in pretty short supply, but Holger has had plenty of time to have a look at Aziz Behich, Craig Goodwin, Adama Traore, Michael Zullo and Jason Davidson. It’s time to pick the one he sees having the biggest future and stick with them.
LCB: Sasa Ognenovski
The Og has been an excellent servant of the Australian team, and one of the few exports to have been successful in Asia. But he’s 34 years old (strike one), playing for Umm Salal in the Qatari league (strike two) and hasn’t played a competitive match for them since the 19th of April (strike three). Any player that has not played a club game for the best part of 5 months is a questionable selection for the National Team. Ognenovski should be able to fight for his position, but surely his selection should be based on form. The argument is there aren’t any viable alternatives at CB but this is simply not the case – but we’ll cover that with our next player.
RCB: Lucas Neill
Like Schwarzer and Ognenovski, Lucas Neill has been an excellent representative for Australia. But since leaving Al Jazira in June 2012, he has only played 1273 minutes of club football – that’s just over 14 matches, or one third of a Championship season. Partnering him with Ognenovski makes the combined age of Australia’s CBs a bone-aching 70 years. It really shouldn’t surprise anyone that this duo are being targeted for their lack of pace.
But who are the possible replacements for these two? Let’s first look at the other centre-backs that were in the squad for the Brazil friendly – Cornthwaite, McGowan & Williams (Mark Milligan has been deliberately left out – his best form for both the Socceroos and the Victory has come in the centre of the park, and therefore should be played there). Robbie Cornthwaite is the subject of derision for quite a few people, but at 27 years old and playing regularly for Chunnam Dragons in the K-League, it’s a reasonable proposition for him to be in the squad. In fact, he has played quite well in the few Socceroos caps he’s got, and surely International Friendlies should be used to find out more about these squad players? The same goes for Ryan McGowan. He’s a good age (24) and is playing regularly at a reasonable level (Shandong Luneng Taishan in the Chinese Super League), so certainly has a claim for a place in the Socceroos squad. Against Brazil, he was played out of position and got torn apart by a rampant Neymar. At first glance it looked like a horrible decision but Osieck’s plan may have been to blood a guy who he sees as his future CB against one of the best players in the world with the idea of it being a learning experience (well, hopefully that was the plan. Otherwise McGowan was simply being thrown to the wolves!). Finally, there is Rhys Williams. How a player with the pedigree of Williams can have so few Australian caps is dumbfounding. Obviously injuries have played their role, but this guy is the captain of Middlesbrough and, at 25, could well be a stalwart of the national team for years to come. When fit, he should be the first man picked in the centre of defence.
Outside of the squad, there are plenty of others knocking on the door. Shane Lowry and Chris Herd are both graduates of the prestigious Aston Villa Academy, with Lowry now playing regularly in the Championship for Millwall (the club that helped build the careers of Lucas Neill and Tim Cahill) and Herd knocking on the door of Villa’s first team (he was named on the bench in their recent League Cup game). Both are 24 and deserve a chance to show their skills in the Australian set up.
Over in Asia, Alex Wilkinson and Luke DeVere are playing regularly in the K-League. If Robbie Cornthwaite warrants a spot in the Socceroos squad, then surely these two do as well – a case could be made that both have more impressive record than him. At home in Australia, Trent Sainsbury is also showing the signs of being a Socceroo in the making. While probably not ready for the first team, keeping him training with the squad would get him used to the national set up.
In total, that is seven players (plus Sainsbury) that have a better claim to a starting spot (especially in a Friendly) than Neill and Ognenovski. All are younger, fitter and playing more regularly at a higher level. There are two Socceroo regulars that have been deliberately left out of this discussion – Jade North and Matthew Špiranovic. North has been a bit of a journeyman since leaving the Newcastle Jets in 2009, representing no less than 6 clubs and not playing much for any of them. At 31, he still has time to add to his 41 caps, but will need to put in a solid shift at Brisbane Roar this season. Špiranovic’s situation is less straightforward. Once Lucas Neill’s heir apparent, he is now plying his trade for Al-Arabi in the Qatar Stars League – football’s equivalent of a retirement village. Regardless of how much he is being paid, Spira needs to move if he wants to realise his potential. Mark Milligan has shown that a return to the A-League can actually help get your career back on track, Špiranovic would do well to take a leaf from his book.
RB: Ryan McGowan
As already mentioned, if the use of McGowan at right back was part of a plan to build his experience for the future – especially as it was a Friendly and experimentation should be encouraged – then that is fair enough. This happens the world over. Luke Wilkshire has the RB position pretty much wrapped up, so using up and coming players in this position is good way to build their experience. Ivan Franjic may have a claim to be the next in line out and out right back, another solid season in the A-League would cement that view.
Next up, we turn the microscope to the midfield. Stay tuned!