Australian football is often like a scared child in need of reassurement from a loving parent that all is well. Whether it be the scary specter of Australian rules or rugby league, or a foreign menace in the form of European and Asian football, we need constant reinforcement that we are going to be ok.
Ange Postecoglou has been put in the role of the comforting parent and he has done a great job of it too. He has brought back an enthusiasm for the national team that had waned during the tenure of both Pim Verbeek and Holger Osieck.
Recently he had his nurturing father hat on when he made comments in relation to the quality of the A-League compared to “Europe”. They did the trick and made us feel loved and appreciated, a good thing too being the competition is just a couple of weeks out from it’s start.
“Watch some football from Europe. It’s hard to watch. It’s very poor in standard,” he said.
“I’m not just talking about the UK. I’ve just come back from Europe and I won’t mention the clubs but I saw a couple of first-division games and I could have walked out at half-time.”
As he mentioned he didn’t name any clubs or leagues but he did say “first divisions” which helps us narrow it down because there aren’t that many players playing in the first divisions in major European leagues. We can only assume he meant Rogic at Celtic moreso than Leckie at Ingoldstadt.
The point is though that Europe has over first divisions all with lower tiers so we are talking thousands of clubs representing a wide range of standards. Through following OS Aussies I have managed thanks to streaming and YouTube been able to watch many different leagues. Ange is right, some games are tough watches, some showcase individual talent, some showcase great coaching and setups, others have 90 minutes of drama, while others rely on sporadic moments of individual brilliance to break up the monotony.
Ange is a good, faithful servant to the game and he will do whatever he has to to build up the game when he can. That’s great for the game and shows his heart is in the right place. There’s actually nothing wrong with what he said but the way it has been interpreted and reported is symptomatic of the role of football media today as basically extensions of the FFA PR department. That’s not a knock on those journalists, it’s paying credit to the ones who do their job without fear or favour.
With the statement, “that’s not a knock on them, it’s paying credit to our competition” he left whoever cared to listen in no doubt what he was actually doing, talking up the competition, weeks out from the start. It is actually the best promotion of the game to come out of the FFA HQ this season.
Some people said yesterday that it was a breath of fresh air compared to the likes of Verbeek who people still resent for saying, “if you train for three weeks with Nurnberg or with Karlsruhe, I have to have to be very honest, I still think that’s better than playing A-League games.” Giving his honest opinion was a fatal flaw for an insecure Australian football public and media as it was the point that he lost favour and blood would be the only thing to satiate the mob. The 2010 World Cup was the scene of the public execution of the villainous Verbeek.
What people fail to mention is that during Pim Verbeek’s reign from 2007 to 2010, he capped around 25 A-League based players. If you look at the same time period for Ange who has been in charge from October 2013 to now, he has capped 6 A-League based players. I was as glad as anybody to see him go, although in hindsight it did lead to Holger, but it was the way in which we played with fear and didn’t exploit our attacking weapons, not because of some words.
It isn’t just Verbeek that has rustled feathers though, there is the dreaded “Eurosnob”. Now a Eurosnob was traditionally someone who only watches the big leagues of Europe and doesn’t engage in the local game. We can all agree that this person really is as useful to the cause in Australia as Malcolm Conn or Rebekah Wilson. However, this definition seems to have now changed to anyone who dares honestly assess where the Aleague is in relation to other leagues in the world. If you don’t say at least top 15 then you clearly hate kittens and Australian football. Funnily enough if you talk up the local game or NPL then you’re a bitter. There is no winning in this game.
As I mentioned above there are 100s of professional and semi-professional leagues in Europe of various standards so it’s no big shock to suggest that the A-League stacks up well against many as far as standard goes. People talk about A-League being a new league but football isn’t so have we progressed in a football sense as much as we should’ve? That’s very debatable.
We still see players coming home not long after going abroad to play because they aren’t getting the minutes they hoped for and we aren’t seeing players cracking the big leagues like in our not so distant past. As we still see our best talent going abroad to these “inferior” leagues to chase the dream of playing in Europe. There is nothing wrong with that, that ambition is what will help improve the players and our national teams.
Ange talked about some games being hard to watch, this is the case in any league from the highest level – the European Champions League – to the local U10s. Even two teams with individuals of the highest quality can cancel each other out and create a dire contest. Tactics, matchups, pressure and the stakes all play a part in how a contest unfolds.
One can enjoy an NPL contest between Sydney United and Adelaide City and a Manchester derby in equal measure or be bored to tears in either depending on the day. Enjoying football at any level is a message which Ange and his bosses really should be promoting but for some reason that never seems to be on the agenda.
This constant need for reassurance be it compared to the other sports in Australia or foreign football leagues is pointless. We are what we are and tomorrow we will be something else but most importantly we need to assure that we are on the right path to continue to improve and develop.
Praise when it’s due and criticise when it’s fair because only through open and honest discourse can we progress.