Australia has just qualified for its third consecutive World Cup. Australian football is on the rise again, but there appears to still be some uncertainty surrounding the Socceroos. After the Golden generation, which took us to our most successful World Cup in 2006, there seems to be a lack of talented young footballers for Socceroos Coach Holger Osieck to draw from. Has the football talent in Australia dried up? Or is it just a stage of transition in Australian Football.
2006 was arguably the greatest year for football in Australia’s history. The Socceroos made their first World Cup in 32 years, Tim Cahill made history by scoring the first goals for Australia in a World Cup, which led to their first win in the tournament. The Socceroos made it to the knockout stage where the World Cup Champions, Italy, defeated them. The bar has been set exceptionally high by this generation of Australian footballers.
There is a significant difference between the team that played in the 2006 World Cup, and the team we are sending to Brazil in 2014. The starting line up in 2006 was made up entirely of overseas players. There were various big name clubs represented like Liverpool FC, Everton, PSV Eindhoven, Parma, Newcastle United and FC Basel. Names like Viduka, Kewell and Cahill were household names around the world. Compared with the current squad, the difference is stark. The main clubs represented in the squad today are Tom Rogic (Celtic) and Robbie Kruse (Bayer Leverkusen). There are many more A-league players in the squad with the remainder playing their trade across various Middle Eastern and Asian clubs.
There has definitely been a shift in the stock of players in the Socceroos over the last 10 years. There are a number of reasons for this change. Firstly, football in Australia is coming to the end of a definite transitional period. The A-league is now a deep-rooted aspect of the footballing landscape and a distinguished league in its own right. The golden generation came from the less-noted National Soccer League where the culture in the game was to leave the country as soon as possible and seek opportunities overseas, preferably Europe. Today, players have the opportunity to stay in Australia and further their skills and experience in a professional league where they can be noticed by overseas clubs. This is evident by the recent mass migration of young A-league players overseas, including Tom Rogic, Mustafa Amini, Matthew Ryan and Marco Rojas.
While it is clear that the current crop of Socceroos may not be as strong as the squads that have preceded them, it does not mean there is no talent coming out of Australia. The A-league has provided an ideal medium for Australian players who have the ambition to play for the greatest clubs in the world. It also serves as a goal and a source of inspiration for young Australians aspiring to be footballers. The amount of developing footballers playing in the A-league this season is unprecedented. The quality of football on the pitch has not been harmed by it; on the contrary the A-league has had its most successful season to date. The amount of fresh A-league talent is evidenced in Australia’s U-20 World Cup squad who just played their first game against Columbia and came away with a draw. Every player in the Australian squad is attached to a club. The starting 11 all play regular football in the A-league; most of them start for their respective teams. The competition for places in the squad was so strong that Borussia Dortmund’s youthful star Mustafa Amini was left out entirely. The current squad is in stark contrast to the U-20’s squad from 2005-2006. That crop of players failed to qualify for the Youth World Cup in 2007. The coach at the time, successful A-league manager Ange Postecoglou, expressed the troubles of the Nation’s footballing youth; “our sum total of A-league games in the team was 5, and that came from only two players in the team. It’s reflective of what’s been happening for a number of years now.” The two players Ange mentions are Nathan Burns and Dario Vidosic, the only players in the team to be playing professional football at the time. Ange notes that for a number of years now, Football in Australia has been changing. In the whole of 2005 there was no professional competition in Australia, and the inexperienced players of that time suffered. Compared to the current young players representing Australia on the world stage, the difference is extremely significant.
While our current crop of Socceroos are struggling to meet the dazzling heights set by the golden generation in 2006, they are the product of an unsteady period in Australian Football where there were few opportunities for fledgling players and a lack of local football. With the A-league now developing into a esteemed competition, the impact this is having on the youth is clearly manifested in the young players we are producing who are going on to compete with the best in the World Cup. These players are already being seen in the current crop of Socceroos, through youngsters like Tom Rogic and Tommy Oar, both products of the A-league. Despite the fact that the Socceroos are reeling from an unstable period in Australian football seven years ago, the mix of experience and vibrant guns has still been good enough to get us to the World Cup next year. Our performance in the tournament may not reach that of the golden generation but it is clear that the future of the game in Australia is very bright. The potential for Australia to create world-class players has returned and that potential stems from the roots connected with the A-league.