Recent news on the selection of the Australian football squad for the Brazil World Cup has been focusing on the preemptive retirement of many of Australia’s “Golden Generation” players.
Australia’s coach Ange Postecoglou has made the step of contacting a number of players considered the regulars of the last fews Socceroos campaigns to let them know personally that their services will no longer be required. The recent addition of Lucas Neill to this list of unwanted and his subsequent retirement appears to be the precursor for Ognenovski to have let fly at the new Australian manager, going as far as to suggest it disrespectful.
Now with all due respect of my own to Sasa, that is crap.
In many ways, his comments come to represent the sense of entitlement many senior Australian players have had until now. They fly in the face of what an Australian representative sportsperson should be. Rather than recognising the need to bring in fresh talent that have patiently waited for their chance to attend a World Cup and encourage the next generation of Australian football, Ognenovski seems more intent in paying one final homage to the previous generation, allowing the Brazilian World Cup to become a tribute and swan-song to arguably our greatest generation of players.
It seems at odds with what Australian fans want.
Articles have come out all this week applauding Ange’s decision to release those players that had previously enjoyed automatic squad selection under Osieck. That for too much of the lead-up to this World Cup, the Socceroos have been stuck in a time-warp with squad selection, preferring to stick with an old tried-and-true formula rather than take a chance with new players.
It is worth recognising that Neill was the player of the tournament for Australia in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. It is also necessary to realise that this was eight years ago and the talents that had made him so great at that event are the same ones we had seen succumb to time and age like they do with any player seeing out the last few years of his playing career.
Yet for qualifiers he and the familiar faces from 2006 continued to enjoy automatic selection to the Australian squad because they had too big a reputation to snub and reinforced the perception of a lack of genuine replacements.
I think most Australian football fans have come to the realisation that the good times we enjoyed under Hiddink are over, and that some rebuilding must take place. Indeed that football is a generational roller-coaster, with good times preceding and succeeding bad, and indeed that Australia might have to accept a lull after its best generation. Yet I doubt if few fans, after watching talented players like Holman, Jedinak, Milligan, Vidosic and Valeri impress in the 2010 World Cup, or youngsters like McKay, Ryan, Spiranovic and many others impress in the subsequent years, expected Australia to line up with players like Neill, Kewell, Bresciano, Cahill, and Schwarzer still being our relied-upon players.
Instead I suspect that most were to happy to give these younger players the chance to prove themselves against some of the best teams in the world at Brazil. An opportunity throw caution to the wind and maybe even cause a few surprises while we develop. That was the kind of World Cup I was looking forward to after South Africa and that I lost hope in with Olsieck during qualifiers. However I also think it is what we will now receive with Costecoglou in charge of the team, and this is a good thing.
For Sasa to say it is disrespectful on the legacy Socceroos is to ignore the fact it happens worldwide and is an accepted part of being a professional sportsmen. They get paid big bucks while on top of the world because they know it will not last forever. But more than this, when playing for country rather than club, they realise they are not playing for individual plaudits, but for the benefit of their chosen nation.
So if this is the case, would Australia have benefited from washing their hands of making a decision on the selection of these players and instead allowing them to choose if they want to attend or not? Did Brazil allow Kaka or Ronaldinho such an option? Did the World Cup they won for Brazil in 2002 dictate that they choose whether they play in this year’s edition or not? After all, at one time they were each considered the best in the world.
Or like any sensible country, did the selectors realise that individual hopes, desires and grievances need to be sacrificed for the benefit of the team as a whole?
It is not even as if Ange publicly stated these players were washed up geriatrics with no shot at the Socceroos? As far as I can tell, he rang certain players privately who deserved such notification to let them know ahead of time that he did not have them in mind. If this is not the very definition of courteous and professional, then pray tell what is?
Reading it back, the article may give the impression of me as a youngster with a lack of respect for these players. It could not be further from the truth. I openly weeped for Neill when he had that challenge on Grosso controversially ruled a penalty. As a Hammers supporter, I was filled with pride every time he led the team out, and I cheered him and other greats as loud as anyone in the 2010 World Cup and 2011 Asian Cup. Hell, for a few years there, I was an ardent supporter of the Turkish league as it saw Socceroos like Kewell and Neill join the team, and every week I prayed for good games to give me hope for the Socceroos.
However, watching these same players in the last few years has now convinced me that it is time to move on.
Certainly I will always appreciate what they did. Memories of Uruguay in 2005, Japan, Brazil, Croatia and Italy will always stick with me. After all, we, as supreme underdogs went toe-to-toe with eventual winners Italy for 89 minutes and almost shook up the world. But I know now that this cannot justify prolonging their career now.
Australia must move on in its football identity and focus on what’s to come, and that is young players.