Edited version published as ‘Poaching when the boot’s on the other foot’, Geelong Advertiser, Friday 6 April 2007, p. 31.
The news that the Croatian national football team has been trying to persuade Geelong’s Matthew Spiranovic to play for the country of his parents’ birth rather than Australia once again raises the issue of poaching players.
Australia has a track record of attracting and selecting overseas sports people from Kostya Tzu, Hanna Mandlikova, to half the FC Austria soccer team in the 1950s.
So it does not have the moral high ground to say that other countries may not try to poach our young stars, as they did with Joey Didulica, Geelong’s star keeper, who finally succumbed to invitations from Croatia, though he was desperate to play for Australia.
The then Australian coach, Frank Farina, failed to pick Didulica for Australia because he had two established keepers in Mark Schwarzer and Zeljko Kalac, and several other good, experienced competitors.
Farina had a responsibility to the future of Australian soccer in bringing on the next generation but he resisted all pressure in Didulica’s case.
The current coach Graham Arnold is much more receptive to the argument however and has spoken to Spiranovic about his plans for the youngster, with the prospect of a cap in a forthcoming friendly international.
Matthew Spiranovic came through the juniors at North Geelong, and then Melbourne Knights before joining the Victorian and Australian Institutes of Sport.
He had a number of pre-season games with Melbourne Victory, where coach Ernie Merrick had always had his eye on him as a future Socceroo.
Matthew won the Weinstein medal as the best young player in Victoria and represented the Joeys (Under-17s) and Young Socceroos (Under-20s).
From the AIS he went to FC Nurnberg in the Bundesliga in Germany, making his debut earlier this season against the mighty Bayern Munich.
As readers of this column will know I predicted some time ago that down the track the Socceroos central defensive pairing will be Victory’s Adrian Leijer and Spiranovic, two highly skilled and thoughtful modern defenders.
Let’s hope that they get the chance to play together for their country—Australia.