Australian football and the Messiah complex
(This article appeared on Goal Weekly‘s website on 18 September 2012. http://www.goalweekly.com.au/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=4957:australian-football-and-the-messiah-complex&Itemid=180 )
Photo: Harry Kewell in action for Melbourne Victory. Last year’s Messiah, or should it be Moses? Photo: Roy Hay)
Don’t get me wrong, I am delighted Alessandro del Piero has been snared by Tony Pignata and Lou Sticca and has signed a two-year contract with Sydney FC.
What concerns me is the overblown rhetoric and belief that this represents the saving of football in Australia and its projection into its true place in the world game.
Last year Harry Kewell was the Messiah, or at least Moses, who would lead us out of the wilderness into the promised land.
A decade ago it was Dwight Yorke, later it was Craig Moore returning from a career in Europe to lead Queensland Roar.
Off the field it has been a succession of billionaires including Frank Lowy and more recently Clive Palmer and Nathan Tinkler.
Of these only Lowy has stayed the course and of course he was a key element in the long forgotten ‘old soccer’ which was replaced by the ‘new football’.
I like the zing and pizzaz that some of these figures bring to the game and the media but I seriously wonder if their profile helps disguise the real issues facing the code.
Having seen how our major competitors in East Asia have gone ahead by leaps and bounds at the Olympic Games in London in the men’s and women’s competitions, I fear that we are slipping further and further behind.
The Japanese and South Korean men’s teams would have given our senior Socceroos a roasting had they met on the field.
They were super fit, had absorbed the best of the tactical advances of recent years and looked more like successors to senior Spain and Barcelona than the Spanish Under-23s, who went home scoreless at the bottom of their group.
I see few signs that our equivalent teams and players are collectively at that level, though there are some enormously talented individuals around.
Recently I spoke to Jimmy Rooney, captain of the Socceroos, World Cup player, coach and teacher of players at all levels.
He has always been a promoter of skill and tactical awareness and has contributed mightily over the years to the progress of numerous Socceroos.
He fears that there is something missing from the way we are going about bringing up the next generation of players.
He believes, like most good coaches, that the game is played above the shoulders at the top levels.
It is the single-minded winning mentality which carries the best players to the top, their character on and off the field and their commitment to self-improvement and collective effort.
Rale Rasic, World Cup coach and world statesman of football, says something similar.
‘When I look for a player I look for character,’ he said to me, ‘I take the skill and ability for granted.’
This is a man who has worked tirelessly to promote the game in this country since he arrived here in the early 1960s and who has access to all the best ideas for the development of world football.
His dissection of the Women’s World Cup in Germany last year, which he attended, was an education in itself.
He regularly commutes to Brazil where he has access to the best training methods and to the superstars of the game.
My point is that we have a reservoir of talent in this country of people who have been teachers all their lives, who have done it at the highest levels, on and off the field.
They still have an immense amount to contribute to our future, and don’t want to be remembered simply for their past.
There are signs that the code is beginning to appreciate that it has these rich resources to draw on.
Their collective involvement in the game might just be a significant part of the way forward.
I’d back that rather than the Messiah complex.