December 4, 2013
SENIOR SPORTS REPORTER WITH THE AGE
Adam Taggart made waves with an A-League hat-trick against Melbourne Heart and the young Newcastle Jets striker is definitely one to look out for. Photo: Jonathan Carroll
Australia’s golden generation has pretty much run its race.
Aside from Tim Cahill, Mark Bresciano and Lucas Neill – and the latter is probably clinging on by his fingertips – none of the big names who took Australia to the 2006 and 2010 World Cups will have anything more than an academic interest when the draw for the 2014 tournament takes place in Brazil this weekend.
The fact that Australia is, with a FIFA ranking of 59, the lowest-ranked team in the draw is a fair reflection of the nation’s standing. So the Socceroos go to Brazil with little expectation and few stars to whom they can look for inspiration. Which begs the question: After nearly a decade of unmatched local success – three World Cup qualifications and the creation of a successful A-League – why are there no emerging stars in the national team ranks? Why are veterans such as Bresciano and Cahill still key men?
Tomi Juric has ability, but his task is to show he can deliver consistently. Photo: Brendan Esposito
Most people will suggest it’s because of the failure of the development program in the past 10 years. It’s hard to think of one Australian under the age of 25 who has made it in one of the big leagues in Europe in recent times, save for Robbie Kruse, who is at Bayer Leverkusen, and Mitch Langerak, the back-up goalkeeper at Borussia Dortmund. But Kruse, the former Brisbane Roar and Melbourne Victory forward, is not a regular starter, nor is Langerak.
There has to be some currency in that lack of development argument, and perhaps the best illustration comes not just from Australia’s inability to find home-grown stars, but from another nation’s failure to cherry-pick our best for itself.
In previous times, Croatia has trawled the Australian talent pool with great success: Josip Simunic, the Canberra-born centre-half, is probably the biggest loss Australia has had.
Luke Brattan has impressed many with his displays in the last couple of seasons for Brisbane Roar. Photo: Getty Images
Yes, he usually hits the headlines for all the wrong reasons, but he will be going to Brazil in 2014 as a key member of Croatia’s squad. It will be his third World Cup.
Croatia has also harvested Geelong-born goalkeeper Joey Didulica and Sydney-born wing-back Ante Seric from this country; the former sitting on the bench throughout the 2006 World Cup, the latter a non-playing member of the Croatian side in the 1998, 2002 and 2006 World Cups.
But this time? Nothing.
Either Australia has become better at persuading youngsters of ethnic origin to play for the land of their birth, or simply there is no one worth looking at.
Are there any emerging youngsters on the fringes of national selection or even off the radar now who might give lie to the suggestion that the development program has broken down? Is the glass half empty, or fuller than we might think?
After picking the brains of a few agents, talent spotters and sundry other Socceroo watchers, here is a list of those on the periphery who might come under consideration at some point over the next few months – if they can continue to improve and make their case in the most compelling fashion of all, with good performances. Some might be taken with a pinch of salt, but it should be a debate starter, anyway.
It won’t be easy. As Socceroo coach Ange Postecoglou made a point of saying after the win over Costa Rica, it was up to others to force their way past those in the squad he had selected for his first game in charge. But the coach is a pragmatist, so if anyone impresses he will have little hesitation in finding a spot for them in the squad.
Adam Taggart made waves with an A-League hat-trick against Melbourne Heart and the young Newcastle Jets striker is definitely one to look out for. He has already earned a Socceroo call-up in the East Asian Cup, where he scored against China.
That East Asian Cup in South Korea might not have been all that memorable as far as results go, but it did give some international exposure to a handful of other candidates, including Mitchell Duke, of Central Coast Mariners, and Tomi Juric (Western Sydney Wanderers).
Duke, it seemed, was a particular favourite of former national coach Holger Osieck, so his prospects would have been greater had the German stayed in charge. Juric has ability, but his task is to show he can deliver consistently.
The goalkeeping slots are very competitive, although Mat Ryan and Langerak look to have a lock on two places. Mark Birighitti (Jets) made his international debut against China in the East Asian Cup and played really well, but his time may be in the future.
Ben Halloran is following Kruse’s pathway, having moved from Australia to Fortuna Dusseldorf in the German second division, but is more likely to be an Asian Cup contender.
One intriguing possibility for the future is former Melbourne Heart frontman Eli Babalj, although his susceptibility to injury makes him unlikely and he has yet to make any impact at his Dutch club, AZ Alkmaar.
A player with a much better chance would be Melbourne Victory’s James Troisi, on loan for a season with the A-League club. Troisi has been involved at senior Socceroo level before and Postecoglou did sign him for Victory.
Curtis Good has captained his country at youth level but would be a long shot for selection unless Postecoglou wanted to bring along the former Melbourne Heart centre-half for experience. The left-sided defender is at English Premier League club Newcastle United, but the 20-year-old has only played once for the first team, in the League Cup.
Luke Brattan has impressed many with his displays in the last couple of seasons for Brisbane Roar and the English-born Queenslander could be considered worth a look as cover for the likes of Mark Milligan and Mile Jedinak.
There are no superstars among this lot, but once you scratch the surface perhaps the cupboard is not as bare as some thought.
Other names that were thrown up included Aston Villa’s Chris Herd, Millwall’s Shane Lowry, Greece-based Apostolos Giannou (who in his Melbourne Victory junior days was known as Paul) and Brisbane youngster Kwame Yeboah, although the latter is probably four years too early as he needs to establish himself as a Roar starter first.
OK, the Croatians might not have fancied any of them, but it doesn’t mean they can’t do a job for the Socceroos – if not now, then perhaps in the Asian Cup, which Australia hosts in 2015.
The Sydney Morning Herald