Quality Hyundai A-League is lifting standards across the board

March 28, 2015 – 10:03PM

Craig Foster

Football columnist

An anecdote from a member of the Italian coaching staff in Germany, 2006: Following the epic contest between Italy and Australia in the round of 16, won in highly questionable fashion well into injury time and in which Australia surprised a storied football nation and the ultimate world champion, a member of the Italian staff remarked that if these Aussies ever get themselves organised, with that level of commitment and spirit, no one will enjoy having to play them. We are what we are, but we took a long time to resolve to act like it.

The story has always resonated with me and formed part of the belief that when Australian football made the connection between our national identity and our style of play, the world would open.

From strength to strength: The Socceroos are on an upward trajectory. Photo: Getty Images

I wonder what this wide-eyed Italian would make of where Australian football is today. Very likely nodding his head in approval, I’d say. Yes, they’re finally getting it.

To wit, the Socceroos were outstanding against Germany.

There are always reasons to diminish a performance or result, especially in friendly internationals, but make no mistake that the Socceroos executed their plan exceptionally well, and should have won the match, irrespective of what Germany was or was not trying to implement or who played. They are world champions, and they have several teams of the highest quality.

Australia continue to build cohesion and momentum heading into the first stage of qualification, and confidence is sky high following the fabulous Asian Cup triumph.

Before we move on, though, let’s take a moment to recognise the vital role the A-League has played in this evolution over the past year and a half.

All  our national teams have, at last, committed to a consistent style of dynamic, aggressive and attacking football as far as possible, and are  sharing methods and learnings across the coaching staff.

This is welcome and important, to ensure that every step taken is institutionalised across the entire international program, every team testing and developing as one.

And it is the approach of the Socceroos that is so important, because it is finally starting to make best use of our two best traits at this moment, and two immutable qualities that will always present a competitive advantage, psychological and physical.

There are very few nations with the psychological willingness to commit fully to the collective, to the country, to the shirt and therefore to create a unified whole, rather than a disparate collection of stars from the four corners, nor many nations with the capacity for hard work on and off the field as Australia.

Greater technical qualities will come in time to augment the mix further and make a more potent proposition but, for now, these two strengths must be maximised in a style of play to leverage what we have, and what we are.

The Socceroos’ approach is now consistently one of aggressive attack against any opponent, and this makes best use of our psychological need to confront a contest head on, flowing into belief and confidence, as you will have detected from the players’ comments pre and post-match.

What is equally important, though, is to recognise that the genesis of this approach comes from the A-League.

In recent years, pressing has become a key feature and allows better teams to dominate without the ball as well as less talented teams to utilise their organisation against a stronger opponent, to create an advantage without the ball against a team that has one in possession, Victory  versus the Mariners on Friday night being a pertinent example.

The Mariners disrupted the Victory’s play in the first half, particularly, as they did against Adelaide, the finest  team in the country, and this trend has allowed all  the technical staff to better understand  how to apply, and  to counteract, this part of the modern game.

It is not possible, in other words, to understand how to press other than to do so, nor how to withstand it than to be pressed well.

Ange Postecoglou applied this theory at the Roar and Victory, as did assistant coach Ante Milicic at the Wanderers, and Nathan Burns, Matt McKay, Luke DeVere, Alex Wilkinson, Ivan Franjic, James Troisi, Mark Milligan, Matty Ryan, Tommy Oar and Tomi Juric have all grown up under these organisational methods in recent years in the A-League.

It is, I would  argue, the growth in tactical organisation and systems of play, with detailed mechanical application by today’s new breed of Australian technicians, that has allowed Australia to finally explore what we can become.

The evolution of the domestic competition has been phenomenally good for the tactical development of the players, which is a credit to the coaching departments across the country, as problems are theorised, applied, tested, understood, overcome, reconstituted, and the cycle repeated.

Recently, there has been public discussion about the need for less team mechanics and more chaos. Don’t buy it, it’s absolute rubbish.

The A-League is developing beautifully from a tactical perspective, even if the lower tier  is trailing, and is making an immense contribution to Australia’s future.

The Canberra Times

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