Tom Rogic should be the face of the game in Australia

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JUNE 9 2017 – 6:00PM

Michael Cockerill

Apparently you still need a Sherrin to sell the Socceroos to Victorians. In 2017. Yes, really. Fresh from the critical World Cup win over Saudi Arabia, Ange Postecoglou takes his pumped-up players to the MCG next Tuesday night to face Brazil in a prestige friendly that doubles as the warm-up match for this month’s FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia.

Somewhere along the line, the promoters felt it necessary to sell Aussie Rules in order to sell tickets with the Socceroos due in town. So a Sherrin was dispatched to Rio de Janeiro a few months ago to film an advertisement featuring the slogan: “We know the Brazilians have mastered the round ball … but how will they fare with the oval ball?” Umm, who cares?

Cue bare-chested men kicking a Sherrin on Copacabana Beach, and doing a pretty good job of it, it must be said. The clear inference being that while Melbourne belongs to Aussie Rules, it can occasionally be generous enough to open its heart to “novelty” events. The underlying message – more than 130 years after football was first played as an organised sport in Melbourne – is that football remains an interloper. We are in the era of “fake news” I guess.

The ad was pulled within 48 hours. Football Federation Australia, thankfully, was as indignant about the tired cliche as the rank-and-file, and read the riot act. Brazil, five-times world champions, a novelty act? The Socceroos, not that long ago the most popular national team in the country, a sideshow? Only in Melbourne.

For all that, it’s been a struggle to move tickets for a game that deserves a decent crowd. The MCG sold out on Friday for Brazil’s match with Argentina, but will probably be less than half-full for the appearance of the Socceroos. What’s happened to the pulling power of our own national team? That remains the most important context.

The Socceroos couldn’t fill Adelaide Oval for the crunch game against the Saudis, and are unlikely to muster more than 40,000 fans for the game against Brazil. True, the Brazilian touring party may be without Neymar, Casemiro and Roberto Firmino, but it still possesses electric talents such as Gabriel Jesus, Douglas Costa and Alex Sandro, as well as regulars Paulinho, Philippe Coutinho and Renato Augusto. This is a star-studded Brazilian team sheet. The only difference between the Selecao’s two games in Australia is that Australia are playing in one of them. The travesty is that comes at a cost.

Postecoglou has appealed, passionately, not only for the paying public to come in bigger numbers, but to engage. The Socceroos have now played eight home matches on the road to Russia and only once – the first qualifier against Bangladesh – has the “house full” sign been posted. And that was in Perth, the smallest venue. In terms of atmosphere, it’s been tepid all the way.

Fact is, the Socceroos haven’t sold out any major venues since the 2015 Asian Cup. There’s been plenty of introspection, but perhaps it comes down to something as obvious, and simple, as this: the time has come to create a new star.

The challenge is to choose the right player, and then to properly promote him. On the latter, FFA’s unwillingness to put money and resources into marketing has to stop. On the former, who?

Three candidates stand out. Mat Ryan, Aaron Mooy and Tom Rogic. Ryan, especially if he moves to the EPL, has credible claims but rarely do goalkeepers become poster boys. Mooy has the talent, but not the personality. Which leaves Rogic.

Rogic ticks all the boxes to become the next Socceroos star. He had a taste of stardom as a teenager when he won the Nike talent quest, and didn’t particularly enjoy it. But time has moved on, he’s become more accustomed to the limelight since emerging at Celtic, and the word is he’s matured as much as a person as a footballer. Soon to marry his childhood sweetheart, Rogic is poised to hit the big time at a stage of his life and career when he’s better equipped to handle the pressure.

The Socceroos need a new Harry Kewell, or Tim Cahill, or Mark Viduka. Badly. Much as Postecoglou is an outstanding public presence, he’s not a player. Rogic is, and an exceptional one at that. The man to get the turnstiles moving again? Why not?

 

Source : The Canberra Times

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