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How Hakeem Al-Araibi’s triumphant return to Australia demonstrates the beauty of soccer

It was a story that garnered international headlines. A story that gripped people across the globe, bringing them together in a show of solidarity. In a way, it even made us realise just how precious life can be.

Hakeem Al-Araibi’s story of perseverance, determination and ultimately his freedom was perhaps the most endearing, yet controversial stories of the year thus far.

From the months he spent in the Thai detention centre to his eventual release thanks to the support of millions, it was a roller coaster of emotions that ended on a huge high.

But it was a great way to show one thing.

Soccer is a great way of bringing people together.

Whether it be soccer fans from different clubs, nations or continents. Or players, former players and coaching staff members from different clubs. When we all acknowledge something significant is or has occurred, we all come together in a show of strength for our great sport.

And Hakeem’s case was no different.

From Australian soccer icon Craig Foster to Champions League winning and Ivorian legend Didier Drogba, people came together in a bid to free Hakeem, who was being unjustly stripped of his rights and freedom.

 

It’s advocation like this that was able to shine a light on an issue that some parties wanted to keep in the dark. An issue they hoped they could solve (in their eyes) with little to no media fanfare.

How wrong they were.

Now playing back at his beloved Pascoe Vale FC in the Victorian State League top division, Hakeem is living a life that he knows was so close to being brought to a screeching halt.

He is now able to share his experiences with others as a Community and Human Rights Advocate with the FFV. Through his insight and knowledge, he will be able to help those who may be in similar situations to him (refugees living in Australia).

https://www.sportingnews.com/au/football/news/hakeem-al-araibi-gets-new-job-with-football-victoria/5runc8epdetz1a4lza2n5vpxg

His story will also inspire others to help those in need. It goes to show that if everyone can show a little bit of support for someone or a group of people in need, those in power will take notice.

And for those who go above and beyond in their show of support, they get out what they put in. This is no truer than in the case of Craig Foster.

As soon as the story began, he devoted everything to ensuring Hakeem got released. Nothing else mattered more during that time. He took a stand and said that he and Australia would not rest until Hakeem was granted his release.

Now, Foster has received calls to be awarded for his bravery and hard work with the Australian of the Year award. Granted, he may not win, but he sure deserves to be recognised in some form.

What he did was nothing short of exemplary and again, it goes to show that soccer is a great way of bringing people together when someone or something is in need.

And that is the beauty of our wonderful sport.

A Lesson to be Learned: Ange Postecoglou wins J-League Title

On Saturday, former Socceroos head coach Ange Postecoglou completed the amazing feat of taking the Yokohama F.Marinos to the mountaintop of Japanese football.

The 54-year-old, who also coached the Brisbane Roar and Melbourne Victory, hasn’t had it all his own way in Yokohama.

After a tough 2018 campaign which saw his side finish 12th, the club backed him in to turn it around this season.

He has delivered in spades and following a comprehensive 3-0 win over FC Tokyo, he took Yokohama to an unlikely fourth J-League title.

It is a great story of redemption and perseverance from a man who has had his fair share of doubters over the years.

Postecoglou was responsible for our 2014 World Cup campaign, our qualification for the 2018 tournament and the infamous 2015 Asian Cup success.

Related Articles: Ange Postecoglou’s trail blazing J-League success finally silences the critics

We, as football fans, can very easily forget the good in which has come from coaches and players alike in their pasts.

Ange was thrown straight out of the frying pan at the Victory and into a white-hot fire as Socceroos coach, tasked with a near impossible feat of qualifying for the round of 16 against Chile, Spain and the Netherlands.

The Dutch were inches away from reaching the Final, falling short in a penalty shootout against eventual runners-up Argentina. Spain were the defending champions at the time and despite not reaching the knockout stage, were still a very formidable team.

Chile, perhaps deemed our easiest opponent at the time, were no slouches either. They defeated Spain 2-0 in the group stage and in the coming years, won back-to-back Copa America titles.

When your ‘easiest’ opponent was capable of outstanding achievements such as that, the job of Australia’s head coach was anything but enviable.

For the most part, he did a fine job making us competitive against some of the best in the world, despite three losses.

His finest hour came during our Asian Cup triumph against South Korea. Being the hosts of the tournament, Australia was expected to perform well and maybe even win the entire competition.

That kind of expectation brings about a lot of pressure. Ange coached his boys to perfection, showing his prowess as a manager and he led the Socceroos to a deserved trophy.

But the following few years began to take its toll on Postecoglou, with his resignation coming only a few weeks after leading the Socceroos to a fourth successive World Cup campaign.

In his press conference, Postecoglou spoke of the pressure that came with being an international coach and how it had “taken a toll both personally and professionally”.

Postecoglou was announced as coach of Yokohama one month later.

He reportedly received offers to coach Greece’s national side but instead opted to extend his contract in Japan, with hopes of surging up the table.

As we now know, he did more than just that.

Following his incredible title-winning season at Yokohama, Postecoglou’s name has been thrown into the hat for managerial opportunities in Europe.

Rumours are circling that he will take a job somewhere in Europe, with some of the biggest teams in the continent reportedly considering him.

All of his success following his departure as Socceroos coach goes to show something.

Ange Postecoglou was extremely underappreciated as head coach of our national team.

He faced enough criticism during his tenure to last a lifetime and it came from all angles.

Former players and fans were consistently on his back when things slightly went awry, with little-to-no margin for error as far as some were concerned.

In his athletesvoice.com.au column back in June of 2018, he spoke of how he wanted more out of us as a footballing nation.

He wasn’t going to settle for the Socceroos forever being, what he described as “battlers”. In his eyes, we weren’t going down without a fight.

This was resembled in the way he coached during the 2014 World Cup.

“Let’s now stand up and show that we could conquer that last bastion of our sport.” His own words.
He also claimed that many of those close to him at the FFA lost faith in him for his aggressive and ‘go down swinging’ style of play, believing this to be the catalyst for his eventual departure.
Now, following his successful ventures elsewhere and our forgetful 2018 World Cup and 2019 Asian Cup campaigns, his words need to be heeded now more than ever.
Perhaps he was right on the money, that we often settle for ‘giving it our best’ or ‘being that one step below the best’.
We should all take notes from him because, after all, he could be head coach of a top team in Europe not long from now.

 

Will Swanton’s attempted NBL vs A-League code war was an epic fail

A-League

People like The Australian newspaper’s Will Swanton obviously detest football and apparently enjoy watching the game struggle, for acknowledgement and towards expansion.

The veteran journalist took a pot shot at football on the 17th of November, in an article pumping up the tires of the increasingly well attended National Basketball League. It was poorly timed to say the least. It came just a day after the football community had embraced the now traditional romance of November 16th; the anniversary of the day Australian football returned to World Cup respectability.

On that day in 2005, John Aloisi’s boot and Mark Schwarzer’s hands helped send the Socceroos to their first World Cup in 32 years. Never before had a team of professionals represented the nation on the biggest of football stages, yet the generation of players that emerged around the turn of the century was mature and did so with pride and determination.

Following the record breaking crowd of 17,514 that attended the Sydney Kings vs Illawarra Hawks NBL match a day later at Qudos Bank Arena, Swanton felt the need to do two things.

Firstly, he correctly identified the increase in interest and attendance at NBL matches thus far in 2019. At the time of writing, that attendance increase stood at 6.7% when measured against the 2018/19 season average. A fantastic achievement and one potentially impacted by Australia’s stellar but ultimately disappointing run at the recent World Championships in China.

Swanton captured the NBL success well with his use of the term “slam-dunk” in the headline, yet had many astonished by his decision to suggest that the A-League was kicking an “own-goal” in comparison. The award winning journalist doubled down in his second paragraph by fabricating the existence of a “summer shootout” between the two sports; arguing that basketball was gaining traction whilst football was floundering.

Perhaps confrontational by nature, Swanton felt the need to use divisive and inflammatory language to outline his thesis, when the reality is that many football fans are also embracing the success of the National Basketball League. In short, any attempt to infer that either sport is dragging fans away from the other is merely nonsense.

More alarming is the rather loose use of language and the exclusion of data that actually counters his argument decisively. The reality is that A-League crowds are up 6.9% on 2018/19 season averages, even considering the introduction of Western United and their expected mediocre crowds as they attempt to build a loyal supporter base in Geelong.

Hardly floundering.

Just four days after The Australian published the piece, the FFA would announce an increased operating surplus for 2019 of A$44.04 million and a 13% increase in Australia’s football participation rates. That increase translates to around 1.8 million Australians playing the beautiful game on a regular basis.

A record 125,631 people became members of A-League clubs in 2019 and for the first time in the competition’s history, more than 50% of participants across the country were actively supporting an A-League team.

All potentially important fragments of information to be aware of before writing an article that death knells a competition and lampoons its quality as being “not in the top two” leagues in the world. Such drivel merely enunciates the limited research undertaken for the piece and potentially the lack of knowledge possessed by the writer when it comes to football and its deep seated roots in this country.

Former Socceroo and Fox Sports analyst Mark Bosnich made mere folly of Swanton’s reference to football’s poor television figures by noting that the viewing audience for the Kings vs Hawks fixture was in fact smaller than the crowd inside the arena for the contest.

Bosnich was correct in his assertion that football fans would never raise such a statistic. Co-existence in Australia’s overcrowded sporting landscape is a reality and there is room for both codes to survive and thrive.

Perhaps the writer should be more concerned about the shrinking attendances at international cricket matches, after the Brisbane test Match at the Gabba between Australia and Pakistan drew just 13,561 fans on the opening day of the international season.

Moreover, the 31.7% decrease in Big Bash crowds in just two seasons is surely worth more space than a rather desperate attempt to set up a futile code war between two emerging sports. Framing such a tension does little more than pander to those who salivate at the thought of seeing football punted from television screens and being told to assume its seat, as it has been told many times before.

Sadly for Swanton, the game at grass roots level continues to grow, women’s football soars ahead in leaps and bounds and the A-League is plugging away quite well thank you very much.

The standard is commendable, the fans engaged and with new found independence, the future looks bright. Hopefully, those of us who enjoy watching the NBL and the A-League can savour the growth of both, hold hands, and march into the future with wonderful viewing options over the course of an Australian summer. I’ll do so with or without Will Swanton.

Football has invested considerably in VAR and fans had better get used to it

Rarely a weekend of football goes by these days without a monumental kerfuffle around everyone’s favourite technological official VAR.

The weekend just passed saw Liverpool FC the beneficiary against Manchester City, when a supposedly qualified and experienced referee waved play on despite the ball appearing to strike the Red’s Trent Alexander-Arnold’s arm whilst defending in his own area.

The mysterious individuals in control of the VAR system reviewed the incident. They confirmed the on-field officials’ version of events and before City fans could hit the keyboard to let rip at the most hated aspect of modern football, Liverpool had scored at the other end.

If it wasn’t so serious, it would be comical.

Was it an important decision? Of course it was. Did it alter the outcome of the match? Who knows? What is certain is the fact that governing bodies appear to be backing the technology and their investment in it, at the expense of the integrity of the game.

The official explanation from Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) read as follows.

“The VAR checked the penalty appeal for handball against Trent Alexander-Arnold and confirmed the on-field decision that it did not meet the considerations for a deliberate handball.”  

Whilst it is always comforting for fans to receive open and transparent responses from the powers at be, this particular example borders on the absurd. Alexander-Arnold’s arm is in the most unusual of positions. In fact, try walking down the street with your arm held out in the manner in which his was and you will receive some very odd looks.

The PGMOL may wish to placate disgruntled fans with a united front that aims to quell discussion, however only the gullible will be falling for their lip service. The unnerving reality remains that the events that played out soon after kick off at Anfield on Sunday afternoon would have led to a penalty on every other day.

On this occasion, a blunder was made. Another referee, at another ground, in another country and in another league, may well have awarded the spot kick. Just a fortnight ago, Louis Fenton of the Wellington Phoenix was adjudged to have hand balled in the area and the referee pointed directly to the penalty spot.

Wellington play in the A-League, Australia’s top tier of professional football. Fenton appeased his team mates immediately, suggesting that once the footage was viewed by VAR, the decision would be reversed, as the ball had made clear contact with his chest before glancing the arm.

Whilst the footage supported Fenton’s version of events, once again, the decision stood and the player proceeded to use some rather blue and poorly chosen words in his post-game interview.

The facial expressions of those sitting on the Phoenix bench said it all, as did Pep Guardiola’s rather comical hand shaking of the officials at the completion of Liverpool’s 3-1 victory over the English champions.

Both reactions lie at the core of the issue when it comes to VAR; the perception that it is a farce and has the potential to harm football from within.

Contentious handball decisions have always brought much debate and conjecture in the game. Yet the inconsistent application of the rules that exists when the extra layer of officialdom is called upon does nothing more than breed distrust in the fans and potential illegitimacy in results.

When the Hawkeye technology currently being used in the Premier League to rule on-offside play is added to the mix, it is little wonder fans are roaring their anger from the rooftops.

It is not just the furious, one eyed supporter calling for change, despite many feeling as though their club has indeed felt the wrath of VAR. Respected players, commentators and pundits right across the globe have had enough of the trivialities of off-sides being awarded based on what appear to be the most minute of margins.

They have grown tired of incidents being reviewed for sometimes up to three or four minutes before a decision is confirmed and, like all of us, are completely bamboozled by many of the adjudications made.

Whilst it is easy for the official post-game statement to be drafted in such a way as to artificially confirm the decisions made by on-field officials, the footballing world sees well through that façade.

What chance a governing body concedes a little ground, admits to an over reliance on technology and shows the courage to downsize its role in the game? Very little I would say and that could be a dangerous path to tread.

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