There are few things that draw more criticism and disrespect in Australian sport than the A-League and by extension, the game of football. Some weeks back, respected journalist Will Swanton took his swipe at the competition, rather unsuccessfully I might add, and the next veiled attack will not be too far around the corner.
In essence, those yet to discover and embrace the beauty and passion of the ‘beautiful game’ and Australia’s domestic competition, still see something less than courageous and creditable about the most popular sport on the planet.
Sadly, to many Australians, the people who play football are actors, fakes and more inclined to simulation than substance, play-acting to performance and the dramatic rather than determined effort.
Thus is the challenge of educating the beer swilling, muscle brandishing and winter-code loving Australian sporting public; to enable them to see the beauty and dexterity of the round ball game.
It is a common misconception for some than football fans want Australia to succumb to its world-wide popularity, in some sort of takeover that destroys the ingrained love and passion for AFL, rugby league and the slowly declining rugby union.
Nothing could in fact be further from the truth and many writers such as I grew up watching, playing and being captivated by other codes of football in our early years. Australia is somewhat unique in the broad array of sporting endeavours available to its citizens, with football now the most popular of all according to current figures.
Logic would suggest that such interest and participation would directly correlate to international success in a sport played by around 1.8 million people on our shores. However, such logic is seriously flawed with far more than participation and enthusiasm required for a nation to even dream of grasping international trophies.
For Australian men’s football, despite the growth, development and gradual ‘street cred’ achieved over the last 50 years, international success has been fleeting and rare. Our women have fared far better in recent times, something that has made the Matildas arguably the most loved national team in the country.
The 1974 Socceroos trail blazed to the World Cup, before 32 years of alienation saw them lampooned as perennial losers. When John Aloisi’s penalty sent the men’s team to Germany for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, the tide appeared to have turned.
Despite some qualification challenges, the Socceroos have featured on the World Cup stage without fail ever since. It’s move into the AFC has played more than a minor role in that success, yet creditable the achievement is.
The A-League competition was birthed in 2005-06, devoid of the community, cultural and nationalistic ties that the powers at be had told us held the game back and restricted its appeal.
Quite the opposite in fact, as the competition proved somewhat fractious and difficult for many Australian football fans to embrace. The A-League was problematic and tough to swallow for many fans of long standing clubs.
Refreshingly and despite constant criticism around the recruitment of ageing international veterans and the recycling of local ‘B Grade’ talent, the league is actually producing a potential goldmine for Australian football.
Such contemporary talents as Aaron Mooy, Tom Rogic and Mathew Ryan have already ventured abroad to expand their skill set and become key components in Graham Arnold’s Socceroo equation.
Adelaide United’s Al Hassan Toure has declared his allegiance to the Socceroos and looks a flat out star. Team mate Nikola Mileusnic is not far behind, after overcoming injuries that hampered him early in his career. A trio of talent from the city of churches is completed by Riley McGree, potentially the most gifted player to emerge from the A-League in some time.
Daniel Arzani’s talent was so rich that his journey to Europe was expedited with a move to Celtic and Connor Metcalfe’s trajectory may well be similar, so impressive have his first six games been for Melbourne City.
Melbourne Victory’s Thomas Deng continues to loom as a long term Socceroo, Jamie Maclaren has confirmed his place in Graham Arnold’s squad and Adam Taggart’s golden boot season in Korea places the current Socceroos coach in a healthy space when it comes to weapons in front of goal.
Awer Mabil’s arc of improvement has continued abroad, Paul Izzo’s potential has begun to take a tangible shape and Central Coast Mariners star Samuel Silvera looks one of the most exciting youngsters seen on local shores for some time.
Throw in Newcastle Jets’ Angus Thurgate and Melbourne City’s Lachlan Wales and the depth of talent emerging is clear. Perth Glory’s Chris Ikonomidis might just prove to be the best of the lot, so talented is the 24-year-old Sydney born attacker.
The Socceroos have tread an oft criticised path in recent times, with many citing a lack of emerging world class talent when compared to the so-called golden generation of the early 2000’s.
However, in the new world order of truly global football, the talent being produced in Australia looks as exciting as ever. Once it matures, the Socceroos will have a wonderful team to represent us all on the world stage.