27 May 2006

Jordan Offered Nuts

The reason why Auckland City's Keryn Jordan will almost certainly not become a New Zealand Knight this season, according to this NZ Herald interview with the hattrick hero from the Club World Championships qualification tournament:

What about the Knights?
The criteria was to do well in the national league, then join the Knights. But they signed John Adshead (as coach) who obviously didn't know much about the players locally at the time. I think he went on hearsay. I have an inkling who he was listening to - there was a bit of a conspiracy. For some reason, people didn't like me.

Mr Adshead didn't do all that well, did he?
Absolutely no comment.

But he's gone now, so is it time for a Knights' move?
They offered me a one-year contract, which was a bit of an insult. Paul Nevin was keen to have me there, but I feel the hierarchy had their say again. Paul sounds fantastic and has big plans, but my question is, "Will the management be able to back his ambitions up?"

You wanted more security?
Yes. With it only being a one-year deal ... basically it meant I wanted to get paid what their top striker was being paid, and it wasn't close. My theory is, if you want to pay peanuts, you will get a monkey. My focus has probably changed now. My career at James Hardie is my main bread and butter, and I have a lifetime of opportunity there.

At least Jordan has the Club World Championships to look forward too, something the Knights will certainly never be able to offer him due to their exclusion from the Asian Champions League.

The Knights must now be desperately hoping to clinch a deal with Vaughan Coveny in order to bolster their ranks up front.

25 May 2006

All Offers Considered

Newcastle just can't seem to offload problem child goalkeeper Liam Reddy. First there was talk about Adelaide pursuing Reddy. Then Newcastle appeared to have clinched a replacement for Reddy in the form Les Pogliacomi, but the former Blackpool number one seems to have declined the offer. Now a proposed swap deal between Reddy and Queensland 'keeper Tom Willis has also fallen through.

Newcastle may have to accept a cut-price offer or unfavourable player exchange if they wish to get rid of Reddy before the start of the season. Regardless of Reddy's ability, his history of punching and stomping antics on the field are clearly not favoured among the coaching fraternity thus it remains to be seen if any other Australian club will want him on any terms. Perhaps they will have to try and sell or loan him out to an overseas club, a tricky challenge considering the player's lack of reputation. The final option available to the Jets is the termination of Reddy's contract, an expensive proposition that will also negatively affect the team's maneuvers under next season's $1.6 million salary cap.

In the meantime, the Jets are said to have shifted their interest to another Australian goalkeeper based overseas, Verona's backup Jess Van Strattan.

Update (Jun-2): Reddy's deal with Queensland has finally gone through due to the departure of Scott Higgins, who is off to trail with Falkirk, ex-teammate Karl Dodd's club. Newcastle has apparently been forced to pony up a substantial portion of Reddy's existing salary (believed to be around $90,000 p.a.) over the next two years as compensation to Queensland. Presumably these payments will have to be recorded under the salary cap as well, so overall it's quite a savage blow to Newcastle. The arrival of Ben Kennedy on the cheap will help matters, and it seems to me that the club is holding out on Les Pogliacomi in the hope of either (a) reducing his asking price (perhaps 100,000 plus), or (b) signing Van Strattan, who is a better long-term prospect. As for Queensland, they now have a similar situation to Melbourne: two decent 'keepers vying for the number one jersey. Miron Bleiberg rotated Tom Willis out of the starting team a couple of times last season, and now that he has Reddy it will be interesting to see what he does. Will he pull an Ernie Merrick and alternate goalkeepers every few games? Or perhaps punching, stomping Reddy will sort matters out with Willis for himself....

18 May 2006

Melbourne Signs Brazilian Duo

Following Ernie Merrick's recruitment mission to Brazil, Melbourne Victory have signed two Brazilian forwards for next season.

Guarani's 26 year-old Helbert Frederico 'FRED' Carreiro da Silva and Atl├ętico Paranaense's 24 year-old Claudio 'CLAUDINHO' Andre Santos Assis become the third and fourth Brazilians to join the A-League after Queensland's REINALDO Elias da Costa and Adelaide's Fernando RECH. There does remain some doubt about the actual match quality of the new pair, given that the press release fails to mention, for instance, that Claudinho has recently been out on loan away from his top flight team. Many will also be dubious about the claim that Claudinho is worth more than $2 million on the open transfer market. (How did Melbourne arrive at this figure? Surely a player is only worth what someone is willing to pay for him. So who wants to buy him and why wasn't he sold?) However, the signings are sure to generate excitement and anticipation in Melbourne and we can hope that each is a talented individual who will inject some much needed flair into the league.

Melbourne still has four more positions in its squad available (five if Archie Thompson doesn't return), with the most pressing requirements a holding midfielder and a starting left back. Given the unveiling of a new (Brazilian-like) 4-2-2-2 formation in a recent trial match, it seems that Merrick is aiming for more attacking options and flexibility in his side next season.

Meanwhile, Roar's Miron Bleiberg is also thinking of heading over to Brazil in order to have a look at a couple of prospects in the flesh.

Heads Up

Better late than never. I've only just discovered The Round Ball Analyst, an excellent blog with a local flavour from self-confessed football addict Tony Tannous that has been active since February. Taking a verbose and tactically astute approach to his posts, Tony's coverage extends from detailed analysis of the A-League finals series to a remarkably prophetic and incisive account of Guus Hiddink's likely squad selection for the World Cup. Unlike Confessions, Tony has also put his neck out and selected an A-League Team of the Season from the inaugural competition. Good stuff!

It's nice to have some company in the sphere of impartial A-League blogging.

17 May 2006

Sydney Announce New Coach


As expected, Terry Butcher has been named the new head coach of Sydney FC. Butcher has signed a two year contract with the winners of the inaugural A-League Grand Final and like previous head coach Pierre Littbarski he brings extensive international experience to the club (including appearances at three World Cups). Already he has introduced himself to The Cove, a step in the right direction to winning the hearts and minds of Sydney supporters before next season kicks off. Presumably, the club will now be aiming to sign David Carney to a long-term contract in order to re-stabilise and begin serious preparations for a title defence.

Player Management

Matt over at the World Cup Blog has posted a scoop interview with the brother of Middlesborough goalkeeper Brad Jones, in which Jones' supposed national allegiance issues are cast in a far less histrionic light than media outlets have suggested:

The press have made out that he is bitterly disappointed, but he would just like Football Australia to communicate better and let the players know where they stand.

Lack of communication between the FFA, coaching staff and international players is a problem that's been evident for a long time now. Frank Farina seemed to think that sending SMS texts was a favourable way of staying in touch with various players -- but then, perhaps he had no other choice back in the day when Soccer Australia simply didn't have the budget for expensive things like international phone calls. The best situation regarding the recent selection of the team for the World Cup would have been for Guus Hiddink (not Graham Arnold) to make a direct call to every player in the squad in addition to a bunch of players on the fringes of selection ... but do the math! A short ten minute call explaining selection or non-selection to thirty-six players amounts to six hours of ear bleeding torment. That's feasible, but certainly not desirable. And where do you draw the line for the periphery players anyway? Do Jacob Burns or Chris Coyne count? Paul Okon or New Zelic?! What about Kaz Patafta or Neil Kilkenny?

Yet, something still needs to be done. Jones, Milicevic, Ahmad Elrich, Patrick Kisnorbo and the like need to be made aware of the reasons why they have not been selected for the squad. Australian football fans deserve to know as well. If it regards technical quality, give the players a chance to take it on the chin and admit they still have work to do. (Milicevic has already gone off the rails and seriously harmed his future selection prospects, which he may have done anyway if he was told he wasn't good enough. But was he in fact told any such thing, or were the reasons more obscure and thus more infuriating to him?) It the decision is tactical, explain the reasons why a player's style or physical traits don't fit the preferred system. If it's because of a lousy attitude, discipline the players with a ban or something more relevant than non-selection. If it's merely because of the intuition of the coaching staff, that's fine. Just be honest about it and let the community know so that the endless speculation can be nipped in the bud. We tend to hear plenty of reasons for the selection of fellows like Johnua Kennedy (height) and Mark Milligan (youth, adaptability), but few reasons explaining why other players have been left out.

Although in reality coaches have the authority to pick whoever they want for the team without the need to face an inquest, it would be healthy to provide a more complete picture. When time allows, of course....

11 May 2006

Hiddink Eliminates the Risks

Help me out here, I can't tell if this opinion piece from Crikey is a joke, a wind up, a stunt, maybe an attempt at some more advanced form of humour that I simply fail to comprehend. Or is it merely ill informed nonsense?

The author seems to think that the FFA have instructed Guus Hiddink and his assistants to select a "conservative" World Cup team for Australia that is long on experience and short on young talent.

Alternatively, they could have stacked the team with youth and taken a greater risk in the hope that one or two players explode into international prominence.

The World Cup gave 17-year-old Pele, 19-year-old Peruvian Teofilo Cubillas and 18-year-old Michael Owen an opportunity to shoot from relative obscurity to international stardom on the back of two or three memorable performances.

Allow me to formulate a response. First, stacking the team with youth would not simply be a great (and stupid) risk it would involve a blatant disregard for the best players we have. What's the point of going to a World Cup without the best possible team? Second, if we did in fact have a handful of players carrying the potential ability of Pele, selecting them in the squad would not involve a great deal of risk. It would make a lot of sense. Unfortunately, we don't have those players. If in fact I am wrong and we do indeed have players with that type of unbelievable talent, the onus is on the Crikey correspondent to inform us who they are. I'm sure Hiddink would love to know! Third, the World Cup may have been an international springboard for the stars of yesteryear but in very few cases do amazing talents explode onto the global scene in the modern era. Michael Owen was already a renowned sharpshooter in the Premier League when he performed brilliantly against Argentina and Romania in his first World Cup. The eighteen year-old superstars of tomorrow already possess lucrative contracts with huge teams like Arsenal (Fabregas, Walcott), Barcelona (Messi) and Ajax (Babel). Even Australia's greatest teenaged prospect, Kaz Patafta, is already signed up to Benfica. The reason Patafta is not in the squad has nothing to do with a general unawareness surrounding his talent (Hiddink wanted him for PSV), but rather the general consensus that he's not yet good enough to compete against Shinji Ono or Darijo Srna, let alone Ronaldinho. Should we have selected him and played him in midfield ahead of one of Kewell, Bresciano, Cahill or Culina? You decide.

Frank Farina was sacked for his inability to develop a new defence and develop youth in the Aussie team, instead relying on the older heads to maintain the status quo. But ultimately, if Australia can't win the World Cup, then it should be aiming to blood the World Cup stars of tomorrow.

Are the short term gains of possibly scratching out a win against the likes of Japan, Croatia or Brazil greater than the longer term benefits of grooming the next generation of Aussie Socceroo stars?

Talk about negativity! But let's get back to the facts. Was Farina sacked for such reasons? Or did it have more to do with (a) a string of poor results at the Confederations Cup, and (b) Frank Lowy wanting to roll the dice and give us every chance of making the World Cup by hiring an esteemed manager with a world class reputation? Of course it is well known that Farina stuck with certain tactical strategies, even when they proved inadequate against both top class opposition (Uruguay) and lower-tier national teams (New Zealand). It's ridiculous to claim that he did not develop youthful talent, however. Farina was responsible for kick-starting the national careers of Marco Bresciano, Mile Sterjovski, Luke Wilkshire, Ljubo Milicevic, Ahmad Elrich, Brett Holman and Jon McKain. He was also keen on Michael Thwaite but never manufactured the occasion to cap him. Unlike Pele, however, none of these players were ready for the big time when they were teenagers. Bresciano wasn't all that impressive early on when Farina played him regularly ... in international friendlies. Finally, I think it's possible that the short-term benefits of qualifying for the second round of the World Cup might in fact be far, far greater than any rather more nebulous longer-term gains of a few young players who've gotten themselves a thrashing from Brazil. Could this piece be yet another example of The Fear and anti-football diatribe creeping into ostensibly reputable criticism? If Australia somehow manages to get four or more points from its three group games and tee up a second round match it will be a phenomenal achievement. One that will deserve every accolade, financial receipt and tail-on promotional affect that comes its way. Will it be easy? Hell no! Let's not throw the towel in before giving it a decent crack, though, eh? Such thoughts never would have gotten us over the line against Uruguay.

By all means, I agree that we should aim to groom our future talent when the opportunity arises. But the World Cup -- the World Cup! -- is not a suitable venue for the purpose of developing young recruits. There are other tournaments catering to those needs: the U-17 and U-20 World Youth Championships, the U-23 Olympics, the Asian Cup, for instance, and their various qualifying tournaments. Not to mention the A-League, a competition that our young players should seek to dominate if they want to capture the hearts and chequebooks of Europe's biggest clubs. Nick Ward, probably the best U-20 player in Australia last year, is currently in contract negotiations with Queens Park Rangers. I'm a massive fan of Ward's, but if he was Pele standard don't you think that perhaps a higher profile club would be chasing him?

Our World Cup team is not quite what was expected, but not having seen it in action I think it's far too early to judge how well me might or might not do when it comes to the tough challenges of Japan, Brazil and Croatia. After Greece, Holland and Liechtenstein we should have a firmer grasp of Hiddink's ideas. As everyone with half a clue has already stated, minnows have been known to knock off giants. And if Kewell, Viduka and Bresciano can run amok, we'll hardly be minnows now, will we?

10 May 2006

Australia's Squad for the 2006 World Cup

Goalkeepers:

Mark Schwarzer (Middlesborough)
Zaljko Kalac (AC Milan)
Ante Covic (Hammarby IF)

Defenders:

Craig Moore (Newcastle United)
Lucas Neill (Blackburn)
Brett Emerton (Blackburn)
Scott Chipperfield (FC Basel)
Tony Popovic (Crystal Palace)
Stan Lazaridis (out of contract, formerly Birmingham)
Michael Beauchamp (Central Coast Mariners)
Mark Milligan (Sydney FC)

Midfielders:

Harry Kewell (Liverpool)
Mark Bresciano (Parma)
Tim Cahill (Everton)
Vince Grella (Parma)
Jason Culina (PSV Eindhoven)
Josip Skoko (Wigan, on loan to Stoke)
Luke Wilkshire (Bristol City)

Forwards:

Mark Viduka (Middlesborough)
John Aloisi (Alaves)
Archie Thompson (PSV Eindhoven)
Mile Sterjovski (FC Basel)
Joshua Kennedy (Dynamo Dresden)

Talking points include the very surprising exclusions of Ljubo Milicevic and Ahmad Elrich, along with the somewhat unexpected call-ups for Mile Sterjovski, Joshua Kennedy and most especially Mark Milligan. As expected, the withdrawal of Tony Vidmar made Michael Beauchamp's inclusion a formality. In addition to Milicevic and Elrich, fringe players to miss out include Jon McKain, Scott McDonald, Brett Holman, Joel Griffiths, Michael Thwaite, Patrick Kisnorbo and Brad Jones.

A few questions remain. Who will be the three emergency standby players taken to Germany? Will they come from the U-23s as promised or a shortlist of fringe Socceroos? Who will be the captain? Regarding the latter issue, Hiddink has stated:

"I have something in mind (the captain) and I will release it when I am with the players. I think that is fair to talk first with the players to say what I am thinking and what has been decided".

With both Mark Viduka and Craig Moore very much in the running, is Hiddink considering some kind of dual or alternating captaincy? Putting it to a popular vote among the players and staff? Two captains, one for each half of the pitch? A fisticuffs between Moore and Viduka to determine the outcome? Or will the selection be determined based on a series of battering psychological tests?

Exciting!

Update (May-22): Viduka has been named Australian captain for the World Cup, a decision graciously accepted by Moore who must first re-establish his presence in the starting lineup.

5 May 2006

McKinna In For the Long Haul

What a contrast it was to the melodrama going on in Sydney when Lawrie McKinna decided to put his signature to a new five-year deal with the Mariners.

Long-term stability is precisely what is required for a new team on the Central Coast. It says a lot about the organisation in Gosford that few players have aired any kind of grievance about the size of their contracts, lack of playing time, being out of the spotlight, or the like. The Mariners have set a few professional examples on and off the field in the past twelve months that every other team in the competition could take a few lessons from.

From what I can work out they have one or two rosters spots still open for next year, with possibly one to be filled by a returning overseas-based player. Given that Nick Mrdja will be fit again, Jamie McMaster trained-up within McKinna's system, Dez Giraldi ready to show his stuff and Alex Wilkinson likely to take on more responsibility, there seem to be enough reasons to think that the Mariners will remain a highly competitive outfit -- regardless of the double loss of Beauchamp and Heffernan to the backline.

Richter Becomes a Knight

It didn't take long for speedy fan favourite Jonti Richter to find another club. After he found himself unwanted at Queensland, Richter got on the phone, held talks with various clubs and as it turns out he has signed for the Knights.

Paul Nevin continues to assemble an interesting squad over the Tasman. Richter will help in the forwards department, which is extremely light after the departure of everyone up front barring Sean Devine. The exciting signing will also appease fans who are still screaming for blood after the loss of Jeremy Brockie to Sydney.

Along with Melbourne, the Knights still have the most work to do with assembling a full complement for the upcoming season.

4 May 2006

Pierre Gone, What Next?

Now that Pierre Littbarski has officially rejected Sydney FC's offer of a new contract, several important questions face the champions. Who will be called in to replace him? What will happen with assistant Ian Crook? Will Dwight Yorke stay on for another year or be offloaded? In relation to the handling of these matters, what is the likelihood of David Carney signing a new contract?

The potential answers are far from obvious, with complications stacked upon complications indicating that it could be some time before all of these issues are resolved.

Regarding the new head coach, speculated appointments include Lawrie McKinna, Terry Butcher, Frank Farina, John Kosmina and a host of other out-of-work candidates. McKinna is due to sign a new contract with the Mariners any day now. Current thought is that Butcher might struggle to adapt to the players and the local set-up in time to mount a proper challenge next season. Farina is clearly ready to ask how high if Sydney want him to jump, but fans are likely to react in a negative fashion if he is signed. Kosmina seems content with Adelaide, and it doesn't help that most Sydney supporters cast him in worse light that Farina.

Some deeper options may require exploration. Johan Neeskens seems to be the preferred choice of the fans, but the World Cup is sure to keep him busy until much closer to the start of the season. However, if a successor to Guus Hiddink is found soon, perhaps Neeskens will indeed become available.

Crook takes over as caretaker for the time being, but Littbarski has announced his intention to take the Englishman with him if or when he gets a new job. Taking the head role at Perth is another option for Crook, should matters surrounding the ownership of Glory get sorted out before a decision needs to be made about his future at Sydney.

As for Yorke and Carney, anything seems possible. Either might stay or flee. For the sake of the league and fans everywhere, let's hope they both commit to another season with Sydney. Perhaps only David Zdrilic and Jeremy Brockie may be hoping otherwise!

3 May 2006

Roar Sign Wedau


Marcus Wedau, a 30 year-old German midfielder playing for third-tier northern regional league outfit VFL Osnabr├╝ck, has signed with Queensland Roar for next season. Wedau spent a couple of seasons each with KFC Uerdingen and MSV Duisberg in the 1. Bundesliga for a total of 93 games and seven goals, in addition to stints with SV Munster, LR Ahlen and a long spell with Rot Weiss Essen.

Unsurprisingly, not much else is known about Wedau's connection to Queensland. Apparently he trialled with Roar during a vacation last year in sunny Noosa after a recommendation from the same agency (JB Sports2Business?) that handles Spase Dilevski. Miron Bleiberg has indicated that Wedau will slot into the midfield as a playmaker, so there must be a bit of sparkle to his game.

The commentators are going to love it: "See-oww passes to Wed-oww, back to See-oww...."