5 March 2009

Low Point

A brief return to make a few comments about the low point of Pim Verbeek's tenure tonight in Australia's 0-1 loss to a very spirited and quite fabulous Kuwait.

I should say I'm a fan of Verbeek. He's tactically astute, got us prepared for Asia, pulled out the necessary results and even managed to be quite humorous at times.

But I think he might need a team of experienced and savvy players at his side who understand his requirements and can execute accordingly, i.e. the marvelous internationally-based technical virtuosos who comprise our 'A' team, particularly Grella, Bresciano, Culina, Emerton, Neill, Kewell.

The A-League just doesn't seem to be a good breeding ground for the technical, thinking players that Verbeek needs on the pitch to execute his chosen methods. He needs a young Ned Zelic or Paul Okon in the heart of midfield, someone who can routinely think their way through a 90-minute performance and guide the rest of the team. On the basis of tonight's performance, Craig Moore's body just won't follow his mind fast enough any more, which is sad but not entirely unexpected. Reid is a decent punter who makes good decisions, but he seems to find it hard to get the ball moving and he's certainly no general. Archie tries, but he's an enigma whose best skills erupt in a flash, not as a result of careful build-up, planning and execution. McKay dashes about and seems to have a handle on the situation, but he doesn't seem able to inspire or provide that killer final ball. At least Vargas approaches the sublime aura of someone like Milan Ivanovic, something you yearn for in your backline. But it's not enough. Going forward is where the cracks start to appear in Verbeek's troops, at least insofar as the way they go about adopting Pim's systematic approach.

In response to the obvious lack in the league's technical acumen, Pim seems to be trying to build something afresh, a new generation who can embrace the challenge and learn to appreciate his highly thoughtful approach to the game. Tonight he may have learnt an awful lot about the capacity of some individuals to respond to his erudite, laudable (but perhaps misguided at this moment in time) agenda.

Whatever the reasons - Kuwait's excellent break-up and counter-attacking play chief among them - tonight we witnessed an utter meltdown of the Verbeek system, which several times has teetered on the edge of failure but not finally spluttered to a void of hopeless nothingness until now.

It's not panic stations yet, but it seems fairly obvious that the experiment cannot continue over the next few matches and some alternatives will need to be re-examined.

In my mind, Travis Dodd has been very hard done by. Here, we have a dynamite player, man of the match last time out versus Kuwait, certainly leads and inspires, can achieve the brilliant at important moments, and has every physical asset Pim ostensibly admires in the so-called 'modern' athletic player: explosive speed, big leap, powerful shot, bit of a dribble, strength in the challenge. Yet he's been stranded for some peculiar reason. Is it his lack of defensive energy? Proneness to lapses of concentration? Bouts of stray passing?

After tonight, potential excuses thrown at Dodd can surely be put to the wayside. There are at least 5 or 6 players who made it on the pitch against Kuwait who clearly and self-evidently have deficiencies that equally preclude them from instant success in Pim's system. I won't go into them because I'm sure there'll be more than enough negativity about the team's performance found elsewhere.

So, here's my plea to a boss I will continue to like and respect. Keep it positive, keep it real, but put Travis in the squad for goodness sake.