Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Johnnies v Mehmets

While we're still on the subject of Asia Minor, the FFA has just announced annual fixtures between Australia and Turkey, coinciding with Turkish Independence Day on April 23 and ANZAC Day on April 25. The matches will be played in Turkey and Australia on alternating years, and the teams taking part will be agreed by both countries based on their calendar of commitments. This year it's the mens' Under 16 teams that will battle it out in Turkey - in future years it would be nice to see the senior national teams in action.

It's a good initiative and one that should further bolster the relationship of mutual respect between the two countries. The intersection of our nations' histories at Gallipoli in 1915 means that these games will have a symbolic weight far greater than normal international friendlies. In fact, it would be interesting to see whether a joint Australia-New Zealand side could be a possibility for these matches in future.

"Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives... You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours... you, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land. They have become our sons as well."

- Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk), 1934

Monday, March 23, 2009

Australia's young Turks

Jedinak scores for Genclerbirligi

The World Game website is currently running an article about the young Australian players at Turkish club Genclerbirligi and the culture shock that they have had to face when settling in to their new environment in Ankara. The ritual slaughter of a goat to bring luck at the start of the season (and a second one when the luck wasn't forthcoming), the muezzins' call to prayer five times a day from countless mosques around the city, the food, the traffic.

Currently there are three Australians at Gencler: Bruce Djite , James Troisi, and Mile Jedinak. Like 1. FC Nuremberg a few years ago, Genclerbirligi has emerged as a 'home away from home' for Aussies abroad, with Nick Carle and Josip Skoko also having played there.

Other than football, there really aren't many other sports that offer players such varied cultural experiences. Ben Somerford's excellent 'Euroos' blog includes a pretty comprehensive-looking list of the Australian players plying their trade overseas. What's striking is not just the number of players making a living outside Australia, but the diversity of destinations - from Australia's footballing 'homelands' of England and Scotland to countries on the periphery of Europe like Romania and Turkey, to Asian countries like China, South Korea and Indonesia, to the United States. If and when these players are called up to represent their country, or return to play in the A-League, or turn to careers in coaching, administration or punditry, their experiences with tactically diverse football cultures and their contacts overseas can only help to enrich football in this country.

In line with our history as a nation of migrants, Australian football has through the years become a melting pot of disparate styles and mentalities. Waves of new arrivals - first from the British Isles, then from Greece, Italy, the former Yugoslavia and Eastern Europe, and now from Africa, Asia and the Middle East, have helped inform the football we play. Add to this the vital experiences being gained by Australians playing in tough leagues overseas and the concerted push by the FFA to add Dutch coaching, technical and tactical knowledge to the mix.

The young guys playing overseas, like the trio at Genclerbirligi, are the next generation of Socceroos. The trick for Australia will be to effectively harness the positive aspects of all of the diverse structural, cultural and technical viewpoints feeding into our football culture. Vive le difference.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Newcastle Debts

In general, A-League clubs have been lauded for demonstrating a professionalism in their business operations that was sadly lacking in domestic football during the NSL years. Every generalisation has an exception, though, and at the moment that exception is the Newcastle Jets. A while back I wrote an article highlighting the contempt that Jets owner Con Constantine seems to have for fans, players, and sound business ethics.

Most recently, this has manifested itself in the Professional Footballers Association alleging that the club owes unpaid superannuation and bonuses to its entire playing staff. Keeper Ante Covic has left the club to sign for Elfsborg in Sweden, citing unpaid super as one of his many gripes with the club. Con's take on the matter is that Covic used the pay dispute as an excuse, running to the PFA "like a little boy to his mother." The PFA holds that this sort of disrespect regarding player payment and contracts is more or less par for the course at the Jets, with Constantine guilty throughout his history with football clubs of rather lax ethical standards in his dealings with players. How this turns out is anyone's guess, but it must be a source of endless frustration for Jets fans.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sorry, I'm a lazy sod.

It's been a while since I've posted anything here. There's a few reasons for this: busy at work, post-season football hangover, general laziness. We've also had friends over from Melbourne for the Fringe & WOMADelaide. WOMAD was awesome. If you ever get the chance to see the Bedouin Jerrycan Band or Paprika Balkanicus, I suggest you take it.

Anyway, here's a short recap of some things that have happened in Australian football since my last post:

- Newcastle Jets are rubbish. Lost 2-0 away to Beijing in the ACL, with Joel and Ryan Griffiths inflicting some of the damage. Seriously, who loans their best player to a club that they're about to play?

- Central Coast are rubbish. Drew 0-0 at home to Pohang Steelers, in one of the most godawful matches I've ever had the misfortune to attempt to stream over the internet.

- The A-League based Socceroos are rubbish. Lost 0-1 to Kuwait in Canberra. I didn't watch the game but it sounds like the players and Pim Verbeek should all give each other dead legs as punishment for their sheer crapness. I don't get how they can be so bad: on an individual basis these players are all good enough to be playing at a reasonable level in Europe (maybe League 1 or Championship in England, Dutch 2nd Division, etc), and they are doing well for their clubs in the A-League. Put them all on the pitch together, though, and they have forgotten how to pass, control the ball, and carry out the basic functions expected of a professional footballer.

Very strange. Mind you, even the European-based Socceroos big boys generally play like crud against Asian opposition. If you don't believe me, merely cast your mind back to the 2007 Asian Cup....

- It looks like Scott Chipperfield is staying in Europe for another season, after all. Booo.

- Matt McKay has joined the exodus of A-League players going to China. We need to get some of that traffic coming the other way as well: more Shengqing Qus, Yuning Zhangs, Leilei Gaos in the A-League. Well, maybe not Yuning Zhang.

-Michael Petrillo has resigned as AUFC Director of Football, replaced by Michael Valkanis. I don't know whether this is a cost-saving mechanism, or piss ant politics, or what: if the former, maybe it's a good thing that the club is pulling funding from its administrative/management arms before cutting spending on players. Who knows, though. Hopefully United can get back to stability soon enough.

- The FFA has officially submitted its bid for Australia to host the 2018 or 2022 World Cup.

- An extremely wealthy Dubai-based sheik is reportedly interested in providing financial backing for Tasmania's bid for an A-League club licence. The mystery man is apparently the Saudi Arabian/Ethiopian Sheik Mohammed Hussein Ali Al Amoudi, the 43rd-richest man in the world. This guy has a net worth of $13.7 billion, and apparently once wrote a blank cheque for the Ethiopian government to build a 30,000 seat football stadium. A sugar daddy of this magnitude - he makes Clive Palmer look like small fry - would, needless to say, be brilliant for our little league. Lets hope there's something substantial to the rumours.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Red cards overturned

Well, well. The FFA has finally done what we've been waiting years for: admitted that their match officials are fallible. Following the dramas of the Grand Final, the FFA match review panel have overruled Matthew Breeze (and his assistant referee Matthew Cream) and determined that Cristiano and Allsopp did not deserve to be sent off. The red cards have been stricken from the players' records.

As an Adelaide fan this news provokes mixed emotions. We can feel validated in our grievances about the way the game panned out - the match did not take place on a level playing field, and therefore the final result was not necessarily the correct outcome. But, of course, it's too late now. The trophy has been presented, the horse has bolted. All we can do is vent our frustrations at the circumstances that allowed this to happen.

It's not the first time officials have destroyed a game with their errors - last season's grand final was marred by the referee Shields missing a penalty call for a Newcastle handball in the box, then sending off Central Coast keeper Danny Vukovic (that was a fair call, but his ridiculous suspension afterwards certainly wasn't).

This season Cristiano should have been penalised for an outrageous dive, Muscat should have seen red for stomps on Agostino and Mullen (at least - this is only the Adelaide games that I'm thinking about), Fabiano should have received a far more lenient sentence than a nine-game ban for a loogie that didn't connect, Tiatto should have been sent off for any number of heinously dangerous two-footed challenges, et cetera, et cetera.

My wish list for A-League officiating in the future is as follows:
  • That the referees are employed full-time, and provided with high level training and development from the FFA;
  • That referees are randomly chosen for league matches. It's ridiculous that Breeze has held court in the past 5 Adelaide-Melbourne games;
  • That finals go to those referees whose form during the season deserves it. Srebre Delovski has been far and away the league's best this season, yet Breeze's seniority saw him get the grand final;
  • That the FFA look to import referees from abroad if the standards of Australian refs is not up to scratch; and
  • That the match review panel holds referees accountable for their actions, and has the cajones to overrule poor decisions. I don't want to see the panel keep hiding behind the old 'the referee saw the incident and took action, therefore it is out of our jurisdiction' argument. This week has seen the first departure from this line of thought - let's hope it continues.

Monday, March 2, 2009

A-League Grand Final: Melbourne 1-0 Adelaide

Man, writing that title hurts. It eats me up inside, even three days later. Watching your team lose a grand final to their arch-enemies is not a pleasant experience.

It's not the same feeling as it was after the 6-0 drubbing two years ago, though - that was completely shattering. That day Adelaide were outplayed by a witheringly effective Melbourne, and the team fell apart in dramatic fashion on the pitch (and off the pitch, after the match). There was nothing positive to come out of that performance, no redeeming qualities at all. Just pain for the supporters.

This time around, the bitterness is tinged with some more positive emotions. Adelaide can take a lot out of the narrow loss, which, any other day, might have panned out very differently.

As I'm sure everyone is by now very well aware, this grand final was dominated by the decisions of the referee, a certain Mr M. Breeze. He sent off two players unfairly, was unable to keep control of the heightened tensions of such an important match, and let players, the crowd and the gravity of the occasion get to him.

I was going to go off on an abusive rant against Breeze but everything that needs to be said about his performance has already been covered by commentators that are more neutral in their allegiances than me (see: Fox Sports commentary team, The World Game panelists on SBS, ABC's Offsiders, and any number of print & internet journos) - the general consensus is that he stuffed up big time.

The first of his errors, and the one with the greatest bearing on the match, was the send off of Cristiano after ten minutes for a stray elbow that connected with Roddy Vargas' head. The two players went up for a header, both had eyes on the ball and arms raised, Vargas ended up on the ground with blood covering his face. Breeze's first instinct was to give a yellow; Kevin Muscat got in his ear, he saw the blood, he went to confer with the linesman, he produced a red card.

It was not a reckless challenge, the elbow wasn't swung at his opponent - in leaping for the ball it was a completely natural movement. Vargas was unlucky that he got a nasty bump out of it - a referee with more common sense may have just taken Cristiano aside and warned him to be more careful. But no - straight red.

Needless to say, Adelaide were disadvantaged from that point on. The Reds had Melbourne on the back foot in the first ten minutes, but once they were a man down it was largely backs to the wall for the rest of the first half.

After the break, Vidmar reshuffled his team to try to regain some impetus, with Jamieson playing a more advanced role in midfield. Lacking a true striker in the absence of Cristiano, Pantelis and Dodd sat higher up the park. Salley, Reid and Barbiero worked well together, nullifying Melbourne's midfield and creating attacking opportunities for the Reds.

Even a man down, Adelaide began to take control of the game, and had several good chances - the most memorable being a shot in the box from Jamieson, kept out miraculously by Theoklitos' foot (I'm not sure he knew too much about it), and a jinking run by Travis Dodd, who beat a number of defenders before firing straight at the keeper.

Then, almost inevitably, Melbourne scored. Pondeljak took the ball outside the box, at a diagonal angle from goals, and swung his foot at it. Somehow avoiding a sea of legs in the penalty box, the ball made its way into the bottom corner of the net. Galekovic, who may have been unsighted until very late, could do little but watch it as it crossed the line. The massive crowd of over 53,000 at the Dome went wild. A goal and a man up, the result looked to be in the bag.

There was only one thing missing from the second half: our good friend Matthew Breeze. Just as it looked like the football was going to steal the show, the man with the whistle decided to force his way back into the limelight. A melee in the penalty box - the usual big-game argy-bargy - descended into high farce as Breeze picked out Danny Allsopp and sent him off. The crime? Who knows. Apparently there was an alleged headbutt on Cornthwaite - it doesn't look like much at all on any replay, but once again players got in Breeze's ear and he produced a red card. Currently, the Victory are quite rightly appealing this decision.

If it was a square-up for the unfair dismissal of Cristiano, it was sixty minutes too late. The damage had already been done. With the sides at ten men each Adelaide once again had all the attacking play, but at a goal up Melbourne could afford to sit deep and defend (oh, but I thought it was only Adelaide who tried to close down a 1-0 lead?????)

After all the stoppages of play in the second half, numerous substitutions, and the fracas that saw Allsopp take an early shower, there should probably have been five minutes of time added on at the end of the half. But no - only three minutes. During injury time, Berger took a nasty knock and required attention on the pitch, all of which chewed up another couple of minutes. Did the ref add these on at the end? No, he did not. At the stroke of 93 minutes - as Celeski committed an awful foul on an Adelaide player (Barbiero?) just outside the box, right in front of Breeze - see the second video at the 9 minute mark - the clown blew full time. Melbourne Victory, 08-09 champions, blah blah blah.

Well done to them, they seized their opportunity. Unfortunately for Melbourne fans, the win is somewhat tainted - the refereeing robbed them of the ability to say that they won this championship fair and square. There will always be a question mark. For this reason, I think the Melbourne fans have every right to be as angry at Breeze's performance as Adelaide fans.

This is what I'm talking about when I say that Adelaide's loss is one of mixed emotions. As Adelaide fans, we can be extremely proud of the way the Reds played and kept fighting, against a team that has had the wood on us all season, even when unfairly disadvantaged due to poor officiating. We can take heart in the fact that, when the team numbers were even, Adelaide had the run of play. Who knows what would have happened if the game took place on a level playing field. Losing the way we did, we can quite rightly feel that the game may have gone the other way had Cristiano stayed on the pitch.

Anyway, what's done is done, Adelaide have just finished their most successful season ever. I could not be more proud to be a pissant. Next season, after all the dramas of off-season recruitment are out of the way, we will have a real chance to go one better. And, immediately after that, another Champions League campaign. As long as we can look forward with hope and optimism, we're in a good place.

Shalom, noble Ants.

The first half.

The second half. Youtubes courtesy as always of JayFCAK47.