Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Pre-Season Matches

This pre-season, it looks as though A-League clubs are really starting to pull their fingers out in terms of attracting big European clubs to our shores. So far, from what I can gather:
- There will be a mini-tournament in Perth, featuring Perth Glory, North Queensland, Fulham and Wolverhampton Wanderers. Wolves are currently in the Championship but look set for promotion to the Premier League;
- Fulham will play in Melbourne and Brisbane as well. They'll be Brisbane's opponent for the 'Roar against Racism' match that, in previous years, featured SuperSport United and Palmeiras;
- Brisbane will also host Celtic - sure to pull a very large crowd given the club's huge levels of support in Australia.

There doesn't seem to be any movement at the station for Adelaide United, but it's early days yet. Oh well, we're used to disappointment - remember how Inter Milan were supposed to play a match at Adelaide Oval?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Sterj for sale

According to the Daily Mirror, Nigel Clough is currently in the process of overhauling his Derby County squad. It seems that Mile Sterjovski is not part of the plan for the Rams' future, and has been placed in the shop window with a 'for sale' sign around his neck.

Sterj seems to be an ideal candidate for a move to the A-League (and was apparently considered by Gold Coast United) - he's a current Socceroo, played at the World Cup and in the English Premier League, still at the top of his game but at an age where he may be starting to think about returning to Australia with his young family. He's a good player at a Championship level in England, but could certainly make an impact in the A-League as a marquee player.

Given Adelaide's dearth of good attacking players, Sterj should be at the top of our shopping list. He could do the job as a wide striker, right winger, second striker or even attacking playmaker - the only problem would be fitting he & Travis Dodd into the same lineup. But that's a problem that any A-League club would love to have.

Monday, April 20, 2009

A-League Draw 2009-10

The t's have been crossed, the i's have been dotted, and the 2009-10 A-League draw is finally ready for public consumption. Here is is in .pdf format, off the official website:

The 27-round regular season kicks off on August 6 and wraps up on February 14. There's a finals series, 0f course, culminating in the Grand Final (Adelaide United v TBA) on March 20.

Here's a few things that I can gather from a quick scan of the document:

  • Adelaide play 14 home games. Unfortunately, I'll miss 5 of them (including the only home games against North Queensland and Melbourne) because I'll be overseas. First home game is against Perth on August 7.

  • The finals series has gotten even more ridiculous. There are now 6 teams in the finals - i.e., over half the league - with a convoluted system that seems specifically designed to befuddle (so that's why they hired Ben Buckley from the AFL):

  • Lots of clubs seem to be moving home games around - Sydney are playing a match at the SCG (blergh) and a match at Parramatta (woohoo!); Perth are playing a match at Subiaco (double blergh); Wellington are playing a game in Christchurch and one in Palmerston North. Central Coast's fixtures at home to Adelaide and Perth are listed as 'TBC', which could mean anything but is probably Coffs Harbour or something. Interestingly, Adelaide doesn't look to be repeating the Adelaide Oval experiment this year, but other clubs seem intent on becoming travelling roadshows.

  • Thanks to the greater number of games and longer season, there are more midweek matches. Adelaide's home fixtures include a Tuesday night match against Perth. Bizarrely, Adelaide plays 11 home games on Friday night - it suits me fine, but surely a bit of variety wouldn't go astray?

  • Thankfully, there is no Pre Season Cup. Clubs are free to play whatever friendlies they want leading up to the start of the season, without the burden of having to compete for a trophy that might as well be a Mickey Mouse figurine spraypainted silver.

I have my reservations about a few aspects of the draw, but I'm looking forward to a longer and more varied season thanks to the two new teams. A 6-team finals series is just ridiculous though. In my humble opinion, they should scrap it altogether and start up a proper FFA Cup. Enough of this madness!

I'm definitely starting to get excited about the new season, even though it's still three and a half months away. Join me, will you, in this rousing rendition of Rolling Along:

Come on boys, make some noise, we’re a team of class and poise, and our Adelaide is rolling along... etc

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Naoki Imaya's Football Vision

In my last post, I railed bitterly against the tendency in modern football to treat young players as expendable commodities, to be bought in bulk by large clubs and dispensed with if they prove surplus to requirements.

Thankfully, not everybody is taking that approach. There's a great article on the FourFourTwo website highlighting the work of former New Zealand Knights player Naoki Imaya. Having played in Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland and Germany, Imaya is a strong believer in the power of football in bridging cultural gaps and fostering understanding and cooperation between people of different backgrounds.

Back in Tokyo, Imaya has set up an English-language school that teaches football to Japanese juniors and adults. Through football, the students mix and interact with people from diverse cultural backgrounds.

In the FourFourTwo interview, Imaya is clear about the objectives of his school: "Aiming to be a world class player would be on anybody's mind who have tried to pursue a career in this beautiful game, but I think it is more important to aim to be a first class human being."

Imaya's vision also involves a sharing of football knowledge between Japan and Australia. "I hope in the future I can help the youth from Australia and Japan in some kind of an exchange program where they could learn each others' football style and build a better relationship between the countries as well."

Maybe I shouldn't be too cynical about the modern game. Imaya's football school is an example of the fact that there are still people and organisations around that see football as more than just a business and young players as people rather than robots. Here's hoping that there are people in Australia that are willing to take a similar approach.

If you can read Japanese (I certainly can't), you can find more information about Naoki Imaya's school at

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

This is the modern world

Football can be a very positive social force. In modern western societies, people's identities have become increasingly attached to ephemeral and transitory things: income, occupation, social status, possessions. Following a local football club, and especially one that reflects an identifiable set of values, is an extremely important mechanism for a lot of men to experience identity as part of a community - a reprieve from the often-alienating demands of life in a society where getting ahead as an individual is everything.

Like the black and white cookie in the Seinfeld episode, football is a great leveller. It connects people across countries, cultures, religions, political beliefs, social classes, and income levels. Supporters bond to one another over a shared love of the game or the club. You can always strike up a meaningful conversation with a fellow fan, whether he's a university professor or a cleaner of public toilets.

Playing football, and sport in general, is obviously also important for kids' development into well-rounded adults. Values of teamwork, sportsmanship, humility in victory and grace in defeat are vital to counter the prevailing forces that encourage individual success - academically, socially, and as an adult monetarily.

At the highest levels of football, though, these values have been utterly perverted. The English Premier League has been disconnected from reality to the point where, especially for the top clubs, success is simply a question of purchasing power. England goalkeeper David James has written a very thought-provoking article for the Guardian highlighting the questionable ethics employed by EPL clubs (bravely including his own club, Portsmouth) in casting their nets wide and buying up huge numbers of promising junior players. This is usually a preemptive move designed to ensure that the players do not end up at rival clubs.

The effects of this are quite significant. It means that 'youth development' becomes a numbers game rather than a meaningful exercise in providing juniors with a solid football education. In the example of Portsmouth, the club has 180 under-nines on the books. Of these, maybe one will end up playing senior first-team football. The rest get loaned out to lower leagues in England and abroad, and end up being discarded when they are proven to be sub-standard.

These kids grow up believing that they are special, that they will become superstars, the next Wayne Rooney or Cristiano Ronaldo. Their well-meaning parents contribute to these pressures, as do the forces of society through things like reality television and a celebrity culture that fosters the notion that fame and fortune are quickly and easily obtained. Psychologically, it must be devastating when these young players finally realise that they will never 'make it'.

And, of course, the hegemony of the big clubs in the big leagues is reinforced by this practice. Buy up all the best young players and success is pretty much guaranteed. Actual youth development and the promotion of the club as a community focal point takes a back seat.

Leagues like the A-League, outside the top European tier, suffer in terms of their football development. The wealth of big European clubs, as well as the status of playing in Europe, is a huge carrot for young Australians. There are hundreds currently playing overseas, with only a few of them playing at a level higher than what they could experience in Australia.

Meanwhile, the big clubs are now little more than brands for fans to attach themselves to. Teenagers in Sydney or Singapore will declare their undying loyalty to Manchester United, Liverpool or Real Madrid, clubs from cities that they have never been to and to which they have no connection, on the basis of a well-marketed concept of the 'history' and 'traditions' of the club.

It's not hard to see how this sort of attitude to football as a branded commodity undermines its significance as a force for community identity. Success and image is everything (witness how many people jump off the bandwagon as soon as a club starts doing poorly - Sydney FC is a prime example). It must be slightly depressing for a lifelong supporter of an English side to see what has become of their club during the big-money Premier League era.

I don't really know what can be done to fix these trends in the long term, but I think Sepp Blatter's '6 + 5' rule, limiting the number of foreign players that a club can sign, is a good start. A cap on the total number of players a club can have on its books would also put an end to some of the extreme practices highlighted in David James' article. Ultimately, a salary cap of some sort would be a good thing for European football, but as long as the big clubs call the shots I can't see that happening.

Anyway, I guess the point of my rant is that here in Australia we have the opportunity to make sure that the mistakes of European football (mostly stemming from unregulated greed by the clubs) are not repeated. Frankly, I don't care if the A-League continues to leak its best players to Europe and Asia - as long as Adelaide United continues to represent the city, develops and gives opportunities to young local players, and provides an outlet for me to go and yell my lungs out every second weekend during the season, I'll be happy.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

New A-League kits

Click to enlarge. These are leaked images of A-League shirts for next season. Interestingly, no sign of Queensland (Brisbane?) Roar or Gold Coast United just yet.

I must say, I am a fan of the black away shirt for Adelaide, although I did like the white with red sleeves. All up these are very nice and it's good to see a bit of diversity in the designs. Both of Wellington's shirts are great, and I think Perth and North Queensland will be pretty much on the money.

Also, it seems that these will be 'alternate' strips instead of strictly 'away' shirts. A good move by the league.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Nearly there ... Australia 2-0 Uzbekistan

This one was a classic game of two halves. From an Australian point of view the first period was generally underwhelming and frustrating - Uzbekistan showed a fair bit of intent while the Socceroos were seemingly unable to get out of second gear.

The second half was a different story, though. After the break (and no doubt a rocket or two from Pim), Australia started to take control of the match. In the 66th minute a fluid and well-constructed attacking move got the end product it deserved when Marco Bresciano received the ball wide on the right and whipped a pinpoint cross into the area. Super-sub Josh Kennedy connected well with the header, directing it low to the keeper's left.

Seven minutes later the referee called a penalty (admittedly, slightly dubious) on Richard Garcia. Harry Kewell stepped up and converted. Two nil. I feel a little for the Uzbeks: playing away from home and with very little preparation time they gave the Socceroos a decent run for their money. There's no room for sentiment in World Cup qualification, though. And Australia are just about there, barring a string of highly unlikely events.

There are better analysts than me that could talk about Verbeek's tactics. There is the ongoing issue of results versus style - the Socceroos under Pim certainly aren't playing with the same panache that Hiddink had, but our record (especially defensively) is not to be sniffed at. Ultimately qualification is by far the most important objective; it would be nice to do it while playing beautifully but that may not be realistic.

What is interesting, though, is the atmosphere around the country in comparison to four years ago. In the leadup to the Uruguay matches, the second leg in particular, there was a real feeling that Australia was on the cusp of doing something special. This time around, everyone's a bit more blase about the whole thing. It's almost as though qualification is a given, rather than a special achievement.

To a point that's an understandable attitude. Australia is obviously one of the strongest national sides in Asia, but we need to be careful that we don't become arrogant. Once we get to South Africa it will be a different kettle of fish - the Socceroos will need to be very much on top of their game to do well again. The way Australia have played at some points during qualification would be punished mercilessly by better teams.

One thing that has changed for the good over the past four years is the general profile of football in Australia. Wednesday night was another example of this - Australia v Uzbekistan set a pay-TV viewership record with a peak audience of 508,000, not including those watching in public areas.

Pack your bags for South Africa - the good times are rolling on.