Do Australia Really Want To Come Back Home?

With the World Cup now expanded to forty-eight teams it seems anyone and everyone, including their grannies, will be participating at future world cups to such an extent that even Oceania now have one guaranteed spot in the finals.

When this news first came out I was initially outraged, expanding the tournament to thirty-teams had already diluted the product so what would another sixteen teams do to an already overblown format? But then I began to think about it from a New Zealand perspective and I realised the potential this expansion had to the game here in New Zealand. Not only would it give the country added exposure and experience playing against the top teams but the knock on effect down right down to the grass roots of the game.

Young players would now have a chance to represent their country on the biggest stage in the game but those tentative shoots of promise shown as New Zealand under age teams make a ripple in the global game, would be less likely to peter out with a real prospect of participation in a global senior competition. No longer would we just be one of the warm ups who worked out the kinks for the host country in the warm up event but we would get a seat at the main table as well.

But of course there is always a fly in the ointment and in this case it is the murmurings across the pond that Australia may be considering a return to the Oceanic Football Federation but if they do, instead of doing the neighbourly thing and welcoming them with open arms, New Zealand football should make it as difficult as possible for the Aussies to return to the fold.

I know there are arguments that having New Zealand and Australia under the same banner would be good for the game in this part of the world but would it be good for New Zealand? Hasn’t the treatment of the Phoenix in the Australian press shown what they think of New Zealand football and how much they value it?

If Australia are to re-join the OFF then they need to prove they are doing so for the good of football in this region and not so they can have an easier ride through the qualification process. We all know Australia are the footballing powerhouse in this neck of the woods but if they want to come back then they at least need to appear to be doing it for the right reasons and I would suggest one way of showing this is to have at least one more New Zealand team in the A-League. Now what would Mark Bosnich think of that?

Respect For Referees

In his last game the Boy gave away what I can only describe as, being a father, a rather dubious penalty. After the match I happened to see the referee in the bar and I decided to question him on his decision. In my defence I don’t usually seek out the boy’s referees but I knew the referee in question from work and I listened to his explanation of why he had given the penalty and he listened to why I thought he had got it wrong.

The whole conversation lasted less than five minutes before we embarked on more serious subjects, like what a prat Big Sam had been, but one thing that he said really made an impression on me. He asked me to thank the Boy for his politeness when he asked why he had been penalised. Listening to my friend I was shocked by some of the names he had been called, not only by players’ parents but also by the twelve and thirteen year olds he refereed.

At almost any youth match these days there is the type of parent who stands and bays from the side line, criticising the referee, the coach and the players, in a voice so loud that they can be heard on the other side of town. This type of behaviour not only ruins the enjoyment of other parents but also that of the children who are playing and more importantly it does have an effect on the children’s behaviours. In a child’s mind why is it so bad to mimic the foul and abusive language towards the referee that they hear on the side lines?

This disrespect for referees has been brought into the spotlight recently in New Zealand’s Stirling Sports Premiership because, just like watching your kids junior team, the spectators are right next to the action and the crowds are small enough that you can usually hear most of what is being said. Incidents like linesmen being called blind c**** and a female referee being told a decision she had given was only a foul in the women’s game!

Both of the above comments were made by players on the pitch and the players involved should have been dealt with severely by New Zealand football but as spectators we have a responsibility too.

I am not asking you to not get angry when a decision goes against your team just suggesting when you do shout out your disbelief to be mindful of the language you use. Football, as any fan will tell you, is all about passion and passion can be a good thing but it can also be dangerous and so often it is not left at the sporting ground when the match is finished but leads to irrational hatreds.

Football should also be something which generations can share together, a time for parent and child to bond in despair as they watch their team lose again or to celebrate together as their favourite players lifts the cup. And it is because of these bonds being forged that it can be also be a time when a child’s behaviours are formed. So the next time you want to shout obscenities at the referee, as he is conned by a dive from an opposing player please, be mindful of the child that may be sitting next to you, your restraint just may help them out in later life.

Hope and Hypocrisy

At the weekend the Wellington Phoenix lost 2-1 to Melbourne City but rather than being despondent the Phoenix fans should look at the way their team played and realise come the end of the season they should be in the play-offs. Yes, the Phoenix left Melbourne empty handed but all that separated the two teams was an unlucky ricochet.

I know Eddie Merrick and Andrew Durante are complaining about the Melbourne City penalty which eventually won the game but if you look at the penalty awarded to the Phoenix and the one awarded to Melbourne there is a little bit of hypocrisy at play here:

There is no doubt that Barbarouses’ shirt was tugged but personally I am annoyed by the theatrical dive from the Phoenix player who after beating his man would have been able to attack the Melbourne goal if he had stayed on his feet, instead the curse of the modern game came into play and Barbarouses dived. In the end the Phoenix got what they deserved but if the referee hadn’t have given the penalty they had wasted a great chance of a goal and more importantly the next time Barbarouses goes down I will be questioning whether there was any contact?

Similarly, I can see no reason why the Melbourne City penalty wasn’t given. Rossi is the player who pulls at Fornaroli’s shirt and whilst it is true the Melbourne player grabs hold of Rossi’s shirt this is after the foul has been committed and you could argue was only done to steady themselves.

There has been a lot of discussion this season over the quality of the refereeing in the A-League and whilst there have been some shockers the number and severity of these are not to dissimilar to any league around the world. Manager’s like Merrick need to be careful that these constant attacks don’t become background noise because when a true miscarriage of justice does occur, just like Barbarouses’ diving, it is going to be difficult to judge whether it is real or just another boy crying wolf!

Djuricic – A Thank You

Finally, my worst moment in football can be consigned to the scrap heap.

The time was the late eighties and I was playing for my Ladsanddads team when the ball was crossed to me as I stood less than a yard off the goal line. Seeing the ball float towards me I was already thinking of my goal celebration when somehow I managed to head the ball onto my own knee. Horrified I watched as the ball ballooned over the crossbar, much to the amusement of the opposing goalkeeper.

However, no longer will I be burdened with the knowledge I was responsible for the worse miss in footballing history thanks to this effort by Djuricic, a striker from Serbian side Lokomotiva:

So from one master of the impossible to another, thank you Djuricic

One More Match

After a drab, but effective at least in points terms, performance against the mighty minnows of Malta and a lucky escape against the footballing superpower of Slovenia, the current incumbent of the England Manager’s job is one match victory away from securing the role full time. If Gareth Southgate does manage to wrangle a victory against an Auld Enemy who are in almost as much disarray as their southern neighbours would he deserve the job?

Based on the two matches he has overseen so far I would have to say no but, and it is a very important but, could any of the other contenders touted have done any better?

There seems to be a common misconception in the English press that the current generation of footballers are on par with most of the rest of the world but if you look closely this is by no means the case. England do not posses a stand out superstar such as Portugal’s Ronaldo or any of Barcelona’s MNS, yet even Wales have Gareth Bale? Superstars aside teams such as Germany and Spain may not have a definitive world beater but they do possess units of players who have grown up together and can be counted on when the going gets tough, what do England have? Kyle Walker and Jordan Henderson. Be honest and you have to admit the majority of the England team would struggle to get into most of the top international teams or even the squads of the big players.

But what of John Stones or Dele Ali I hear you ask? Stones was grossly overpriced whilst I am not yet convinced that Ali is half the player he or the English press think he is. Joe Hart is a top class goalkeeper but he can’t get a game for the club which owns him and whilst Harry Kane has proven he is no flash in the pan, is he really in the same class as the previously mentioned MSN or Lewandowski of Germany? Which brings us to the future of the English game, Marcus Rashford. Here is a player who has played less than twenty senior league games being touted as a world class talent. One of the games was against Stoke and Rashford was the player I was looking forward to seeing the most but in the end he disappointed and was outshone by two true international greats Zlatan and Pogba.

This is the real paucity of talent any England boss would have to work with and in this context maybe Southgate should be lauded for keeping England’s undefeated streak in qualifiers alive. Maybe a draw against Slovenia would have been easier to swallow if we had Arsene moaning about the quality of international refereeing but at the end of the day it would still have been only a point.

If you accept there is a problem with the lack of world class talent coming through the English football system the obvious next step is to ask what is the solution. And it is here that I think that Southgate is the answer.

England have consistently been impressive at age level football under Southgate so he knows the players and because he knows the players I hope he would be more inclined to blood them in the remaining, easily winnable, qualifying games. Sure we may lose the odd one but even England’s current incumbents should make easy work of our qualifying group and in today’s modern football world the emphasis has changed from the country to the club.

For the lesser football nations, and England has to be classed in this bracket, international football is a pathway to being recognised by the bug clubs. So if talented players are seen playing for England the pressure on their club bosses to play them increases because they are now in the shop window and as a result, hopefully, we begin to see more young players gaining the first team experience which they need, such as Marcus Rashford.

But you just criticised Rashford I hear you scream!

No, I criticised the English press for building him up and said he was disappointing when he played against Stoke, but the important thing is that he did play against Stoke. Maybe he will justify the hype or maybe he will be another Fabian Delph but either way he will have the chance and the more players like Rashford who are given that chance the better the odds of producing a truly world class player.

So if I was to be responsible for choosing Big Sam’s replacement I would hang my hat on the current incumbent and tell him to ignore the press and give youth a chance.