Thursday, October 4, 2007

A-Grade Doody

Get your chuck buckets ready and click on this link if you dare. Andrew Orsatti of SBS fame entertains us with yet another hard hitting piece of smug, inaccurate, self flagellation.

If you've read the piece, and you have any real understanding of just how far our competition, and the game in this country have come, I'm sure you'll forgive me for this rant. The only way to really do it justice is to pull it apart, piece by piece. Let's begin...

A-Grade Mediocrity - Andrew Orsatti

The quality of football in the A-League has been sugar-coated to such an extent that I've developed a shocking toothache.

In the beginning, the marketing gurus came up with this little gem, 'It's football, but not as you know it'. Genius!

Whoever developed that one-liner must be psychic. I would go further and say, 'it's not football at all'. Most of the time, anyway.

Now, we have a new war cry, '90 minutes, 90 emotions'. They forgot to add those emotions rarely go beyond frustration and disgust.What should have been a new and improved 'Version 3' of Australia's domestic competition has taken a dramatic turn for the worse.

The first quarter of the 2007/2008 A-League season served up a poor imitation of the real thing, i.e. football the way it's supposed to be played.

Maybe that's asking too much. Something resembling the first two years of the competition would be a start. But the game has taken a giant step backwards this term.

For the sake of the fans and attracting corporate dollars, I hope that changes over the coming months as team cohesion builds. Don't hold your breath though.

Ouch! I'm with him on this so far though. Some of the football in the A-league has been utterly dire. OK, most of it. But last week we saw some sparks of life, and 6 rounds in to the season is a little too early to be suggesting that "the game", you know, everything from junior park football to Socceroo level has taken "a giant step backward".

Orsatti has established his point. Normally this is were any self respecting writer would start putting forward his suggestions for improvement. Don't hold your breath though...

This is a collective problem in which mediocre coaching and playing standards across the board have compounded to deliver an almost unwatchable product.

The loss of creative players like Nicky Carle, Fred, Milton Rodriguez and David Carney might offer one explanation as to why, among other things, the goal average is down.

Crowds are up, boosted by a new-found enthusiasm in New Zealand. From that perspective, the A-League continues to enjoy moderate success.

However, those of us who refuse to accept the status quo and believe in the potential of a better league were celebrating a major breakthrough recently.

I could go on about how this "unwatchable product" has again managed to improve on last years TV viewing figures and the fact that Orsatti himself mentions that crowds are up, but I couldn't go past the kind of self importance that makes a journalist place himself at the crest of the free thinking elite who "refuse to accept the status quo". That is, refused to fall for the marketing hype referred to earlier that is to blame for his toothache.

Never mind you plebs who despite some dour offerings, have turned up week in and week out since the inception of the A-league to support your team and the sport. Never mind my collegues who encourage their junior sides to aspire to playing in the A-league one day rather than to run off overseas to collect splinters on a bench. Never mind the fact that despite some mistakes, the FFA have managed to achieve what was thought to be impossible. Oh no. Andrew Orsatti has a toothache because as opposed to all these people, he refuses to accept the "status quo".

So, what was this breakthrough Mr Orsatti?

At long last, somebody with enough courage and credibility to tell the truth says he's only stating the obvious when highlighting the A-League's technical and tactical deficiencies.

I speak of former Socceroos captain, Craig Moore, whose comments stem from having seen the world of football, playing for both club and country.

He may not have played for Real Madrid, Manchester United or AC Milan, but doing what he did consistently for 15 years in Scotland, Germany, England and now Australia commands respect.

He said, 'Maybe people can run fast and those sorts of things, but I still think the thought processes are far too slow.'"It's one of those things where players get the ball and then think what they are doing with it rather than knowing what they are going to do before they get the ball. I think this is the thing that needs to improve in Australian football."

The "courage and credibility to speak the truth"? The thing is, I don't actually recall anyone suggesting that the A-league was world class. Nor do I remember one informed commentator suggesting that the product didn't have some way to come. After all, in a fledgling league with comparitively miserly resources in a global market, nobody expects to see the abstract art of simply knowing what to do with the ball rather than thinking about it, perfected just yet. Of course, one has to question the wisdom of reacting to situations rather than intelligently creating solutions, but that's an argument for another day.

I called Moore immediately after those comments appeared in the press to clarify his position. Let me assure you, he was not taken out of context, nor was he specifically referring to Queensland Roar's poor start to the season.

After his team suffered a 2-0 loss to Melbourne Victory, maybe he was being slightly more critical than usual. Or, as I like to think, he offered an opinion based on his immense experience."

A good player, doesn't matter how fast the game is, always seems to have time on the ball, and those players stand out head and shoulders above everybody else."

Moore added, "I think it has improved from the beginning of the A-League to where we are at just now, but that's the part that needs to improve for us to talk about where we are in comparison to the rest of the world.

"In a rather candid phone conversation, I asked Moore specifically about this last comment, 'I think it has improved from the beginning of the A-League', and thought, 'how would you know?'

After all, during the first two seasons, he was based overseas. I pushed the point until he admitted to having almost no understanding about what occurred in the A-League between 2005 and mid 2007.

Make no mistake, Moore's remarks are a slap in the face for the A-League, but as a proud Australian who played at the World Cup and saw what can be achieved, he also has the best interests of the game in this country at heart.

Hold on a second. An unqualified throwaway comment that the A-league has improved since it's inception, subsequently proven to be just that by your good self Orsatti, is a slap in the face for the A-League? Surely the slap in the face is that in one sentence, Craig Moore has managed to throw the credibility of comments you based your opinion piece on out the window?

It is true that Moore would have no idea what the quality of the A-league was in previous seasons. It's equally true that nobody knows how good this season will be 6 rounds in.

Compare Moore to someone like Dwight Yorke - he did play for Manchester United but I never heard Sydney FC's former star identify the failings of Australia's system.

Why would he bother? He was paid $1.2 million dollars to smile for the cameras, sell the A-League and get fit for Trinidad and Tobago's World Cup adventure.

Yorke's priorities were elsewhere, a long way from helping Australia discover the fundamentals of what it takes to be a top-class footballer.

If, as Moore points out, we are to talk about how Australia compares to the rest of the world, let's all be honest with ourselves and start identifying the problems.

First of all, our clubs are way behind Europe and South America. We're only just starting to learn about our place in the Asian pecking order.

Major League Soccer in the US will be put to the test when David Beckham's LA Galaxy faces Sydney FC, on November 27. How we measure up against African clubs is also unclear.

My concern is, if the best Australians are on the first plane to land lucrative contracts overseas, what are we left with here?

Should we try to promote our own or import more affordable foreigners, like the one-time Melbourne Victory sensation Fred, to drive our domestic education?

We are only just learning where we stand in Asia or a global context, our best players leave for more money overseas and we are way behind Europe and South America. Thanks for the heads up Andrew, we've only known this for the past 30 years. What exactly does this have to do with the perceived drop in quality of the A-league?

Above all else, Moore talks about a severe lack of game intelligence, the awareness to think a few steps ahead, within the A-League ranks.I see the problem as two-fold: the questionable quality of coaching combined with a system that mainly produces below-average footballers in international terms.

In essence, it's the same issue. What do you expect when there are very few qualified coaches to teach our kids?

Craig Moore may want to have a look at his own performance against Adelaide before accusing anyone of lacking game intelligence and awareness. After a harrowing 80 or so minutes against teenager Nathan Burns who turned Moore inside out more than once, he conspired to hack himself to a second yellow card and a sending off. It seems to be that young A-League product Burns had just the right amount of game intelligence and awareness to make a seasoned professional look a bit silly.

In regards to qualified coaches, it has to be said, that every state federation has qualified and knowledgeable people at the helm of their operations. Below that, unpaid mums, dads and members of the community devote their time and energy to teaching these kids as best they can with the assistance and courses and resources offered by the state federations. Maybe if a few more armchair media pundits headed down to their local park rather than spending their time bad-mouthing volunteers, things would be different.

Fortunately, grassroots football is being addressed in a big way. For more information, watch the latest edition of 'The Shootout', a weekly discussion between myself and Craig Foster, available via this website's video player.

I think we all recognise the A-League has done one thing right by projecting a far more polished and professional image compared to the old NSL.

As a result it's been able to repatriate the likes of Danny Tiatto, Tony Popovic, Kevin Muscat, Stan Lazaridis, Ned Zelic, Paul Okon, Steve Corica and Tony Vidmar.

Craig Moore, however, showed why he often wears the captain's armband wherever his football career has taken him. He's a natural leader.

His honesty is not restricted to the football either. Referees are now caught in the firing line, as Moore insists we must get with the times.

"We have full-time players here now and that will improve the A-League so, for the competition to continue moving forward, we have to bring professionalism in to the refereeing ranks."

"What I have found is that some people tend to bury their heads in the sand over some issues in the A-League. They are afraid of negativity. That's not good for the game," he said."If you want the A-League to progress then you have to confront any problems with an open mind."

By standing up for Australian football, he's reopened a debate we need to have, and embarrassed a host of A-League officials, coaches, players and commentators who've been trying to pull the wool over our eyes ever since day one.

Sorry fellas, but some of us are not that naïve.

And neither are we Mr Orsatti. The football educated public of Australia can see right through your smug, attention seeking agenda. We know there are faults and we know things can be improved, but many of us dedicate our time to changing "the status quo" and actually support the growth of the game by getting down to the A-league and getting behind it.

To suggest that A-League officials, coaches, players and commentators are trying to pull the wool over your ever so enlightened eyes is a disgraceful comment and nothing more than an attempt to gain notoriety.

The FFA set out to create a financially viable league in which our young stocks could stay in the country a little longer, our Socceroos would come back and play in and would be seen live by thousands of fans and millions of viewers on TV. The FFA have achieved, or are well on their way to achieving all of these. Despite some trial and error, they should be congratulated.

On the other hand, I hope they read your piece and put it where it belongs. The rubbish bin.