Tuesday, March 27, 2007

More from the off-season

Idea 1: I went to Melbourne this week. And found perhaps our best football bookshop. Melbourne Sports Books at 80 Flinders Street. They had the broadest range of football books I have seen and most I have not seen up here at all. They even had publications from the Victorian league. I wanted this shop around the corner from me. The books I thought about buying were a set of three soft cover compilations of independent reviews of football. One was called El Ted is a alien or something like that.

Idea 2: Why would Alpha (issue 20 March 2007 page 91) say:
'Now decidedly ordinary players on modest wages can have boots like the stars. No, not Danny Tiatto - even worse.'
What do they mean?

Idea 3: Well I did it. I watched the version 2, first round match Roar v NZ. The one that made us dream. Zhang's first run on when he set-up Ante Milicic and pounded a ball at the keeper for Matt Mckay to score his second. The commentators said Zhang was going to change the A-League. And that the Roar looked set for the finals. Bugger. Spase came on and played sensationally...

The Courier-Mail reported that the Roar are offering Spase Dilevski a lot less money if he wants to stay. Spase was my favourite player in version 1 but had a tough, injury hit, version 2. His tendency to injury seems to be the reason that the Roar are wavering beyond his 30 June contract date. However, the club did give him a bit of a plug last week - but no mention of wanting to keep him.

What's going on? What's going on? Get moving the Roar

For all the talk of having to make tough choices and changing the team to improve the team, there does not seem to be too many farewells there were not forecast under Miron.

Dario Vidosic looks set to go to Germany. Dario, with Matt Mackay, was the core of the team this year. Damien Mori jumped on board for a while, and we had to learn a new game plan, now appears to be gone.

Chad and Remo were off early. Anyway, version 1's goalkeeper with the best stats, Tom Willis is also gone - possibly from the sport. Apparently, he was offered a pay cut to stay. I am not convinced of Liam Reddy, who seems a little bad tempered and whose performance is patchy. We really need a new first choice keeper. Tampo looked the part but is not available.

And we have picked up Danny Tiatto, a 34 year old former Socceroo (25 appearances), left sider from Leicester City and Manchester City. The wikipedia on his recent performances is mixed. We have also been promised a new striker. We patiently followed Miron through last year's off-season trying to find a striker better than 'Alex Brosque'. Hmmmmmm. We have also picked up 3 under 20s, but two have really been with the club for a few years - none look like a replacement for Dario or to become a new Nathan Burns.

I feel it is the critical year for the A-League and for the Queensland Roar. The FFA won't have the fantastic organisation of Matt Carroll. It won't have the cash from FIFA for a world cup success. Sydney won't be knobelled by the long ball game and Melbourne aims to be Australia's Manchester United. BUT the dismal crowds at Hindmarsh and in Sydney for the Chinese and Japanese powerhouse teams illustrates that Australia needs to be represented by the serious sporting cities of Melbourne and Brisbane to bring the international sporting dollars that football now needs. Adelaide fell apart even before it reached is first Asian club game and now we must endure two seasons of no-one even noticing that they are playing in Asia.

Queensland Roar is the Queensland team for version 3. Therefore they must pull out the stops and ensure that their team is more than competitive. They have both the most loyal and long suffering fans in Australia and now the club must lay its bets to repay this. Or, risk its following. Gobsmackingly, the Roar missed the opportunity to sign Greg Owen and Saso Petrovski - despite versions 1 and 2 demonstrating that a core of experienced Australian based players is the way to go. So Central Coast has shown it is serious about getting back into the finals in version 3. Perth and NZ have moved to get their financial acts together. With Perth signing a massive sponsorship deal.

My guess is that it could be version 3 or never for football in Queensland. The winners are going to get stronger, and the good young players will increasingly seek out these clubs to produce a better launching pad for overseas markets. With the Perth Glory's rich NSL trophy cabinet, Queensland is the only Australian A-League team without a history of success. They must be bold. They must get over their mis-fires. The must put-up the money for a Carbone like marque. Or be prepared for football to fade up north.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Lessons from other codes: ARU over-stretch

Up to the mid 1990s the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) had not threatened Aussie rules and rugby leagues domination of the gate take for top level Australian winter sport. Then came the rugby leagues stumbles. The cat fight for media control through News Corp's super league. Player off-field misbehaviour at last being found unacceptable. The allegations of corruption. The Australian Rugby League's mixed results in spreading their game beyond its club's geographic heartland including its failed first Gold Coast move. And the clubs' own financial mis-endeavours (Bulldogs and others). Aussie rules strategic moves were for some fans just as painful but perhaps more successful.

The ARU, always backed by the well to do in New South Wales, took its opportunity to make its game more accessible. World Cup success and founding of the tri-nation super 12 gave Australian's upper crust the opportunity for regular international sporting holidays and world class competition for the masses in Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane. However, the attractions of the top level detracted from the interest in the local club competition where the gate take faded.

Unlike other sports, the inter-change between countries is limited for union players. So for around two thirds of super matches fans can cheer their team and their country. Things were going well. Brisbane recognised that coaching was its critical area to improve to make the top four and it focused on enticing recently deposed national team coach Eddie Jones.

Success encouraged the sport of CEOs to expand from 12 to 14 super teams. In South Africa and New Zealand, where union is the number one winter sport, filling another team may not be a huge challenge. But Australia's decision to spread to Aussie Rules obsessed Perth, albeit with its large ex-British population, would stretch the game.

Perth had few local players. Drawing players from the successful Canberra and Sydney teams would prove expensive, and therefore had to focus on quality. For the rest of the pack, young relatively lowly paid Brisbane based players would be targeted. Queensland Reds were caught with their eyes, and expectations, on a new coach and had the depth in its side robbed. This came at the time the Reds were completing their risky move from its own 20,000 seat Ballymore ground to the more expensive Land Park - that required 20,000 patrons to breakeven.

Overall for Australian union, the early route was to buy players from rugby league. But it takes a unique player to successfully cross-over mid career, and many players have used offers as an opportunity to go back to their home club and ask for more (Joey for one). Rugby league also rightly saw losing its stars as a foundamental threat. And now the league players that did make the move are being tempted back as rugby league lifts its game and wins its fans and corporate dollars back from union.

Last year, in the Western Force's first year, both sides paid the price. The Force looked inexperienced and the Reds lacked depth. The super league impact on the local competition appears to have limited the new stars coming through. And four teams look too many for Australian union. This year the Reds have lost game after game, their pack looks injury prone and crowd numbers at home have fallen to a loss making 17,000. Its ability to buy new players next year looks challenged. As their squad matures, the Force are fairing better. However, no Australian side looks likely to make the top 4. The introduction of the fourth team has forced up player prices, particularly for the small number of Australian game winners, and weakened teams. Then poor performances in the tough super 14 international competition has turned the crowds off.

Thus clubs have been weakened before taking the next step, poaching from New Zealand, South Africa, England, South America and the European clubs. And in union, few want to play for the enemy.

I feel sure Frank Lowy foresaw these lessons when he limited the A-League to 8 teams.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Time for Sydney to sign Culina

The song is Culina Culina sung to the tune of ‘you’re the future of Australian football coaching, we hope.’

John Kosmina is gone from Adelaide and Terry Butcher is gone from Sydney. Of course the later earlier machinations allowed a final without Sydney and therefore spread the A-League dream.

Next year Branko Culina, father of Socceroo star Jason, should have his shot at the best run-on squad in the A-League. I’ve said this before and copped flak from Sydney fans. Because my idea was Alex Brosque, who we at the Roar persisted with (over 350 shots for 8 goals) and Saso Petrovski had about a million goals in them. But Tel-boy started them for most of the season on the bench. They certainly are not the team with the most depth or the fittest. But their defence can be the fiercest and the David Carney/ Steve Corica combination can pull out some of the most incredible goals. As we saw last night against Shanghai Shenhua. And while Saso was first off the Japan and now Central Coast, the key talent of their team remains.

And Culina stands like mechanic with 30 years experience looking after this model of E-type Jaguar.

It is an interesting feature that the two teams that let go their coaches at the end of the A-League version two are in this year’s Asian Champions League. Both teams were decidedly off guard. And yet Sydney won 1-2 in front of a huge and unbelieving Shanghai crowd, playing with style and scoring goals that could be out of the English Premier League (Carney's layoff for a Corica volley and Talay’s 25 metre slammer - that one makes us Roar fans wish Seo could once again pull off this type of outrage).

Adelaide, on the other hand, were on the back foot. And probably lucky not to loose two nil at home to a half full stadium - a fair goal was disallowed for off-side in the opening minutes. As it was they had the indignity of a horrible own goal from Valkanis.

Of course, since Adelaide has finished top two for two seasons, they get another shot after next season at the Champions League no matter how they go in version 3. For football starved Brisbane football fans this seems harsh. A month ago the Young Socceroos beat Chinese Taipei 11-0 in front of under 2,000 at Hindmarsh. And now in the biggest game so far for an A-League Club, Hindmarsh attracts - 7,654. Come on Roar it is your duty to get these games to Lang Park - where we can get 30,000 to a season game against Sydney.

In Roar news - long standing training squad members Chris Grossman and Robbie Kruse (see photo) have been signed. Both were signed by Miron as injury covers. Chris was a crowd favourite in his three games, while Robbie sat on the bench. Meanwhile, Dario Vidosic is trying out for Nurnberg in the Bundesliga. If successful he may leave after version 3 (we hope).