I was sat down next to Mitch Nichols after the Roar's win over Sydney and a fan and his kids came up and asked me for my autograph. Yes, I did resist the temptation. But I did spend some time explaining how good Mitch is going to be. So when honourable Clayton san, living way up there in Japan, asked me 'how the roar youngsters went last year and where they need to improve', I had to start with Mitch.
Mitch Nichols DOB 5/1/89 is the 2nd youngest of the 'young guns'. His play set the Brisbane league on fire in 2007 and became an obvious recruit for the Roar. His younger age may have helped him beat out attacking talent Tim Smits (Tim has just been signed for the Roar).
Mitch was in the u20 Australian squad that went to the World Cup qualifiers in Vietnam and missed out last year. He scored about 5 goals there (he says most were 'tap ins' against weaker sides - that's Mitch all over understated). This team and young Australian football were taught a lesson by the young Korea. Having visited Korea, a country still technically at war and essentially a corporatist state with a Buddhist past, I can well believe stories about the total commitment expected by young people to their football career. Total commitment. None of this 'Mad Monday' stuff or developing relationships with other people. The good news is that I don't this style of training and cultural indoctrination works for adults in a free market.
Mitch played 10 games off the bench for the Roar. Robbie, Tahj and Michael only showed their true talent when they were given a start. Four talents u20 were too many for them all to be given justice. The balance of age/experience would have been thrown out to play them all. The skills that Mitch did show on the park highlighted the weakness of many A-League clubs in finding and giving a go to u20 talent. Some teams found none, others 1 or 2. Who else found 4?
Anyway, playing an average of 24 minutes across 10 games, often coming on late into a close-out or desperate times did not bring out the best in Mitch. And I expect a lot more next year. His highlight was coming on late in the last home game of the season verses Sydney FC (Round 21), running in from the right wing he had a cracker shot that was well saved by Bolton.
Areas for Mitch to improve:
- he needs more game time. I hope the Roar will work something out for him in the off-season
- some strength work like that done by Reinaldo in last year's off season
Robbie Kruse DOB 5/10/88 was the A-League find of the season. I think the FFA award to Bruce Djite was off the mark (my guess is that the awards needed to be shared around and the limelight taken off Joel). Kruse is a better player. But. He needs more stamina. And he gets bullied too easily - something that Djite does not suffer from. Robbie has been linked with an overseas move, but I don't think he is ready.
Areas for Robbie to improve:
Michael Zullo DOB 11/9/88 should be credited with saving or at least re-starting the Roar's season with his first start against Wellington. He scored himself, when no other Roar looked like they could score, and set-up Kruse. But then everyone learned to hack him down and the refs, for all their big FFA talk, did nothing. Then he jumped too high and was out for 7 weeks.
Areas for improvement - the same as Robbie.
Tahj Minniecon DOB 13/2/89 could be the best player in the A-League in 2008/9. Again, it was his starting debut that showed his potential against Perth. In some quarters it has been suggested that he is a bit of a hog. But against Perth his passes set the game up, particularly the opener for Kruse. Tahj is a tremendous talent finding a way through packed fields and never giving up. I saw he dribble past 3 players a number of times - no fluke.
At the moment the 4 young guns are getting the wing jobs, if Tahj wants to be centre forward he is going to have to be stronger and hold the ball up more.
Will the Roar keep all its players under age 22? Not sure about that. It will be interesting to see if it keeps Ben Griffin (DOB 7/3/86) and Chris Grossman (DOB 6/3/87). They may end up back with Miron at the Galaxy.
The Third Place is a reference to people's need for another place to refresh away from work and family. The idea comes from a book by Ray Oldenburg.