The State of Australian Football – Part 1

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How can Australian football continue developing if we think we’ve already hit our peak?


Football fans across the world love the idea of a golden era. An epoch of brilliance that in a heartbeat they can identify – ‘I remember where I was when’, best when encapsulated by a moment (‘Aloisi scores’ anyone?) and always available in a fan’s darkest moments as a beacon of the summit they can once again grasp.


The question football pundits and fans alike in Australia and across the world may often ask themselves is did our golden age come to soon, and go by too quickly. Almost every football nation that has experienced some level of success can identify, perhaps in absence of much else tangible, a ‘golden era’.


In Australia ours came and went so quickly, and for most unexpectedly, you could be forgiven for pondering whether we even really had one. Golden age’s in football are generally perceived as a special generation of players, although more often than not, a manager and tactic align perfectly for the moment.


Subjective as they are, part of what define these periods is there uniqueness.

Rarely lasting more than a few short years and hugely varying in levels of actual glory, these timespans hold a special place in the hearts of football fans as an un-paralleled memory brimming with patriotic honour and fulfilment.


Australian football’s golden age is almost nationally acknowledged as the two years spanning our qualification and not-so-brief-for-us appearance at the 2006 World Cup.


While these eras aren’t normally associated with heartbreak and injustice, as a relatively small nation with little football pedigree we are almost inevitably bittersweet in our pride.


In a rare tinge of Australian sporting realism, we can now somewhat ignore Fabio Grosso’s perceived lack of fair-dinkum sportsmanship that so rudely awakened Australian’s football dreams (although now the dust has settled and war wounds have partially healed he may have had a point).


However in hindsight, this instant marked the end of our moment in the round-ball shaped spotlight, and marked the beginning of our inevitable gradual decline.


Since 2006 we have qualified for each world cup, an achievement in itself. Yet we have not looked as confident or progressed as far as we did in our first qualification since 1974. Neither have we possessed such a world-class team.


Harry Kewell still remains to this day one of Australia’s most expensive footballers, and the only one to cement his place, barring injuries, at a traditional football powerhouse. Mark Viduka and Tim Cahill were two of the premier forwards in English football.


Lucas Neill and Brett Emerton were stalwarts and respectively captains of Premier League club Blackburn Rovers. Vince Grella and Mark Bresciano were important players in Serie A. Mark Schwarzer, who has amassed more Premier League appearances then any other non-Briton.


Compare this to now. Tim Cahill, arguably still our most effective international weapon and without doubt the talisman of Australian football, is now 36. Too few young players, Luongo and Rogic come to mind, have looked able to replace him as the Socceroo’s icon. Yet so far none have.


Today’s side is protected largely from such scrutiny under the guise of youth. However by the same stage in their careers, Australia’s heroes of yesteryear were already prominent players for prominent clubs.


Australia’s brightest young gun Massimo Luongo struggled to earn a first team place for an in-turmoil Championship side last season. Another of Australia’s growing talents, Aaron Mooy, is already 26 and still plies his trade in the A-League.


This is not to say that Australian football is going in the wrong direction. We recently won our first major trophy, the 2015 Asian Cup, which in itself could be regarded as the pinnacle of Australian football achievement.


However it was a tournament we hosted, and Australia has been traditionally a very difficult place to visit from opposing sides, both mentally and geographically. Could we really expect to replicate this success in the Middle East?


In addition, the absence of competition from Japan, a side that has recently and consistently beaten Australia, and our loss against South Korea, a side also undergoing a rebuild of their national team, casts a strong level of doubt over whether we could really regard ourselves as a strong football nation.


Which perhaps, is what we were in 2006. We were not at the level of Brazil, obviously, however we were a team that was difficult to beat away from home. Recent away losses to international minnows in Jordan and Qatar leave an uneasy feeling when identifying where we currently reside on that question.


Somewhat annoyingly for a country that loves to regard itself as a sporting powerhouse, for a side that prior to 2006 had only once qualified for football’s apex event, we were also beginning to develop a football reputation overseas.


The importance of that previous list of Australians who were taking on, and beating, some of the worlds best in Europe’s own backyard is hard to overstate. Despite the much-maligned attitudes to overseas Australian footballers as merely tough, even brutish, we were proving we could be as skilful and tactical as the best.


Continued in Part 2

Categorized as News

By Matt

Matt is the owner and chief-editor of the Footy Blog, one of the UK's leading football news blogs.