Sunday, July 15, 2007

Infighting and Australian Football - My Theory

Note the following is just a theory, it is something I believe to be close to the truth, in regard to what is happening to the Socceroos and Australian Football:


November 8, 2004: SBS wins the rights to Socceroos matches untill 2007, new CEO of Soccer Australia, John O'Neill is delighted that these games will be shown live around Australia on Free to Air Television.

January 1, 2005: Soccer is officially changed to Football, the revolution of Australian Football begins.

Ever since this revolution began, rivalries, differences of opinion and factions have been present throughout all areas of Australian Football. I'm not talking about the small disagreements, criticisms and opinions that are perfectly healthy in sport - I'm talking about a real hatred between certain areas of the football community.

It even extends to TV broadcasting. Since Soccer Australia became the Football Federation they have never signed any TV rights to SBS, clearly this is not just because of the money Fox Sports have offered them, but also points to the fact that the FFA does not agree with SBS's 'attitude' - the Anti-British agenda, the desire for Australian football to focus on technical ability etc.

Fox Sports have quickly developed a large, and unfriendly rivlary with SBS - many, sick of the SBS agendas, have turned to Fox Sports - it's not hard to see why, but at times Fox Sports have gone too far. Graham Arnold comes onto Total Football, his old mate Robbie Slater asks him some very easy questions and the tough questions, that the likes of Craig Foster would ask, are ignored.

2006, Guus Hiddink takes the Socceroos to Germany, they work wonders and the country falls in love with them. Quickly they are the national team that Australians truly associate with, they are the role models that parents love to see on the back of a wheet-bix box, rather than the AFL, Cricket and Rugby players who (or at least some of them) are constantly involved in ugly nightclub incidents etc.

Graham Arnold has spent time under Hiddink, it seems logical that he should be able to carry on the Hiddink philosophy. In a way Arnold has 'copied' a lot of Hiddink's styles. He's played a similar system, he's trained the players hard, unfortunately he's not Hiddink. You can't just take some of what Hiddink did and emulate it, you have to think for yourself.

At the Asian Cup, Arnold's relationship with some players has hurt him. When problems have come up, it's been impossible for him to take a position of complete authority and get the players into line. But what are these problems?

I think these problems stem from the fact that the Australian players aren't prepared to put in the massive effort and make the sacrifices they made last year. This has been shown by Josip Skoko, Craig Moore and Scott Chipperfield who decided not to take part. Chippers has a valid reason, he is having a child. But what was Moore and Skoko's reasoning? Purely to put their club first? I doubt it.

So why, then, did Moore and Skoko decide to miss the Asian Cup? It is now clear to me that they knew the team was not 100% united. They, probably graciously, decided to sit out the tournament as it would be best for the team. And of course their club commitments would have played a part in their reasoning.

The first sign we all should have noticed that something was right, was the Mark Viduka situation. Viduka was ready to retire from the national team yet was convinced to change his decision in only a few hours. The question must be asked: why did he want out? Commitment to his club, again makes it sound like there is a lot more to the story than the media found out. Would it be too much to suggest that Mark Viduka, a good friend of Craig Moore, a good friend of Josip Skoko, knew of the factions forming in the Socceroo team and decided it would be better for him not to play.

For Graham Arnold, this was too much, he knew that without Viduka, the Asian Cup would probably be out of reach. He was no doubt desperate to get Viduka back, he offered Viduka the captaincy and probably would have done anything he could to get Viduka to play - you can't blame him for that.

When asked about his reversal, Viduka told a story about how he was holidaying in Croatia and saw someone wearing an Australian shirt, and saw his son singing the Australian national anthem. Viduka said that these things rekindled his passion for the Socceroos. Reading between the lines, I expect that in reality, these things in fact made Viduka remembered that playing for the Socceroos was representing his country. He realised that it would be disrespectful to his country to withdraw because of ill-feeling amongst the team, he remembered that it should be about the football, not team relationships.

And so Viduka's decision was reversed, he was given the captaincy and commited to the team for the Asian Cup.

This would not have sat well with Lucas Neill. Lucas Neill is someone that has known Graham Arnold for a long time. They are good friends, and their relationship would have grown even stronger last year at the World Cup. When Neill learnt that Viduka had been named captain, he wouldn't have been happy. He may have even been promised the captaincy by Graham Arnold, and to not recieve the captaincy, something he desperately wants, would have hurt.

Make no mistake, Neill is probably the most passionate player in the entire Socceroos team - to loose the captaincy to someone like Mark Viduka, who days before had wanted to retire, would have made Neill angry. Neill has had an awful tournament, and it seems obvious that the reason for this is his anger at not getting the captaincy. It would also explain Arnold's assessment of Neill after the game against Iraq. Arnold may feel that Neill is the reason this tournament has gone so very wrong.

And of course this is not the sole cause of a rift amongst the Socceroos. For a long time there have been two 'factions' of the Australian team. There is the group of players who grew up in Sydney, have little 'ethnic blood' in them - People like Lucas Neill, Tim Cahill and Harry Kewell (although I'm sure Harry is one who is mature enough not to take sides - hence his nice interview on Friday). There are also those like Mark Viduka, Josip Skoko, Sterjovski, Schwarzer, Bresciano etc.

Now you can't expect every player in a team to like every other player just as much as any other player - you can't expect a team to have no groups or factions. Unfortunately the Captaincy issue, and no proper authority from Arnold, has meant that the differences between these factions have become so serious that they hurt the national team.

The two factions amongts the squad are indicative of the factions amongst the whole of Australian football. You have your Fox Sports faction, and your SBS faction (the nicknames I give them). You have people like Rale Rasic, Les Murray, Craig Foster, then you have Simon Hill, Andy Harper, Graham Arnold, and prehaps even the FFA.

That's right, the FFA themselves have taken a side, they haven't given SBS any tv rights since 2004, when anyone will tell you that some level of FTA coverage would be good for the game. The FFA loves the attitude of Fox Sports, and others who take similar viewpoints like the FourFourTwo magazine.

The FFA have even given Channel Ten rights to a football game later this year, when Sydney play against Los Angeles and David Beckham. According to the Sunday Mail today, Les Murray was furious at this, he knows that the FFA don't like them - and now he hates that people like him are being driven out of Australian football, when people like him have every right to be involved in football.

Now I don't want to take sides, but I am currently watching "The World Game", and Craig Foster has got it exactly right. He is someone who knows the players, and he has talked about a rift that has been going on for a long time, when talking about Lucas Neill he said it correctly that Neill has not suddenly developed new feelings - this is an ongoing issue and it stems right through into the entire Australian Football Community.

Over the past couple few days, the media has brought a lot of this into the open and it has hurt.

The FFA have today had a press conference, and both Arnold and Harry Kewell denied any rift amongst the Australian team. Is it any suprise that Kewell was at this press conference - someone who is good at not taking sides - rather than Viduka who is obviously involved in the rift? If there was no rift, why wouldn't Viduka be the one at the press conference denying it?

All the most important people at the FFA were at this press conference, they obviously know how big of an issue this is.

Even as I write, the SBS reporters have just made claims about Neill and Arnold blowing up at the media. Apprently Arnold told a reporter that he "knew where these rumors were coming from and would deal with it", while Neill apparently got angry at the media during a training session. Of course the SBS journalists are reporting this as they are the ones who were involved, and it is no suprise that Arnold and Neill are angry with SBS...

Arnold's reported comments interest me, chances are you will see players on "the other side" of the rift in the Socceroos missing from tommorows game.

Enough of the problems, what needs to be done?

Well I can say that, although Arnold is only a small part of the problem, he needs to go. An international coach is desperately needed, not just because of the superior knowledge that he would bring, but because there would no longer be a conflict of interest and the new coach would be able to bring the players into line, by treating them all equally, and making sure they assert their authority.

However this will not solve all the problems, the FFA are the ones who must get rid of their bias and become balanced. It seems to me that the way the FFA have approached this in the past year or two has been to try and destroy the "SBS side" of Australian football. This is not the right approach, the FFA must be fair and balanced to try and remove the rift, rather than destroy one side of it.

Short term, those that have to put this rift behind them are the Australian players, they are all much better players than Thailand, who they play tommorow, and if they can put their differences aside, they can win and progress to the quarter finals of the Asian Cup. If there is one person who deserves this more than any other it is Mark Viduka. This will be Viduka's last tournament for his national team, and it would be a terrible tragedy if he were to go out on such a sour note. The Socceroos are good enough to even go as far as winning the tournament, and only that will get rid of the hurt that this tournament, and what has gone on at this tournament, has created.

I'm sure the Socceroos will be fired up after what has happened this weekend, let's hope they can win tommorow and remind us again of that team that truly represented the nation at last year's world cup.

Bye for now,

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