The Missing Generation

With a lack of true ball-players, Australia will have to wait til 2018 for the next crop of talented Socceroos.

I often hear the same complaint from coaches, pundits and fans alike – where have all the Australian ball-players gone?

We had Paul Okon, Ned Zelic, Craig Moore, Vince Grella, Jason Culina, Josip Skoko and Marco Bresciano. Throw in perhaps the best AIS graduate of them all (sadly lost to the green and gold) in Joe Simunic, and you have a truly talented list of footballers.

Perhaps we were spoiled with a golden generation. Personally, I think the answer lies in how our society has developed in the last decade or so.

Unlike their predecessors, the current generation (the Gen Y boys) didn-t spend endless hours kicking the ball with both feet against the garage door, or playing long summer evenings away in the street with friends and neighbours.

Instead, they texted, tweeted and Playstation-ed their way through their teenage years, with football being the thing they turned up do in between their social life.

That-s the reason why we have missed a generation. Skills are honed on a daily basis through mundane repetition, as attested to by the production line of the Brazilian favelas where shoeless kids kick balls of rubbish around and routinely turn into world superstars.

The Dutch influence, the National Curriculum and the 4-3-3 movement all needed to happen as Australian football was rudderless and floating along, relying on the good old boys playing overseas to turn up every 4 years and do the business. A plan had to be put in place to make sure we keep developing players, and I am confident now that it has.

The 4-3-3- system is often criticised for encouraging football that is concerned with retaining possession even if it-s in the back half of the pitch.

That-s only partially true. The theory behind the system is that it is the most flexible one to allow players to adapt to different systems in live situations. In reality, it often becomes a 4-3-2-1, or a variation on the theme.

We don-t want to coach the creativity out of our players, and despite some teething problems under Pim Verbeek and at recent youth World Cups when everything seemed to be sideways and backwards, I do believe we are moving in the right direction.

But is it too late for the 2014 World Cup?

Let-s look at our national team as it stands now.

Starting at the back, if Lucas Neill can stay in shape and take his place in 2014, who will partner him? Sasa Ognenovski?

Sasa-s distribution has certainly improved since he came on the scene, but six years ago as a 26-year-old he was playing state league football, so his technical skills cannot be expected to be up to those of his contemporaries who have been in professional set ups since they were 16.

Matthew Spiranovic? Difficult to assess him playing off the bench in Japan. We really do miss Craig Moore.

In the middle of the park, Carl Valeri, Mile Jedinak and Neil Kilkenny may be powerful athletes who can run all day and show plenty of endeavour, but even their biggest fans wouldn-t pretend that we have natural successors to Culina, Grella, Skoko, and Bresciano.

I-d be surprised to see Sassuolo, Crystal Place or Bristol City playing a 4-3-3 fluid system of play. That makes it hard for these guys to turn up to national camps and fit in seamlessly.

At Hyundai A-League level, it-s much the same with players. Melbourne Victory has the same issue – they are struggling to find any fluency in the absence of Kevin Muscat-s ability to find the midfielders from defence with regularity and precision.

Melbourne Heart bombed Michael Beauchamp after one season because he couldn-t play the passing style that JVS wanted, instead preferring converted midfielders such as Matt Thompson and Simon Colosimo before recruiting Adrian Madaschi and Curtis Good to fill the void.

It is no accident that three of the most successful recent imports to the A-League have been Carlos Hernandez, Thomas Broich and Marcos Flores, traditional No.10-s in the Michel Platini and Paul Gascoigne mould who (apparently with some controversy these days) think defence is for defenders.

Unbelievably, these guys have been harangued by some observers, even their coaches in cases, for their lack of defensive ability. These guys probably criticise Lionel Messi for being a poor header of the ball too!

Moving up front we have Josh Kennedy… and Josh Kennedy. It-s an indictment on our production line that we are still looking at the likes of 33-year-old A-League player Archie Thompson as an X-factor at national team level, and that Scott McDonald remains a serious national team contender despite not scoring for them in 25 appearances.

That-s the bad news. But signs for the future look positive.

Eli Babalj shows signs he could develop into a Mark Viduka-esque striker if he can stay fit. Alex Brosque looks like he has found another gear since moving to Japan.

Thank God for Mustafa Amini, Terry Antonis and Mitch Nichols. Along with the likes of Curtis Good and Matthew Jurman, these players could be another golden generation of Australian talent. The manufactured generation perhaps, as opposed to the natural generation of yesteryear, but if the result is the same it makes no difference.

I think 2014 might come a bit soon for them though.

The true effect of the current revolution in thinking in Australian football will not be truly felt at national team level until 2018 when our current crop of 18-year-olds are then 25 and experienced professionals ingrained in the system.

As for 2014, fingers crossed but Holger has his work cut out.