Making changes to the national team

The recent performances of the national team have led many to demand a change of manager, which ultimately happened at the weekend, but change shouldn’t end there. Australia are currently on track to have the oldest squad at next year’s showpiece, and in recent times have been found out for being what they are, too old and too slow. But what changes should be made? Who should stay and who should go, and what realistic options are out there?

As mentioned above, the current squad is just too old, with an increasingly unhealthy reliance on the golden generation of players to continue playing. In the current squad are 7 players aged 30 or older (Neill, Ognenovski (withdrew due to injury), Wilkshire, Bresciano, McKay, Cahill and Kennedy), and that doesn’t include Schwarzer and Thompson who were rested. If you want to change the parameters slightly, there are still 6 players from 2006 in this most recent squad, only one of which is under the age of 30 (Milligan). Again add in the rested Schwarzer and Thompson and that’s 8 of 23 from the 2006 World Cup squad still playing 8 years later. Age isn’t everything of course and there’s still credence in the ‘if you perform you deserve to keep the shirt’ argument, but the performances haven’t been there in some time for a bunch of them, and as great as they’ve been, it’s time for a change. As Simon Hill famously said in his commentary after the Italian loss in the round of 16 ‘Australian Football has new heroes, and a new generation has new goals to exceed’. It’s time for that new generation, but who consists the new generation, and which players are ready to step into the void now?

Goalkeeper:
Starting with the goalkeepers, and this is one area where Australian Football has forever been able to find a solution. Going way back to the days of Jim Fraser and Ron Corry, or in more recent times when we had Mark Schwarzer, Zeljko Kalac and Mark Bosnich all at the top of the European game. The current generation aren’t doing too badly for themselves either, with Mitch Langerak playing Champions League football for Borussia Dortmund and Mat Ryan excelling for Belgian heavyweights Club Brugge. Both of these are ready for the #1 jersey, although it might be beneficial for Langerak to get more than the odd game here and there.

In addition to Langerak and Ryan, there’s also Adam Federici playing in the Championship for Reading, although he’s seemingly on the outer atm. There’s also Eugene Galekovic from Adelaide and Nathan Coe from Melbourne Victory who have been solid performers in the A-League and the national team when called upon, and in the case of Galekovic, the Asian Champions League. There’s also the argument of keeping Schwarzer on purely as an experienced backup to help along the likes of Ryan and Langerak, however his willingness to accept such role is unlikely.

Goalkeeping contenders: Ryan, Langerak, Galekovic.

Right Back:
In recent times, Luke Wilkshire has had a mortgage on the right back position, with some stellar plays over the last decade, he however, like a few others has seen his best days and he’s began to be more and more exposed for his declining pace in recent times. The fact Holger played Holland at RB over Wilkshire on Saturday says all that needs to be said; change is needed.

So who could fill the void? In truth, their aren’t many solutions, and there certainly isn’t an obvious option. Ryan McGowan has been the deputy in the squad in recent times and after experience with Hearts and Shandong Luneng would be the front runner out there. The way he was discarded and essentially blamed for the Brazil debacle was a disgrace and he should have been apart of this most recent squad.

Besides McGowan the only options are in the A-League with Ivan Franjic being the most popular and best option, despite having recently being moved into the midfield by Mike Mulvey. Others who might be in the frame are Sydney FC’s Pedj Bojic who has had 4 stellar seasons with the Mariners, and young Jason Geria who put in assured performances in the recent u/20 World Cup and has won the RB spot at the Victory since his departure from the Roar NYL setup. This is one position where change is an absolute necessity, however there are very few options. For mine McGowan just gets the nod over Franjic.

Right Back contenders: McGowan, Franjic, Geria.

Left Back:
If right back was a problematic position, left back has been even worse, with a string of makeshift options paraded out over the last decade. The fact that Holger plumped for Carney after playing just 6 games for New York after 18 months out of the game speaks volumes for our problems there, and his management of the position.

Neither McKay nor Carney are the answer, so who is? Well the best candidate is young Jason Davidson who had a debut to forget against Scotland in 2012. He is however a regular starter for Heracles in the Eredivise and I think he’s ready to play. The other option who should be considered is Shane Lowry who is now a regular for Milwall in the Championship since he dropped down from Aston Villa for more regular game time. Aziz Behich and Michael Zullo who’ve returned to the A-League on loan for the season for game time, and solid performances could see them get into the squad.

Left Back contenders: Davidson, Lowry, Zullo.

Central Defenders:
In recent times we’ve tried a host of options at centre back with varying success, however Osieck kept reverting back to the Neill-Ognenovski combination, which is widely accepted as being too old and too slow. Lucas himself has been tried with various partners recently, however it is he who is causing the problems as he like Wilkshire has lost that yard of pace and agility. The plan in recent times has always been to have Lucas in the side for experience, while playing a young more athletic player next to him, but recent times have shown that might no longer be an appropriate strategy. So who is there to play in the heart of defence?

Rhys Williams got his chance against France at the weekend and despite the team conceding 6 did a decent job. Despite only intermittent Socceroos appearances, he’s got the experience now as captain of Middlesbrough and many full European seasons under his belt. As for who should play next to him; there’s a few options out there with North, Djulbic, Thwaite, Smith who’ve all had their chances, but in truth time has probably passed them by despite all being solid defenders. There are 3 other options however, two obvious and two slightly left field.

The first of those is Matt Spiranovic who was given a regular run of games in 2011-12 and did a reasonable job before falling out of favour after move to the Middle East. He’s recently returned to the A-League with Western Sydney and a big season in the domestic competition along with the Champions League could parachute him back into contention. The other conventional option is young Trent Sainsbury who has got rave reviews for his work in the Mariners Championship winning team, which lead to interest from Basel and Southampton amongst others. Alex Wilkinson has also done exceptionally well across in Korea this season, appearing in many ‘dream teams’ throughout the season might also be worth a look.

Outside of those two there is one other option which is slightly unconventional and means moving one of the sides standout performers into a new position. Im referring to moving Mile Jedinak back into the heart of defence from his central midfield role. For mine he’s strong enough and good enough in his defensive work and experienced enough to play the role, and it would allow for other players such as Milligan and James Holland to claim spots further up the park. Whatever the new manager does, the defence is the first thing which he must alter to get the side back functioning well.

Central Defender Contenders: Williams, Spiranovic, Sainsbury, Jedinak.

Central Midfielders:
There are pressing issues here as well, with Jedinak holding down one spot in the middle alongside the aging Bresciano. Despite entering the mid-thirties Bresc has been an important creative link in the heart of the midfield, but he’s slowing down and seems unable to perform at the highest level these days, especially in a defensive sense. For mine there’s still a role for Bresciano in the squad, however it’s more as a creative link off the bench than a regular starter. Jedinak meanwhile has done his job reasonably well, he’s limited going forward but he’s capable of breaking up the play.

In addition to Jedinak, there are options like Austria Wien’s James Holland, who does a solid job in the middle of the park in the Champions League, Celtic’s on loan midfielder –at Kilmarnock- Jackson Irvine, who did a solid job in the recent u/20 World Cup, and Melbourne Victory’s captain Mark Milligan who has done a very good job when called upon. There’s also Aston Villa’s Chris Herd who has been called up in the past but hasn’t made his debut for various reasons.

In terms of more attacking options, Brett Holman is doing himself a massive disservice playing in the Middle East and for mine his form has been off in recent times for the Green and Gold. In terms of other options there’s Melbourne Victory’s Mitch Nichols, Sydney youngster Terry Antonis, Dortmund youngster Mustafa Amini, and Western Sydney’s Aaron Mooy. Matt McKay could also play a role in the short term in the middle of the park. The best option in a creative option however is offcourse Celtic’s Tom Rogic who unfortunately is only a bit part player for the Scottish giants.

Central Midfield Contenders: Jedinak, Holland, Milligan, Herd, Rogic.

Right Wingers:
This is one area where regeneration has occurred with Brett Emerton losing his place in 2011 to young flyer Robbie Kruse. Since then Emerton has returned home to the domestic league, while Kruse was a leading light for Fortuna Düsseldorf last year and earned a move to Champions League side Bayer Leverkusen. Also in Germany is Matthew Leckie, who has struggled to get into the Socceroos squad despite being a regular in Germany’s 2nd division. Other options could include Brisbane’s Ivan Franjic and Utrecht’s Adam Sarota- both of whom were shifted into right midfield roles last season at their respective clubs, and there’s also new FC Sion man Dario Vidosic who has the creativity to play both wide right and through the middle- although it’s clear he’s better through the middle for mine. There isn’t a great deal of options, but there are enough to choose from.

Right Wing Contenders: Kruse, Leckie, Vidosic, Sarota.

Left Wingers:
Like on the right hand side, the left side of attack looks strong with Tommy Oar winning the role after solid performances for Utrecht last season. Prior to that Matt McKay held the role through the Asian Cup and World Cup Qualifiers and did a serviceable job cutting inside providing a passing option. Other options include Frankfurt’s Nikita Rukavystya who has the pace and finishing to cause problems and Oliver Bozanic who is capable of playing a similar role to Matt McKay on the left hand side cutting inside. There’s also Melbourne youngster Connor Pain who made his debut in the East Asian Cup Finals in July- the youngster burst onto the scene last A-League season, and if he can follow that up with a second he could be a surprise inclusion to the squad.

Left Wing Contenders: Oar, Rukavystya, Bozanic.

Forwards:
This is another area where younger players haven’t been given much of a look in, with the preference being for experienced players like Tim Cahill, Josh Kennedy, Archie Thompson and Alex Brosque. Ideally, Cahill or Kennedy can still play a role off the bench for mine as a poacher, but neither should be in the starting line-up, and there’s only room for one imo, however as explained below due to a lack of options, we might have to persist with them.

The problem however is that there are very few options in order to play upfront and be certain they’re ready to play right now. There are some younger options however, with AZ Alkmaar’s Eli Babalj being the best of the bunch, he however hasn’t had a great deal of game time for his new Eredivise club. A-League duo Mitchell Duke and Adam Taggart have done well for Australia in East Asian Cup. This is a problem area for Australia however- there just aren’t many options out there to fill the void of Cahill and Kennedy right now.

Forwards contenders: Cahill, Kennedy, Babalj, Duke, Taggart

Since this is already insanely long, here’s a very quick summation of the options available to our national team right now by position and how imo the side should line up when everyone is available. As I mentioned above, the golden generation have been fantastic for Australian Football, but the time has come for a new generation to get there chance.

Goalkeeping contenders: Ryan, Langerak, Galekovic.
Right Back contenders: McGowan, Franjic, Geria.
Left Back contenders: Davidson, Lowry, Zullo.
Central Defender Contenders: Williams, Spiranovic, Sainsbury, Jedinak.
Central Midfield Contenders: Jedinak, Holland, Milligan, Herd, Rogic.
Right Wing Contenders: Kruse, Leckie, Vidosic, Sarota.
Left Wing Contenders: Oar, Rukavystya, Bozanic.
Forwards contenders: Cahill, Kennedy, Babalj, Duke, Taggart

1st team in gold, subs in blue (formation from football user)

1st team in gold, subs in blue (formation from football user)

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