When was the last time you were excited about the announcement of a Socceroos squad? Don’t get me wrong, I think every player selected for the national team is more than capable of doing the job for Australia. But the truth is that most of us including our rivals could write down the squad before Holger officially announces it. There is no X-factor and hasn’t been for awhile now.
The last time I can clearly remember being excited about an announcement of a Socceroo squad was in December 2009 when a young 18 year old Tommy Oar was named in the squad to face Kuwait. My excitement was mainly due to the fact that he was so young and that, being in Japan, I hadn’t really heard of him before. My interest to see this up-and-comer play was piqued. In the end, I and the Aussie public would have to wait until March, 2010 for him to debut for the Green and Gold against Indonesia.
Not only did he perform well but almost all the lead-up to the game and reports after focused on Oar’s selection and performance. It reminded me of the other time before this that such a huge level of excitement was generated over the debut of a player. In April, 1996, a 17 year old Harry Kewell became the youngest player to ever play for Australia in a friendly against Chile. The following year he went on to score his maiden goal for his country in the Azadi Stadium in front of a hostile Iranian crowd of around 100,000. Showing a maturity beyond his years.
Perhaps though using the term maturity is not the right word but instead fearlessness. This fearlessness is what young players seem to possess more so than an older player who has something to lose. A 17 or 18 year old knows that he has time on his hands and that one bad performance isn’t going to be the end of the world because they still have so much more developing to do. An older player though might worry too much about losing his place to the next generation to play with the type of Devil may care style that can break a game open. Only the most confident players are likely to the faith in their ability and that is why they become regular fixtures in the national team.
All the big countries have blooded promising youngsters, most notably Brazil’s Pele (16 years old vs Argentina), Argentina’s Maradona (16 years old vs Hungary), and England’s Rooney (17 years old vs Australia). According to FIFA.com, in the history of the World Cup, seven 17 year olds have been taken to the premier sporting tournament by their countries, and twenty 18 year olds. Some like Pele, Owen and Whiteside (selected for WC squad after only two competitive games at club level) went on to play important roles in their nation’ campaign while others like Theo Walcott were called up more for the experience than with the view to getting any game time.
In every case though the selection of such young and untested quantities on the international stage brought a mixture of excitement and controversy which sparked interest and debate. This is what I feel Australia has been missing in recent years. Sure some of the players I mentioned are absolute legends but they were just hungry, talented footballers when they were 17 and 18 years of age. Their selections could’ve gone either way beause no one knows how young players will cope with that pressure. But maybe the experience of being called up to the national team is what drove some of these football superstars to go to the next level?
Is it unreasonable to select one or two gifted youngsters in training squads and for friendlies? After all, without singling anyone out we do choose older players who haven’t played a lot of games for their clubs. So why don’t we give an Antonis or Gameiro a chance instead? They could just surprise us by lifting that extra gear when surrounded by the more experienced and seasoned professionals like Cahill, Kewell, Neill and co. At the very least they will gain valuable experience as to what is required at the top level as well as learn how to play alongside the other Aussie players and to the system the coach requires.
Let’s bring back that excitement and raw potential to the national team. I’m sure that when Harry made his appearances as a youngster for the national team that it did lift the more experienced players too such as Vidmar, Slater, and Arnold. It keeps players on their toes because they last thing you want is a player to feel too comfortable in their position in the team