A-League the ticket to international stardom for Ange Postecoglou

admin | 杭州桑拿
4 Dec 2018

There is probably no bigger admirer of the domestic competition in international soccer than Socceroo coach Ange Postecoglou, and he has proved it again by naming six A-League players in his 23-man squad for next week’s friendly against Japan.

Former Socceroo coach Pim Verbeek once incensed the Australian soccer commentariat by declaring he would rather Socceroo hopefuls played in the reserves for a big European club than played regularly for an A-League team.

Postecoglou, who was the most successful coach in the competition’s history before taking on the national position a year ago, not surprisingly takes a different view. And ultimately the regard in which he holds the elite local competition might start to have an impact on the way players think when weighing up moves overseas.

No one is going to stop a really talented youngster from pursuing a dream if he gets the chance to move to a major European league. But players who might consider chasing a short-term financial fix in an Asian competition that is no better than the local one may be given pause for thought if they believe they might be weakening their chance of an international call-up.

At least Postecoglou hopes so.

Verbeek, of course, was commenting at a different time. His tenure ran between late 2007 and just after the World Cup in 2010 when most of his big players were based in Europe and there were few A-League players deemed worthy of inclusion in his squad for South Africa, or even the qualifiers.

Since then the league has come on in leaps and bounds.   Western Sydney Wanderers’ triumph in the Asian Champions League shows that players operating at the top domestic level can see off the biggest challenges the Asian region throws up.

The A-League sextet in this squad comprises Socceroo regulars Matt McKay from Brisbane and Mark Milligan from Melbourne Victory, as well as Melbourne City’s Aaron Mooy, Perth Glory’s Mitch Nichols, Sydney youngster Terry Antonis and Western Sydney defender Nikolai Topor Stanley. All have played for their country at some stage, but none of them are regulars.

There could, Postecoglou suggests, have been more. Wanderers duo Tommi Juric and Matt Spiranovic would have been good shouts for a spot had the coach, after talking things through with their club coach Tony Popovic, not decided they would be better served by playing more club soccer than being in a training camp in Osaka for a week. Nathan Burns, reinvigorated by his move across the Tasman with Wellington Phoenix, is another who Postecoglou says is on his radar.

The case of Nichols is the most instructive. Postecoglou coached the midfielder in Brisbane, where there was rarely any disagreement about his talent but some question marks about his attitude and commitment.

The Queenslander moved to Melbourne at the start of last season and was a revelation. In the first 10 or so games he was a major figure for his new club and many good judges would have had him leading in the race for player of the season awards. Many also considered him to be more than an outside chance of making Postecoglou’s World Cup squad.

But then Nichols was seduced by the prospect of a move to the J-League in Japan, joining Cerezo Osaka. It might have been a good move – had Osaka not signed Uruguayan star Diego Forlan, winner of the Golden Ball at the 2010 World Cup. The fact that Nichols was trying to get in the side in a similar position to Forlan made life more than difficult. There was no World Cup, and he was never mentioned even as a roughie as a chance for a call-up in any of the national team’s post-World Cup games.

But since his return to the A-League, he has come back into Postecoglou’s picture. His good form for Perth, which he has joined on loan, has earned him this chance to come out of the wilderness, confirming the coach’s preference for players who are in form and playing regularly.

“I have been pretty impressed by the start of the A-League and the speed and tempo of the games. If players are in good form its a good indicator,” Postecoglou said on Wednesday.

“I know Mitch very well. Maybe the Japan experience matured him as a person. His first runs have been good for Perth.”

While many of the Asian Cup spots will have been cemented in the coach’s mind, the presence of Nichols, Mooy and Antonis in this squad shows there is still time for in-form players, particularly playing under the nose of an Australian-domiciled Socceroos coach, to make a late bid for inclusion.

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