90 minutes plus 90 emotions equals a whole lot of anti-football

Kevin Airs/Getty Images

Kevin Airs/Getty Images

The third season of the Hyundai A-League has been anything but consistent.  Although crowd attendances have shown continued support of the infant league, the football has been up and down – literally!  Football fans have paid to watch an entertaining game and have been let down time and time again, unless your idea of entertainment is watching two teams kick the ball from one end to the other.

Let’s not get carried away with confusing a few high-scoring games, like Sydney FC’s 5-4 win over the Central Coast Mariners, with quality entertainment.  If you believe the agenda driven promotional vehicle that is Fox Sports, the A-League is just short of exceptional.  Actually, it’s not.

The technical quality on display in most games must be horrifying to watch through the eyes of new Socceroos coach, Pim Verbeek.  He doesn’t need to lose hair follicles while perched up in the stands.  He needs to know he can count on his home-grown talent as Qatar will be, in the highly-anticipated first match of the Socceroos 2010 FIFA World Cup Qualifying campaign on 6 February.  Verbeek has already identified our A-League defences as a worry with players making “unbelievable mistakes.”  Put simply, our players make poor decisions.

For Round 21 of the A-League four teams locked on 31 points had the chance to finish first, securing a place in the AFC Asian Champions League and winning the Premiers Plate.  One would think that would be a huge incentive and an opportunity to play the game of your life.  From a coaching perspective, knowing that you’re in the Semi-Finals anyway, wouldn’t you, in a tactical sense, play attacking football?  No.  Instead all four teams played on the counter-attack with a severe bout of nerves, underachieving in every match.

As an attendee of Sunday’s match between Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory, which finished 2-2, I did receive what I paid for: ninety minutes, ninety emotions.  But I left the Sydney Football Stadium disgusted not entertained.

I witnessed, at times, a sluggish Sydney FC with little sense of urgency in their play and total comfort in a one-goal lead.  How does a side with everything to play for, take the lead twice and squander it?  Why does a coach play with a lone striker when the objective is to win by more than one goal?  Or is it?  Why do players get selected to play on physical fitness and youth over technical ability?

Take Ruben Zadkovich, a total loose canon who went hiding in parts of the match and upset the balance within the system, but miraculously found himself on the pitch for the full ninety minutes.  The list goes on…

Newcastle Jets were not much better against Perth Glory on Friday evening, although they deserved their 2-1 victory, they should have scored at least another couple of goals against the Glory’s ten-men, which in the end would have put them on top of the table.  Central Coast Mariners were lucky to win 2-0 against the battling Wellington Phoenix at Bluetongue Stadium on Saturday night.  Mariners coach Lawrie McKinna was relieved just to win at home.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment was QLD Roar’s 2-0 defeat away to Adelaide United.  The Roar had the luxury of knowing the other results being the last of the top four teams to play with the contentious Sunday 7pm kick-off.  To make matters worse Danny Tiatto was sent-off for jabbing Travis Dodd in the face and will miss at least one match if not more.  It was the Premiers Plate no one wanted to win!

Football Federation Australia (FFA) administrators must be pleased with such a close competition, healthy crowd numbers and two genuine bids for licences in the 2008/09 competition in the Gold Coast Galaxy and Northern Thunder.  Things seem to be going nicely on the surface, but how adhesive is the glue?

The game is only as strong as its popularity.  Other codes are struggling amongst an overpopulated sports market.  For football to work long-term, the product needs to be enjoyable.

No one enjoys watching a team play on the counter-attack at home, score a goal (if they are lucky) and sit nine men plus the goalkeeper behind the ball for the rest of the match – that’s called “anti-football” and it stinks.  You end up with a goalless draw most of the time.  A prime example was the QLD Roar vs. Sydney FC match last week at Suncorp Stadium.  The game had been decided before the kick-off – both coaches sent out their sides to play for a point.

Former A-League coaches like Miron Bleiberg (QLD Roar) and Branko Culina (Sydney FC) were thrown out for trying to play football, by moving the ball around and keeping possession.  They didn’t know what they were doing, apparently others know better.

Let’s hope that the Hyundai A-League Finals Series produces a better attitude toward attacking to win, where we see goals, and players like this season’s standout Joel Griffiths, fighting for the ball and the A-League title.  It’s time the football purists got some entertainment too.

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