One ripe debate from left to right

Special Broadcasting Service/Premier Media Group

Special Broadcasting Service/Premier Media Group

It seems to me that there is a battle going on between Australian football media stalwart SBS and “new football” promoter Fox Sports over who has the right agenda.  As a pundit I keep my eyes firmly placed on both channels to assess for myself what is valuable critical analysis and what is just media propaganda.  I have to say that what mostly comes out of Fox Sports is an overly protective and stringently scripted version of the true issues within the sport.

A classic example of this was the reaction to Pim Verbeek’s comments last week on training in Europe compared to playing in the A-League.  Verbeek believes training sessions at a German Bundesliga Club are of a better standard than playing games in the A-League.  Verbeek should know as the former assistant coach at Borussia Monchengladbach during the 2004/05 season.

Fox Sports football analyst, Robbie Slater, was irate at Verbeek’s comments and voiced his opinion on Fox Sports’ weekly football program, Total Football last week.  Slater did not hold back, accusing the new coach of being “un-Australian” and giving the other football codes ammunition to fire back at the game.

Sydney FC coach John Kosmina, who was a guest on the show together with his mate, Sydney Morning Herald sports journalist, Michael Cockerill, jumped quickly to support Slater’s view, saying Verbeek was “wrong” in his assessment.  It was quite embarrassing to watch it unfold, although at times, funny to see them make a fool of themselves.  However, they are entitled to disagree with Verbeek and I’m sure they stand by their opinion.  Slater especially was quote, “under whelmed” by Verbeek’s appointment in the first place.

The media had a field day with Verbeek’s comments, the other football codes did have a go at the game and the debate will surely continue in the lead up to the match against Qatar next week.  Of course now I wanted to hear what SBS thought and what analysis they would provide.  Three days later, over to The World Game on Sunday afternoon, it was Les Murray, Craig Foster and guest, former Socceroo and Newcastle Jets captain, Paul Okon with their view.

Murray seemed to agree that Verbeek’s comments were badly timed but was more concerned by the fact that he actually believes the standard of the A-League is so poor that he would prefer to select European-based players who aren’t playing regularly over the home-based A-League players.

Okon, who played in Europe, agreed with Verbeek, stating the coach was only telling the truth and speaking specifically about the level of intensity in Australia.  The training sessions in the German Bundesliga are at a higher level, and let’s not forget they are playing 11v11 in reserve matches, again at a higher intensity.

Foster, Australian football’s most opinionated analyst, perhaps came up with the best line in this debate saying it was “typical in this country to shoot the messenger and miss the message.”  Verbeek is an experienced professional who should be asked how to improve the game in this country, but that would take respect, something Australian football has been missing for a long time.

The game should be at a point where productive analysis is welcomed, and actioned.  I think Fox Sports are somewhat scared that the public will runaway or jump-off the bandwagon if anything negative is said about the A-League or its players.

It seems as though Fox Sports is not willing to acknowledge the games existence in Australia prior to their involvement.  This is a shame, not for me, but for the so-called “new football” fans who don’t know the great history of the game in this country.  It’s time to take the growth of the sport and match it with unambiguous improvement year upon year.

Both SBS and Fox Sports are the leaders in Australian football media, both television and internet.  Unfortunately I get the feeling that Australian’s see SBS as “old soccer” and Fox Sports as “new football”.  Nothing could be further from the truth as SBS has always seen the game as just “football” in all its glory.  The debate over Verbeek’s comments just highlights the differences in the quality of analysis available in this country.

What makes coverage of the game even more difficult for SBS or any other network for that matter is the fact that “football” is the only major sport in Australia not on the anti-siphoning list.  It’s a slap in the face for the games most loyal media service, but a deal deemed necessary by Football Federation Australia (FFA) for the good of the game.  I believe football, even a delayed telecast, should be shown on free-to-air so that “free speech” and real debate can be available to the majority not the minority of Australia’s population.

Verbeek is typically Dutch in his pragmatism.  His way of diplomacy may be a little tough to handle but his comments last week were as honest as they could be coming from a man in his position.  His task is by no means a fait a compli, this job is hard work with detailed knowledge, preparation and experience the focal points to success.  The hopes and dreams of a nation are on his shoulders, and he knows that!

The debate will rage on, with one certainty I can guarantee, Verbeek will have many more controversial comments to make which will upset the status quo.  Let’s hope the analysis improves during the Socceroos’ 2010 FIFA World Cup Qualifying campaign.

I want to hear ways in which we can improve the quality of the A-League and I want the powers that be to listen.  I believe the game is in a position where it doesn’t need to feel continually under threat or be defensive about every little issue.  It is not as fragile as Fox Sports obviously assume.  It is time to utilise the expertise of our newly recruited Dutch coach for the betterment of the game in this country.

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