Arnie and his Great Wall of China

Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Football fans across the country are bitterly disappointed with the Olyroos’ early exit from the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.  Many are playing the blame game, with the bulk of criticism being hurled at coach, Graham Arnold, and rightly so.

Although, my frustration is not limited to the decision-making of one man, it’s the establishment that should share the blame as they demanded a medal from the outset which was more than a tad ambitious.  Arnold is no tactical genius, he doesn’t demonstrate great man-management skills and it appears his players lacked a unified work-ethic.  So what went wrong for the boys in Beijing?

Well, first of all, the team was picked based on statistical data, not common-sense.  The omission of Bruce Djite and Nathan Burns came back to bite Arnold on the backside with a lack of strike power the Olyroos’ greatest downfall.  Our opening game against Serbia was terrible.  We should have got done by at least a two-goal margin but luckily scored on the counter-attack (of course), Ruben Zadkovich taking an opportunity that couldn’t be missed, but other than that we were outclassed, how it ended 1-1 has got me stumped.

Argentina was treated to some top-notch anti-football best served cold by Arnold in our second group match.  Our fans then had the audacity to complain about the Argie’s holding the ball towards the end.  How’s that for a bit of “up yours.”

After playing so negatively with a fight or flight mentality against the Serbs and then the holders of Olympic gold, it seems unreasonable to me to expect this group of young talented Aussie’s, who’ve been flogged, to then flick the switch and play football.

But hang on, it’s backs to the wall now, don’t we thrive on that stuff?  Aren’t we supposed to pull-off a hard-fought 1-0 win and progress?  Hardly.  The Ivory Coast belted us all over the park.  Chelsea’s Salomon Kalou, provided a constant headache for our defence and after numerous chances finally put the Olyroos out of their misery by scoring a superb goal.

Again and again, the same old story.  By the way, what did our over-age players do?  A little bit here and there, okay, but nothing special.  Jade North went hiding, David Carney did a lot of running and set-up one goal, and Archie Thompson struggled in the green and gold yet again, an injury a parting gift from the Albicelestes.

We should’ve had more experienced over-age players but the truth is none of them wanted to play for Graham Arnold, namely one H. Kewell.  I don’t blame him really, nor do I blame the bulk of the squad, they were progressing well under Rob Baan before Arnie got hold of them.  At least he gave it a go, right?

I was under the impression from FFA that we were implementing a Dutch system throughout our national team set-up.  I saw very little Dutch and a lot of English this past week or so – lots of long-balls, needless running and a total lack of creativity.  It’s not that the players can’t play – they’re just too restricted under Arnold’s system.  To be fair to him, it’s all the rage nowadays, this 4-2-3-1 system, it’s so bad, and rarely delivered how it aught to be.

Almost every team I’ve watched play like this end up playing 4-5-1 or 6-0-4 with a non-existent midfield.  Why a team which has the intent to win a medal needs two holding-midfielders and plays with one striker is unfathomable.

What have we learned from this experience?  Why are we so afraid of taking the game to our opposition?  Arnold may think we played “outstanding” against Argentina and the Ivory Coast but the majority of fans out there thought we were subpar.

I hope the establishment can now see how important it is to develop these players to play with style and not just focus on medals.  The funny thing is, if you actually play football, you might just win a game.  Wasn’t that the objective in the first place?  It’s a science this football thing.


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