Benchwarming doesn’t help our Aussie stars

Clint Hughes/PA

Clint Hughes/PA

With the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa less than a year away, some of our regular 5-star contributors are out of sorts.  It’s still early but the warning signs are there for Lucas Neill, Brett Emerton and Vince Grella.  Neill is still to make his debut for Everton in the league, Emerton is in hiding and Grella, well, he’s a frustrated man.  His red card against Aston Villa over the weekend has forced him back into the stands.

Australia needs its best players playing regularly.  We need our captain to be in form.  The one-year, £40,000 a week deal at Everton sounds great in theory.  Neill teams-up with Tim Cahill and it all looks sweet.  Everton boss, David Moyes has high praise for Neill but he’s also signed Johnny Heitinga and there’s Tony Hibbert who is a product of the Everton youth academy.

It seems Neill has to fight for his position on the park.  It’s hard to understand why you would go from captain of West Ham United to second or third string right-back at Goodison.

Neill played in his new side’s 4-0 thrashing of Hull City in the Carling Cup last week.  He’s taken the number 23 shirt but his impact has certainly not been Beckham-esque.  He must be irritable.  When on top of his game, he’s actually a pretty damn good defender.  But it appears that he is not as fit as he should be at the moment and Moyes isn’t taking any chances at the back.

So, what about Brett Emerton?  He’s Australia’s fittest player, marauding up the right flank with conviction.  Big Sam (Allardyce) seems unsure of his talent.  Maybe the Blackburn Rovers manager and long-ball tactician should watch a few Socceroos DVD’s.

Emerton made a cameo appearance for Rovers against Wolverhampton Wanderers just over a week ago – coming on in the 73rd minute to replace Morten Gamst Pedersen – and again warmed the bench to start the match against Villa.  Gamst Pedersen seems to be Allardyce’s preferred option – Emerton a substitute again – coming on for him in the 56th minute.

Excuses?  He’s returning from an eight-month knee injury, fair point.  His team isn’t in good form, fair point.  But he’s put in some big performances for the club over the years and with his crossing ability and steam train engine, he seems like a perfect fit in the Rovers system out wide.

Then there’s Vince Grella; the Socceroos’ anchor in midfield.  The Australian of Italian descent made a big decision to leave his Serie A club, Torino.  He plays with spirit and tenacity, like a double-shot espresso.  Grella was signed on a four-year deal by Paul Ince.  Ince’s reign at Rovers was short-lived and Grella has been anxious for game time ever since.  A hamstring injury amongst other things has made his adjustment to the fast-paced English game a drawn-out process.

These three guys are key contributors to Australian football.  The flights are booked for the World Cup in South Africa but there’s also qualification for the 2011 AFC Asian Cup to negotiate.  As any fan would know, form is crucial when playing at international level.  If you’re Brazil, England or Spain, you’ve got loads of depth.  Without Neill, Emerton and Grella at their peak, it would be a brave call to think the Socceroos could play dynamic football.

Obviously, there’s a lot of football to be played before the Finals next year.  But be warned, competition is fierce in England’s domestic leagues.  Australia’s hopes and dreams hang on the shoulders of a select few diamonds and diamonds need pressure.

There’s no doubt that Neill, Emerton and Grella will wear the green and gold with pride; what we all want is for them to have had a great season at their respective clubs so they can produce stellar performances throughout the tournament.  It’s our chance to showcase Australian football to the world in order to help our 2018 or 2022 World Cup bid.

South Africa may be the last World Cup adventure for these guys – maybe they might push on and make it to Brazil – only time will tell.  That’s why it is so important that each Socceroo maximises their potential this season to build a solid run of form.  Memo to all manager’s: It’s a World Cup year, be nice and play our Aussie boys.


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