Young Socceroos hit with Dutch courage

CRIS BOURONCLE/AFP/Getty Images

If anything has come from the performances of our Young Socceroos at the FIFA U-20 World Cup it is courageous endeavour.  These young men have been extremely brave in playing a system (within the 1-4-3-3 formation) far removed from previous Australian teams.  Egypt has not been kind to us; however, the message should be loud and clear.  Old soccer has failed our youth.  Looking beyond the superficial method of success, the results are immaterial.

Perhaps, the most visually devastating moment of the tournament was watching the expressions on the faces of Luke DeVere, Rhyan Grant, Dean Bouzanis, James Holland and Ben Kantarovski after conceding a second goal (an own goal by DeVere) against Costa Rica.  The conscious sense of letting their country down was painstakingly obvious.

The Dutch revolution may be a success at senior international level but for the U-20’s it has proven burdensome.  Questions will now be asked of coach, Jan Versleijen, the soccer-knockers will be out to question his coaching methods, not for one minute considering the state of what he inherited.

Versleijen might have claimed he was going to Egypt to win but his development squad was clearly not ready.  You see, until recently, Australian kids have grown up playing crash-and-bash grassroots football.  The key growth years – between 6 and 12 – have been spent learning an out of date and ineffective ‘win-at-all-cost’ style of football unfit for serious competition.

Although losing 3-0 against Costa Rica, the Young Socceroos tried to play football.  Listening to SBS’s post-match analysis was edifying but I suspect many at home were not listening, as usual.  Champion of tactical football, Craig Foster said:

“They went there [and] they tried to play.  To me, this generation is the bravest generation of players we’ve had for a long time.  They were exposed in many aspects of the game.  Personally, I’m going to send them a message and say listen, as a former player, I’m extremely proud of the way they approached football.”

He goes on to mention that Costa Rica’s coach, Rónald González, thought the match against Australia would be winnable from the outset, noting the physicality of Australian football as a challenge but believing his side’s speed and technical ability to be superior.  The world’s perception of Australian football is still by nature, physical and long-ball centric.

But if you watched our boys closely, there were moments of good build-up play, possession and passing movements which went side-to-side and backward compared to previous generation’s that focused principally on forward play.  The old, quick up the park and fight it out in the air.

Foster, in his summation of the Young Socceroos’ campaign, went on to add:

“We should parade them around the States and we should put them in front of every Board, starting with Football NSW, and go to the rest of the country, parade them and say: ‘Here they are, you guys let them down.’  The country let them down; in terms of, you’ve given them nothing.  You’ve given them no culture, no coaching, you’ve given them no environment and they’ve been put out there and been the first generation [to show] what level Australia’s at.”

This tournament exposed a fundamental flaw in Australia’s new football revolution and that is: left to the States, whom act on self-interest, the National Football Development Plan is pointless.  Take Football NSW for instance, for years they pushed the Coerver Coaching clinics, duping Mum’s and Dad’s all over the State to fork out thousands of dollars on the off chance the flicks and tricks their kids were learning would land them a trial at some, God forbid, English lower league club.

Time will prove the Dutch methodology to be successful but until the incompetence of old soccer is removed, the nation will never be a world leader.  Football Federation Australia (FFA) owes its players some clemency, they’re an extremely coachable bunch but old habits die hard.  Cut the Young Socceroos some slack, they’re our 2018 World Cup prospects and national role models to kids all over the country.

Traditionally, our U-20’s have shown plenty of grit but little tactical understanding; things have changed.  Versleijen could have gone out and played on the counter-attack, told his boys to battle it out, probably won a game or two but they’d of learnt nothing.  We leave Egypt beaten convincingly by the Czech Republic, Costa Rica and Brazil, leaving us with an abysmal record when looking at the standings: no points and a -6 goal differential.

FFA has to now examine and reassess its plan for our youth.  Ignoring the depth of the issues will help no one.  Hammering Versleijen for the errors of our past is uncalled for.  He has to improve but he knows that.  Watch, listen and learn people.  That is the message to the nation courtesy of our Young Socceroos.  Thank you, boys.

One Response to Young Socceroos hit with Dutch courage

  1. Kris Costa says:

    I agree with a lot of what you say, but the key development years are really 15 to 21. Certainly they must learn good technique at an early age, but concentrating on young age groups while effectively ignoring their “breaking-in to the next level” phase is ridiculous.

    Also. Many young players HAVE developed these technical skills, but many of these young players that play possession football have not been considered for representative selection (or worse) are often criticized for it, especially as our coaches seem to prefer a player with the crash and bang physical approach.

    I feel sorry for this group of 15-21 year olds, because their talent (or potential talent) is being wasted. A the time, they did not meet the criteria of selection to join THE SYSTEM when they were 12 or 13 and now they are 17 or 18 they are too old to be recognized because they are stuck in local leagues that still plays “the old, quick up the park and fight it in the air” methods.

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