Young Socceroos, Our Cultural Warriors

Joern Pollex/FIFA via Getty Images

The Young Socceroos leave Turkey and the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup with more than a solitary point. Australia has taken giant leaps forward in practicing the modern game. Years of work by Football Federation Australia (FFA) have started, in incremental steps, to bear fruit. This is genuine progress. For the first time in our history, we have a national plan – a real one.

It’s important to keep a balanced perspective. For these boys are still learning the game. International football gives our youth the opportunity to develop. Everyone’s learning: the players, the coaches and the administrators.

Are the players the best we’ve ever produced? Clearly not.

The individual technical ability of the Australian youth players dominating the ’90s was superior. But, don’t be so quick to put that down to coaching, or to suggest a national curriculum is simply a glossy piece of paper.

Our golden generation of youth players were the sons of post-War migrants: the Greeks, the Italians, the Croatians and others. Football was in their blood. It was cultural and something they instilled in their children as part of their socialisation. Anyone who attended and supported the National Soccer League (NSL) can testify that these youngsters, at the time, were heavily influenced by their parents.

Today, our Young Socceroos are the children of their children’s generation. This crop of players suffer the same ills as non-athletes in society – Generation Y. They have little, if any, recollection or understanding of their predecessors. Many of the players in the current squad would have to watch YouTube videos to gain an insight into their coach’s track record. Who’s Paul Okon? That’s not a sledge, but a simple measure of the times.

The rhetoric coming from numerous camps is that our youth have lost their way because our adopted style hasn’t achieved results. I disagree. In fact, our youth are cultural warriors. At a time when FFA has sold Small-Sided Football (SSF) to the grassroots (and it’s been a hard sell), reformed our coaching licences and implemented a National Curriculum, or the 1-4-3-3 Formation Rationale, they’re to be applauded and seen as pioneers.

Furthermore, coach Paul Okon has been brave enough to sacrifice results to let these boys learn the modern game. Alistair Edwards has done brilliant work with our Joeys, Aurelio Vidmar the same with our Olyroos. Okon has an AFC Pro-Diploma, he’s played for and captained the Socceroos, he’s committed to giving much of his time and knowledge to these players. And we criticise him? He’s not an overpaid import. He’s not a man acting on self-interest, like many others under failed soccer administrations of the past. He’s passionate and proud, he’s grateful for the job and he’s learning.

His comments after our elimination were as honest as could be expected.

“To say we’re disappointed is an understatement. I thought we were magnificent tonight. I think every player should be proud of what they gave throughout the whole tournament but especially tonight,” Okon said.

“We knew it would be tough. Turkey is a very good team but we needed to win the game. [We were] unlucky not to go in two goals [up] in the first-half. We scored a great goal in the second-half. Our downfall since day one has been that we just gift other teams goals. We just couldn’t keep the lead and in the end we copped another cheap goal, and obviously the game’s over.”

“Every game for Australia you gain something. A World Cup’s an amazing experience. But, our players, although they’ll go home thinking what could’ve been, they’ll learn from it. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s for, to give them that experience of international football.”

“Hopefully, I hope, to have played a part in helping these boys become better players, international players, that hopefully we’ll see playing for Australia again.”

Before we admonish the Young Socceroos, we should remember that they led in each of their three group matches by playing attacking football. They were up 1-nil against Colombia, the South American champions, and drew. These guys knocked-out Brazil and Argentina on the road to the Finals. They were guilty of switching-off at the back against El Salvador, but again, led the match. Two class strikes from Turkey may have put a 2-1 defeat up on the scoreboard, but the game was very even.

How about congratulating Corey Gameiro, Jackson Irvine, Josh Brillante and Daniel De Silva? They showed, along with others, some encouraging signs for the future.

We shouldn’t live in the past and punish our current squad for having a go. I’m delighted by the eagerness of these young boys and more excited by Australia’s prospects of producing talented youth for the Hyundai A-League.

Our Young Socceroos are receiving an education. Let them learn.

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