Wednesday, September 19, 2007

QA; it's time to slow down

ALMOST by universal acclaim, it was predicted the third version of the A-League would be closest yet, but this close?

After four rounds, almost 20% of the regular season gone, we're averaging a poor 1.8 goals per game, with nine of the 16 games ending in draws, four of them goal-less. Only four teams have experienced the winning feeling, only the Jets and Mariners more than once.

But it's not just been the draws that have been the problem, it's been the quality of football on offer, or lack thereoff.

Quite simple, the league has been too physical for it's own good. Everyone is fitter, more athletic and better organised, but it's been to the detriment of the quality on offer.

The prevailing belief in the pre-season was that the infiltration of 13 or so Brazilians and South American's would improve the quality of the product, but the reality so far is that most have struggled to adapt to the physicality, a case in point being the Jets's Denni, who was replaced in the first half on Saturday night after finding the going tough against United enforcer Jonas Salley.

Another technician, Adrian Caceres, also made way early in the Victory v Mariners game for the more competitive Steve Pantelidis.

Gary van Egmond stated bluntly after the match that Denni was struggling to adapt to the physical nature of the competition, as was the Argentine signing Jorge Drovandi, barely sighted.

Not surprisingly Denni's most effective game came in round 2 against Queensland, when the Roar were missing their own two enforcers, Craig Moore and Danny Tiatto, through suspension. With youngster Chris Grossman playing in the holding midfield role, it's little wonder Denni had more space.
Over to the competition's marquee man, Juninho, who has had to deal with the hits from behind more than most, because of his reputation. In round one, he spent the first 40 minutes trying to shake off Mile Jedinak, who took both man and ball every time Sydney played it to Juninho. It wasn't until Jedinak was yellow carded, just before the break, that Juninho finally had a bit of space and was able to create a couple of openings.
In round two, against Adelaide, he had to face up to not only Salley, but Angelo Costanzo, a double whammy. While he proved he is able to ride a challenge better than most, it eventually caught up on him, the little fella injuring his shoulder after hitting the ground for the upteenth time.

Salley isn't the only A-League hardman playing in midfield. The champions Melbourne have Kevin Muscat and Grant Brebner. The Mariners have workhorses in Mile Jedinak, John Hutchinson and Andre Gumprecht. Tom Pondeljak, a player appreciated for his subtlety, couldn't get a look in until Sasho Petrovski went down injured on Sunday.

Queensland Roar, after experimenting in the first two weeks, have moved tough man Danny Tiatto into the holding role where he's been very influential. Fit striker Reinaldo was used last weekend as a midfield workhorse.

In the past two weeks, Ross Aloisi has been partnered by Richard Johnson and the Phoenix have looked far more competitive. Not surprisingly, their playmaker, Felipe, has had two good games in the past two weeks against the Jets and Sydney respectively, two teams that like to play and let you play.

Perth Glory, with Mate Dragicevic struggling to adapt to the pace of the game here, had little choice but to go more direct and draft in Jamie Harnwell, with effect.

It seems A-League managers everywhere are obsessed with having competitors in the middle of the park, and workhorses all around them, often stifling the creators and leading to matches where midfields and defences dominate. Stalemates.

Yes, as Branko Culina points out, there is a dearth of quality finishers, but the problem is summed up well through Ron Smith's analysis;

Look at where the improvement has happened and, in terms of work rate and structure, each year the teams have improved. And by that, I mean the athleticism, not people's attitude towards hard work. You're starting to get players with good athletic qualities who can get up and down the field and they make it difficult for people to get chances to score by getting behind the ball quickly and getting back in numbers. Players are going to have to get better at breaking down defenders and be a little more precise. That will be the next step, that has to happen, or we'll forever and a day have tight, close games.

That's the fear, that unless things slow down a touch and the ball gets moved sideways and backwards instead of constantly being shifted forward, season three will be remembered as a close one, but by the end of it, how many will be watching?

Watching the second half of the Victory v Mariners clash on Sunday, there were some good signs, with the ball moved from flank to flank, some space finally created in the middle. Had it not been for a couple of fine saves, we might have had a goal or two.

When the league was launched, both Frank Lowy and John O'Neill spoke of the importance of providing "entertainment", but at the moment there's no doubt the emphasis is far too geared towards the result, as Culina pointed out;

It's a problem for the competition and what we need to do is take a few extra risks. There's all this pressure to get goals, sometimes the emphasis is more on the result rather than the way you play the game and teams will go out and say, 'I'd rather get a 1-0 win than a 4-all draw'.

Of course teams want and need to win, but for the collective good of the league, let's hope the bigger picture isn't lost.


Anonymous Bill said...

Keep putting money on matches to end in draws at the TAB you should end up in front.

That way if you watch a game and see some entertainment and goals, great.

If its a draw you still win!

Thu Sep 20, 12:07:00 pm AEST  
Anonymous Ed Vegas said...

Hey Tony, Like your blog.
I think the refs in the A-League have never done enough to protect skillful players. From memory it took a season and a half for QLD Roar to be awarded a penalty dispite having more shots on goal than any other team. (I know a bit of one eyed analysis...)
I fear that if the local game remains too physical we wont develop technically skilled players in the A-League and the national team will suffer.

Thu Sep 20, 12:07:00 pm AEST  
Anonymous tfo said...

Couldn't agree more with that analysis.

Ed is also dead right about the lack of protection for attackers.

Another problem with refs approving of overly aggressive play is that we could end up with the scourge of diving if skilful players are being battered week-in-week-out. After their Round 1 match away to Queensland, Aurelio Vidmar spoke of encouraging his players to fall more readily (he didn't use the 'd' word), and in some ways I don't blame him. After seeing the refs allow Tiatto's two dangerous tackles (just to use an example), attackers would feel they also have to bend the rules as a consequence.

Above all else, it really is up to the coaches. I thought last season was a marked improvement on the inaugural season in most aspects, and that included the style of play. I'm just hoping that coaches will now see that this huffing and puffing style of play hasn't got them very far in general.

Hopefully the warmer months also lead to more cerebral football. Having watched a few recent Olyroo matches with largely locally based players adopting patient build ups, there is no reason why the A-League teams can't do the same. I honestly can't see who is going to benefit from the current industrial style, and it won't adapt our players to international football.

Thu Sep 20, 06:44:00 pm AEST  
Blogger druryfire said...

The league need to find out what they want from the game.

An entertaining night for thousands of fans flockign through the turnstiles (hence, clamp down on the hard hitters) or a competitive league which can get ugly.

Being an Englishman, i've grown up on the hard men in the game, the hard challenges, its what we thrive on. In England, everyone watches their team, win, lose, skillful, crap, everyone watches and gets behind them.

Elsewhere in Europe, everyone thrives on the skillful element, have skill and they watch. They win and have skill big bonus. Have no skill and win, a bit of a put off - support a skillful team.

But end of the day, in Europe the game is 100 odd years old.

The A-League is young, it still needs to attract supporters before going down the hard man route.

But winning equals money. And thats what everyone is aiming for.

Thu Sep 20, 07:12:00 pm AEST  
Blogger Mike Salter said...

Definitely on the money for mine, Tony. The general standard of the competition this year has been far down on last year.

Someone mentioned on another blog that the departure of just two genuine playmakers (Fred and Carle) has really hurt the league, and I tend to agree.

Fri Sep 21, 03:29:00 pm AEST  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

thanks all for your comments and interest..some insightful stuff indeed.

bill, love your theory, makes alot of sense on the basis of this season's results, but fortunately or unfortunately, i rarely have a punt, let alone on football.

last night though it would have been win-win, a entertaining draw.

ed vegas, thanks for your comment, i think you're spot on about the standard of thre refereeing in the A-League, they generally let players get away with far too much.

Agree also that we need to continue encouraging the technical players for the sake of our national team future. I've enjoyed watching ther olyroos cause I think they are a great combination of the technical (musalik, sarkies, bridge, celeski, burns etc) and powerful (djite, ward, topor-stanley), and from what i've seen they all like to get the ball and play rather than play the man, and that needs to be encouraged.

tfo, spot on, it all does come down to the coaches. last night, for example, both teams wanted to play, and look what eventuated, an exciting, open spectacle, great to watch.

...I'm just hoping that coaches will now see that this huffing and puffing style of play hasn't got them very far in general....

Ultimately they have to win due to the pressure, but I think a few of them that appreciate the finer side of the game realise they have a broader agenda, and that's to be encouraged.

..I honestly can't see who is going to benefit from the current industrial style, and it won't adapt our players to international football...

Too true.

Druryfire, thanks for the comment. I think you're right in saying that historically the english football fans have followed their teams rain, hail or shine, but i think there's a bit of revision going on at the moment with english fans starting to demand a bit of style. if you look at chelsea, for example, only 27000 turned up for their champs league game during the week, and that can largely be attributed to the poor football theyve been dishing up. compare that to a sold out emirates and a flowing arsenal. if you're a fan of them, for me, you want to watch their every game cause you know you get value for money.

I think if you play good football, fans will flock, as the jets and the victory proved last season.

mike, thanks again for the comment, yep, no doubt it's hard to lose players of the calibre of fred and carle, but the jets proved last night that they can still play, but you've gotta have committed coaches willing to work on entertainment.

Hopefully the likes of Burns, Bridge and Musalik can fill some of the void left by Carle and Fred.

Sat Sep 22, 10:41:00 am AEST  
Anonymous Chris said...

Nullifing players must be cheaper, except where Chelsea are concerned: they are the benchmark for grinding results. We will never eliminate the workman-like structure to australian play, even the socceroos in germany displayed this, but at the very least the refs need to crack down on sally/tiatto "the enforcers" who will stamp out the mere reflection of creative play.

May I just add....Kaz Patafta where art thee? A real Australian play-maker, benched for the last 3 games.

Sun Sep 23, 12:02:00 am AEST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And guys the worst part of all this is how does this play help us in Asia?

Asia = way more technically skilled players, tough reffing (tougher than bloody Europe), slower possession based game.. teams can carve us apart

Our A-league = getting more and more over-physical, soft soft reffing except on diving and hilariously some of the dives that have occured this season havent been dives, faster game often very few passes constructed...

It just wont help us in the years to come in Asia..

Sun Sep 23, 04:53:00 pm AEST  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

...Kaz Patafta where art thee? A real Australian play-maker, benched for the last 3 games....

Chris, thanks for the comment, i did notice that and have to admit to being disappointed. A player of patafta's ability should be encouraged, just like barca encouarge their youngsters by throwing on 19 year old giovanni dos santos and 17 yo borjan krkic in a champions league clash.

Also, the benching of adrian caceres after he was substituted in rd 4 was not the right message from merrick.

I have a mate whose a mv member who thinks caceres was made the scapegoat against ccm, and i guess he proved a point to merrick on Frid night

Mon Sep 24, 10:15:00 am AEST  

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