Saturday, December 15, 2007

Pim's observations and options

HE'S BEEN in the job for just over a week and in the country for only a couple of days, but already there is a fair-bit to mull over when it comes to the Socceroos and their new manager Pim Verbeek.

Of course, much of that attention has centred around his first Australian press conference on Thursday and his first TV interview on Fox's Total Football later that night, where he spoke at length to host Andy Harper and his studio guests Robbie Slater and Simon Hill.

While his body language was a little defensive early after both Slater and Hill declared their first choice would have been Troussier, overall it was a very enlightening and honest take from the Dutchman.

He admitted to knowing very little about the local league (a bit of a concern), to being undecided about whether to draft in the Europeans, to having already spoken with most of the European based players, to his admiration for Mark Viduka and Harry Kewell and the need to use them wisely throughout the campaign, about his respect for the opposition and his confidence that we would qualify for South Africa.

Overall it was a very insightful interview and answered a number of questions. But it also highlighted how little time Verbeek has to get his selection right for the first qualifier in less than two months.

No doubt his first challenges is to decide whether he relies on the A-League players alone for the first two qualifiers (at home to Qatar on February 6 and away to China on March 26) or blends in a mixture of European based players, whether they be the EPL and Serie A cream or the players from the second tier, the likes of Nick Carle, David Carney, Mile Sterjovski, Carl Valeri, Michael Beauchamp and Luke Wilkshire.

Verbeek has already admitted to being on the phone with "most of the European players" and believes that, apart from Mark Viduka, who is still "struggling after the Asian Cup" and "under a bit of pressure at a big club", they have all indicated their commitment to the campaign.

Of course, Verbeek has also admitted to knowing nothing about the local competition, so right how he's on a steep learning curve to find out whether the local lads can cut it.

If he's not convinced by what he hears and sees over the next month of so and in a muted A-League training camp in January (there is also talk of a possible friendly), then he will be left with no choice but to draft in some of the European names.

Yet the football calendar doesn't exactly come to the rescue. Verbeek has openly admitted that if a player plays on the Sunday in Europe, we mightn't expect to see him here until Wednesday, the morning of the Qatar game; too late.

So naturally, with an eye on the European fixture list, we are looking for players who either have the weekend before February 6 off or are otherwise scheduled for Friday night or Saturday afternoon fixture, which might give them enough time to make it to Melbourne by Monday at the latest.

The good news, for starters, is that there a no scheduled Turkish Super League fixtures that weekend, which might bring the likes of Carle and Sterjovski into the frame. The former, especially, could be very important, as we don't appear to have a player of his ilk (an advanced midfielder who can keep the ball, dictate the tempo and link with the attack) on the local scene.

Elsewhere, in Holland, Luke Wilkshire's Twente Enschede are scheduled for a Friday night away trip to NEC Nijmegen, meaning he could be in Melbourne in time. Whether he's needed in the centre of midfield is another thing. Here, Verbeek should keep his eyes the likes of Stuart Musalik, Matt McKay, and if they recover from form and injury respectively, the more experienced Kevin Muscat and Simon Colosimo.

Another central midfield option, Jason Culina, plays on Saturday for PSV.

Considering all Serie A games at this stage are scheduled for the Sunday, tieing up Grella, perhaps there might be another opportunity for Mini Vinnie, Valeri, who is due to play for Grosseto on Saturday.

Certainly, Verbeek has to make the decision on whether Musalik, such an accomplished performer for club and country over the past 18 months, is ready to dictate the tempo of the senior side from his quarter-back role.

Another big decision is who he has been the sticks. Local options include Danny Vukovic, who was caught out by Paul Agostino last night, Ante Covic, Michael Theoklitos and Clint Bolton, who appears to have some confidence back after a disappointing 12 months or so.

At the back, in the middle, there are less headaches, at least in my mind. A central axis of Craig Moore on the right and Mark Milligan on the left would be brilliant, Moore's experience complimented by Milligan's pace and level head.

Failing that, perhaps Adrian Leijer, such an impressive partner alongside Milligan in the Olyroo campaign, might be released by Fulham. Hopefully for him though he's a first team fixture by the time they take on Mark Schwarzer's Middlesbrough on Sunday February 3, which would count him out.

Elsewhere, Michael Beauchamp's Nurnberg play on Saturday, so it will be interesting to see where he and Josh Kennedy are at come February. Certainly, in the central defensive area, Jade North's form this season brings him into the frame as a back-up, while other versatile local options are Muscat and Nikolai Topor-Stanley, who might yet have aspirations to be the left back, given his decent work there for the Olyroos.

One of the more interesting observations from Verbeek on Thursday was his emphasis on having "attacking fullbacks, especially at home". It is very much a Dutch method and one Verbeek used for South Korea in the Asian Cup, where the left back, especially, added to their forward thrust.

Topor-Stanley and Ruben Zadkovich were certainly "attacking fullbacks" in the Olyroo campaign, while Trent McClenahan impressed when given the chance, but question marks remain about whether they are ready to step-up to the senior side.

Elsewhere, locally, because he can't have Cassio, his eyes might be fixed on Dean Hefferan, who defended well in the first half last night and then sprung to life as an attacking force in the second. Inexperienced at international level, he is worth looking at at some stage.

Pim needs to decide if that is in the cut and thrust of a world qualifier. As he said on TF; "It's not just the quality [of the A-League players] but it's also the pressure on their shoulders because they all know it's and important game [the first against Qatar]. It's not just a friendly against Argentina or Nigeria, it's qualification for the world cup."

One left sided option that has consistently stepped up to the plate of late is David Carney. At this stage though Sheffield Utd are scheduled for a Saturday February 2 game.

On the right there are also some interesting scenario's. Zadkovich and McClenahan did well for the Olyroos, and North has played there before, but seems to be more comfortable centrally these days. Reason for that is he is a more solid defender than an attacking one.

Elsewhere in the A-League, nobody really stands out at right back.

Brett Emerton made some very positive noises in this recent interview with The World Game's David Lewis, but the fact Blackburn have a Saturday date with Tim Cahill's Everton, might mean he misses at least the first qualifier.

But it seems he'll make himself available for the matchdays 3 to 6 mini-tournament in June, his fifth straight 'off-season' commitment to the national cause. Bravo Brett.

Seemingly a man of detail, Verbeek spoke about balance in his TF interview. If the attack-mind Carney is able to make it back on the left, perhaps the steady North is the safest option on the right. Zadkovich is certainly in the mix, but he did his chances of impressing the manager no good with his reckless lunge last week which means he misses tonight's chance to impress.

Up front, Verbeek will certainly have been impressed with John Aloisi and Sasho Petrovski last night. Both were everywhere, presenting, finishing, linking and throwing themselves about. Agostino is more a rugged option, but continues to find the net and might be value off the bench against Qatar, not a physical side when you compare them to China and Iraq.

Certainly, if Kennedy isn't available, Agostino might play a similar role to the one Kennedy did against Japan in Kaiserslautern. Another physical all-action man is Bruce Djite, who would certainly have been higher up the pecking order had injury not intervened a couple of months ago. He still has time, especially if he can rekindle his form from earlier in the season.

As he showed Verbeek last night, Petrovski offers another option, subtlety and composure in and around the box.

But if Aloisi is fit, he will most certainly start, but I've always seen Aloisi at his best when he has someone sharing the load up front. In Verbeek's 4-3-3, he will need to get seamless service and support from his 'wide' men and the attacking central midfield.

One of those men around him could be Archie Thompson, who will need to transfer his good A-League form to the national side. If Scott McDonald is available and banging in the goals, he would be hard to ignore. His confidence, right now, must be sky-high.

Of the other local options, Joel Griffiths continues to make strides and would certainly be a viable wide option, while Alex Brosque has finally made a breakthrough this season. While his goal-getting ratio has improved, I've been even more impressed with his ability to compete physically in such a combative league. Once a light-weight, he now rarely gets bundled off the ball, and his pace is good.

Elsewhere, the likes of Travis Dodd and Lucas Pantelis at Adelaide have gone off the boil of late, while Nathan Burns has been burnt by a heavy schedule. Kristian Sarkies and Mark Bridge are talented but still developing consistency.

Certainly, watching Verbeek find the right combination up front and all over the pitch will make fascinating viewing. Time mightn't be on his side, but he has options, and the more the likes of Aloisi and Petrovski perform as they did last night, the less inclined Verbeek will be to look in Europe.

16 Comments:

Blogger Mike Salter said...

Fantastic wrap, Tony.

I'm not sure whether having a Friday/Saturday/Sunday start will matter ultimately with the Euro guys, because the clubs don't actually have to release them until 48 hours before the Qatar game. If the FFA can reach some sort of deal with the Twente Enschedes and Sheffield Uniteds of the world, all the better, but I'm not sure whether these clubs will be especially accommodating.

An interesting Johnny-come-lately option for the RB slot, IMO, is Jimmy Downey. I know we haven't seen a lot of him and I know his distribution leaves a bit to be desired, but if Pim is after an attacking full-back, he certainly fits the bill.

On another forum I suggested the following, dependent on form and fitness, if it's going to be A-League only:

----------Vukovic
Downey Moore Milligan Tiatto
------Musialik McKay
---Griffiths Burns Brosque
-----------Aloisi

If Carle is available then he should go in the three-quarter slot, especially if Burns hasn't quite recovered by then. Otherwise, I'd go for Archie just behind the main striker.

Sat. Dec. 15, 01:17:00 pm AEDT  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

Hey Mike, thanks for your comment, it's certainly gonna be fascinating to observe this campaign from a player availablity and selection perspective.

If Pim is impressed by what he sees here, I dont think he's even going to bother with the European option, but, based on what we've seen so far this season, I reckon he might have to go there to plug a few gaps...whether that's looking at the european calendar and pleading with some clubs to release a couple of players that aren't playing early or allowing as couple of gap-fillers to turn up on Mond.

The 48 hour thing certainly doesnt help, but will be intersting to see how convincing Pim is when he visits Europe and chats to players and managers...

You're formation looks good and is similar to the all A-League one going on in my mind. I cant split Vuka and Bootsa between the sticks and have North and The Heff as fullbacks (interstingly, Ceccoli is back in the country and putting his hand up but, without having seen him lately, I'm inclined to think elsewhere).

To be honest couldnt quite remember what Tiatto's position was around availability, but if so he would certainly come into calculations, as much for his experience and versatility? Has he been on the record?

Downey has certainly caught the eye - incredible pace - but i reckon it might still be too early...as you noted, want to see more efficient distribution and more consistency in defence, but he certainly fulfills the "attacking" mantra.

Up front, I would have had Archie for Brsoque, but given Burns is injured (and if Carle is unavailable), I like the idea of Archie floating up around Aloisi, thus give Brosque the chance to alternate on the flanks with Griffiths.

Based on everything I've heard so far, reckon we might be seeing at least a couple of o/s players.

Sat. Dec. 15, 01:55:00 pm AEDT  
Blogger john said...

Quality work as usual Tony
Will Craig Moore be fit enough?
I felt more comfortable after hearing Pim.

Sat. Dec. 15, 04:27:00 pm AEDT  
Anonymous Matty T said...

Great Blog, very interesting. Perhaps for the Qatar game we could have just A-League players then put a little bit more experience with some OC players for the China game. Escpecially being away the likes of a Emerton or Carney would really help. I guess we will know more when the dates are closer. Very happy with Pim.

Mon. Dec. 17, 08:51:00 am AEDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting wrap Tony. I have a question for you though.. What is your opinion on big Ogenovski from the Roar? He is a solid central defender with nice ball skills and composure while in possession. Him and Moore and formed a fomidable partnership in the centre of the Roar defense this season. Cheers

Mon. Dec. 17, 10:02:00 am AEDT  
Anonymous Macka said...

Brilliant wrap Tony.

BUT, I never understand why Muscat and Tiatto's names seem to reappear.

Under the Hiddjink and Rasic, ( I know they weren't born), regimes these players were never used or mentioned and we always finished with 11 players on the field and we qualified for the World Cup.

Macka.

Mon. Dec. 17, 10:25:00 am AEDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Tony,
Good wwrite up and excellent research work on the european leagues. I totally agree with your comment about Carle, no one here can really match him for his creativity so if available he should definitely be brought back. Assuming the 4-3-3 formation (which i am sure he will use)this is what i think should be the line up if no Europeans are available.

Theoklitos
North-Moore-Milligan-Heffernan
Corica-Colosimo-McKay
Thompson-Aloisi-Griffiths


Peter Kandy.

Mon. Dec. 17, 01:28:00 pm AEDT  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

...Quality work as usual Tony
Will Craig Moore be fit enough?
I felt more comfortable after hearing Pim...

Thanks John. I certainly hope Moore will be ok...he has been injury prone, but i think the fact there will be a break in the finals to accomodate the game will help him.

...Great Blog, very interesting. Perhaps for the Qatar game we could have just A-League players then put a little bit more experience with some OC players for the China game. Escpecially being away the likes of a Emerton or Carney would really help. I guess we will know more when the dates are closer. Very happy with Pim....

Thanks Matty T, welcome. It was great to read today in David Lewis's piece on twg that Dave Carney really wants to play on Feb 6. I don't know how happy someone like Dean Heffernan will be to hear that.

....Interesting wrap Tony. I have a question for you though.. What is your opinion on big Ogenovski from the Roar? He is a solid central defender with nice ball skills and composure while in possession. Him and Moore and formed a fomidable partnership in the centre of the Roar defense this season. Cheers...

Thanks anonymous, I'm actually a bit of a fan of big Sash....was really glad for him and the Roar when he signed for v2 cause I really rated him at the Melbourne Knights...he's been a bit up and down for thr Roar, but he's finally found the consistency alongside Moore in gthr past couple of months. Don't think he's quite ready however for international football as his distribution often leaves a bit to be desired (a little too direct in my opinon), and I'm not quite sure how effective big and rugged defenders like him can cope in Asia. Reckon it suits to be more mobile and nimble. I remember Kuwait's Bader Al Mutwa toying with Mike Valkanis on the floor in the Asian Cup qualifier in Sydney last year...reckon there might be a few ahead of him at this stage, but an influential role in a minor premiership and grand final, and a couple of injuries to others could change that.

....BUT, I never understand why Muscat and Tiatto's names seem to reappear. Under the Hiddjink and Rasic, ( I know they weren't born), regimes these players were never used or mentioned and we always finished with 11 players on the field and we qualified for the World Cup....

Macka, good to hear from ya...I think, in this case, the case for their inclusion is purely around experience in a team where thre might not be alot of it. Tiatto's form, when free of injury and suspension, has been good, while Muscat did well in the above-mentioned all A-League Asian Cup qualifier team against Kuwait last August. Muscat is so out of form (and injured) at the moment it was would be hard to mount a serious case, but Tiatto, if available, might have a little more to offer.

Reckon Verbeek will look elsewhere though.

....Good wwrite up and excellent research work on the european leagues. I totally agree with your comment about Carle, no one here can really match him for his creativity so if available he should definitely be brought back. Assuming the 4-3-3 formation (which i am sure he will use)this is what i think should be the line up if no Europeans are available.

Theoklitos
North-Moore-Milligan-Heffernan
Corica-Colosimo-McKay
Thompson-Aloisi-Griffiths...

Thanks Peter, thats a handy little line-up...having watched Corica v perth (he was probably sydney's only winner) he's probably the only guy that can create tempo from the advanced midfield role, but on the evidence of this season, his legs are struggling to keep pace...reckon in a one off game he would lift big time...not surprised you've gone for theoklitos given you see him live every fortnight - as i said there's not much between them all, i'd just like to see whoever gets the chance put some real pressure on Schwarzer.

Mon. Dec. 17, 10:07:00 pm AEDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I`d love to see a mix of a-league and euro players take part in the first WCQ.

Whilst our most talented / famous unit is based in the big euro leagues, always including some a-leaguers would give a sense of continuity.

Depending on what form he can get to with the rest of this year, I could see Djite leading the line. If he hadn`t gotten injured, he might have made a really strong case for himself.

mckay has got a hell of an engine. he could have been a very handy player at the asian cup. mobility is definitely at a premium in our new confederation.

is musialak a starter? maybe, i`d definitely want to see him in the squad though.

I like archie, hes got talent, he works hard ... but he hasn`t put the ball in the net enough. griffiths is ripping it up at the moment. he`s gotta be there.

clayton

Tue. Dec. 18, 11:12:00 am AEDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

just another name to throw around maybe for the future

adrian cacares?

while i def dont think hes ready now, i think he has the quality to be around the mark. offers directness and a quality left foot.

needs someone to consistently get the best out of him.

Tue. Dec. 18, 03:26:00 pm AEDT  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

...is musialak a starter? maybe, i`d definitely want to see him in the squad though....

clayton, good to hear from you. as you might know, i'm a massive musalik fan, but i reckon he's still finding his feet a little since his return from operation...i noticed on sunday, the game pim was watching, that melbourne pressed up very high on him, not allowing him to dictate the jets tempo...it forced the likes of durante to bypass him with the long ball, but even then he was talented enough to stay involved...hope musalik finds his feet in the next few weeks and continues to build his confidence, vital for the socceroos and olyroos...i'm sure baan and arnold (and guus if pim gets to chat to him) will emphasise just how talented musalik is, but ultimately pim will need to see it for himself.

the likes of colosimo (here) and valeri (o/s) await if pim feels musalik isnt there.

Djite is another kid that continues to rise and will definitely play for the senior side soon enough.

...adrian cacares?...

anonymous, very impressed with him at perth, quality on the ball, but gotta say he's yet to really take his chance at melbourne, partly from under-use, partly cause he's not yet seen as a 90min player...agree he needs someone to take him under his wing and really believe in him, which could be his making.

Tue. Dec. 18, 08:09:00 pm AEDT  
Blogger Hamish said...

Are we short of right-backs? Fast pace the naturalisation of Hyuk-Su Seo and that problem is solved. Would also inject real experience of Asia into the squad itself.

Wed. Dec. 19, 09:12:00 am AEDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for putting this post up, it has been an interesting lightning rod for discussion.

will be very interesting to see what verbeek`s first squad looks like. by what i have heard of his last korea squad, he isn`t afraid of playing youth.

depending on what he sees in games and camp situations, he might consider a bolter that no-one has considered yet.

whilst we haven`t produced another viduka or kewell, the breadth of footballing talent is improving. there are a lot of handy, tidy aussie footballers out there now, jason culina, luke wilkshire.

newby question - is this really happening or am i just thinking this because i started following footy about 5 years ago?

clayton

ps. @hamish - agreed. seo rocks. we are a migrant nation. here`s somebody who has really bought into his club and his new country. bring him on.

Wed. Dec. 19, 02:37:00 pm AEDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good analysis and research.

Well done!

Decentric

Wed. Dec. 19, 03:10:00 pm AEDT  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

hamish, clayton and decentric, thanks all for your comments...

hamish, as much as i'm a fan of hyuk-su and have been since v1, i'm not convinced we need to fast-track his naturalisation, particularly in light of his 34 years...as much as his form has been good, and you'd know given you're seeing him every fortnight, i reckon jade north has been going brilliantly in the heart of the jets defence, and would be my first choice at right back (his original posi) in an all a-league team....

....depending on what he sees in games and camp situations, he might consider a bolter that no-one has considered yet.....

clayton, interesting, the thing with verbeek is we just dont know...for exmaple, i would be stunned if he didnt store the names holland and celeski in the back of his mind after the weekend...both are very good technically and have been among the surprise packets this season....holland is a freak, well ahead of his years, and i spoke highly about celeskin in the opening few rounds and after the olyroos game v north korea in newcastle, before he had a falling-out with ron smith...another guy who caught my eye on the weekend was nick rizzo, who showed some great feet in the first half...

.....whilst we haven`t produced another viduka or kewell, the breadth of footballing talent is improving. there are a lot of handy, tidy aussie footballers out there now, jason culina, luke wilkshire.

newby question - is this really happening or am i just thinking this because i started following footy about 5 years ago?....

from my perspecticve and i've been watching oz football closely since the late 80s, i reckon we've always produced decent footballers, it's just that now there are heightened opportunities for these kids and far great interest and awareness...i remember the '91 u20s and the barcelona olympics teams were quality...

certainly the standard of the nsl, both the senior and youth leagues, is often undervalued these days...there was some very good football and some very good footballers, it was just the packaging that was the problem...

Wed. Dec. 19, 09:22:00 pm AEDT  
Blogger pippinu said...

Comprehensive with a capital C!!

I think with both Moore and Spike down back, and with the possibility of anyone of Aloisi/Arch/Joel (depending on formation) up front, if we do need supplementing from Europe, it is in the midfield.

It's also good news on the keeper front, with either of Covic and Vukovic more than able (I believe Covic has earned himself a cap).

The unhindered availability of Carle and Sterj means we should get them both into the squad - no questions asked.

I like the idea of getting Carney into LB (if at all possible) and relying on North to play RB. I also like the idea of getting Valeri in as well for the holding midfielder's role - although Tiatto's form has been so good this season, I'd be reasonably happy if he got the gig. His passing game this season has been as good as anyone's in the league.

Being able to bring in 2 or 3 players from overseas (if it can be done in an orderly manner) could make a big difference, and every effort needs to be put into trying to achieve that.

_______
pippinu

Thu. Dec. 20, 12:05:00 pm AEDT  

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