Thursday, January 03, 2008

A fresh start for the technicians of our world

A LITTLE more insight yesterday afternoon into Pim Verbeek’s thoughts ahead of our first 2010 world cup qualifier in just over a month.

In selecting a 22 man all A-League training squad for a two day meet-and-greet in western Sydney, starting on Monday, Verbeek provided some insight into the type of player he likes, and the good news is he has littered his squad with the cream of the A-League’s technicians.

He proved, in just one selection, that he values players who value the ball and can pass it, and has at long last provided some recognition to a couple of players who might have seen more national team time over the past decade had the Socceroos been in the hands of managers who valued the more subtle approach.

I’m talking about Tom Pondeljak and Ufuk Talay.

The former, Pondeljak, is past his best, no longer the influential attacking force that made him the NSL’s hottest attacking force in the final five years of the now defunct league, yet Verbeek has seen in the space of a few weeks what Frank Farina and Graham Arnold must have been blind to for years.

Over the past couple of years, on this blog, I’ve made no secret of the fact I felt Pondeljak should have played many more games in green and gold than the four he had in 2002, so it is great to see him recognised, even in the twighlight of his career, when injury appears to have slowed him down.

As a driving force from central midfield, someone who can link with or get beyond the striker, there have been few better on the domestic scene, and if his legs can hold out, there is little doubt he would be as hard to pin down for Qatari midfielder as he is for a Leigh Broxham or a Jonas Salley.

Meanwhile, Sydney FC, on a hot streak, have been controlling games of late, and a fair bit of that control can be attributed to the deep-lying promptings of Ufuk Talay, a player ear-marked for Socceroos honours ever since he burst onto the national football scene as a teenager for Marconi.

Against the Central Coast, who were down a man, it was Talay who pulled the strings and wrestled back the ascendancy for FC after the Mariners had gone two-up. What has been so impressive about his game, especially of late, his been his range of passing, both short and long, as well as his ability to put his foot on the ball and slow things down to the tempo he wants, qualities that would do doubt resonate at international level, which isn’t always played at the helter-skelter pace of some A-League games. The same can be said about his FC team-mate Steve Corica.

Pondeljak, Talay and Corica aren’t the only technicians rewarded by Verbeek. The Newcastle Jets, up until this week’s loss to Wellington, have been doing a great defensive job, especially when Andrew Durante and Jade North have been at the heart of the defence.

Verbeek no doubt recognised this after seeing a dominant defensive display by the Jets at Telstra Dome in round 17, where Durante, in particular, and North, had smashing games. No doubt he compared it with the shocker against Wellington, where Steve Laybutt was back in the defence (thanks to a Durante suspension) and proving what a calamity it was that he played so many Socceroos games under Farina.

Again, when Durante made his NSL debut as a 17 year old sweeper for Sydney Olympic (I was fortunate enough to be there), many a judge spoke about how poised he looked on the ball and how well he read the game, qualities that have no doubt caught Verbeek’s eyes seven years and two broken legs later.

Another libero style defender who impressed in the NSL and has continued to do so in the past two A-League seasons is Melbourne’s Roddy Vargas. Like Durante, he is often looking to play out of the back, but probably shades the Newcastle man for pace.

Much has been made about the recent defensive frailties in the A-League, which might open the door for a player who impresses Verbeek in Bossley Park and beyond.

One of the interesting selections was choice of six Jets players. No doubt he was impressed with Gary van Egmond’s system and style of play, one that mirrors the Dutch 4-3-3, the one favoured by Verbeek.

Other than Durante, Jade North, Ante Covic and the Griffiths brothers, Joel and Adam, there is the interesting selection of Matt Thompson. Bereft of quality left-sided defenders, especially after Dean Hefferan’s broken tibia (Verbeek is said to have been impressed by the Mariner), Thompson comes into calculations as he offers plenty of drive from left back, combined with solid technique.

After a brilliant v2, he had a poor start to v3, but in the past few weeks, after a spell further forward, he has re-discovered some of his forward drive.

Another player who has come back from long term injury and proved he can combine drive from midfield with good use of the ball is Adelaide’s Lucas Pantelis, a player, like Pondeljak, I’ve felt has been very unlucky not to wear the green and gold the past five or so years.

Perhaps his Adelaide team-mate, Travis Dodd, can consider himself a little more fortunate after some recent poor form, but once again he is a player that suits Verbeek’s three-man forward formation. Another man lucky to be there on recent form is Kevin Muscat, but his leadership qualities are obvious, especially if Craig Moore isn’t around.

Elsewhere, the likes of Archie Thompson, Joel Griffiths and John Aloisi choose themselves, while Matt McKay, Alex Brosque and, to a lesser extent, John Hutchinson, Simon Colosimo, Alex Wilkinson and Jamie Coyne, deserve a call-up after recent good form.

Between the sticks, Michael Theoklitos looks out of the race for the no. 1 local no. 1.

Ultimately, whether any of these A-Leaguers are selected in the final Qatar squad might depend on how much they impress in the month ahead (I still suspect we will have a few European-based players), but for now many will be just wrapped to have finally been noticed.

Different coaches think in different ways, and the early indication is that Verbeek will value sound passing technique, brains, good skill and pace over the physical attributes that have at times dominated the A-League. Too often in the past reputation has superseded performance, so this is a refreshing selection, despite the age of many of the ‘newcomers’.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I cant believe Theoklitos did not get picked! Bolton is not as good...Otherwise good selections.

Peter Kandy

Thu. Jan. 03, 04:20:00 pm AEDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is only the first squad, who knows Theo might get called up as part of the second squad.

Also a few of these players came on recommendations form Baan/Arnold i suppose..

Regardless im personally happy as well he is looking at more attributes than just physical/stamina....

Thu. Jan. 03, 08:33:00 pm AEDT  
Anonymous prof tournesol said...

I see that Kaz Patafta didn't make the Olyroos squad either, not a surprise as he has had next to no game time from Ernie Merrick, and when he has played well, Merrick has taken him off. He's just the sort of player who values technique that the A-league should be nurturing rather than ignoring. Why he's good enough for the Benfica reserves and first team bench but not the Victory bench is a mystery to me.

Similarly can't understand why Theo is not in the camp squad, you can't say that he hasn't had the practice!

Fri. Jan. 04, 09:09:00 pm AEDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

has adam griffiths got a free ride cause of his brother?

come a long way this season but not that far!

Sat. Jan. 05, 01:45:00 pm AEDT  
Anonymous Melita Marvel said...

Agreed on Patafta's exclusion, his lack of game time for the Victory has really scuppered his chances of getting noticed. What's obvious is the kid's got rare creativity and touch, and if extended the right coaching and development looks a lock to figure prominently in future national squads....that's IF.

Also staggered Theoklitos has been given a closer look. He's easily top-three in terms of locally based keepers.

Sun. Jan. 06, 11:09:00 pm AEDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agree with the aforementioned respondents about Kaz Patafta's failure to be selected for the Socceroos. I'd love Ernie Merrick to justify in detail his rationale for Patafta's lack of playing time at club level.

Interesting thoughts again, Tony.


Thu. Jan. 10, 12:39:00 am AEDT  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

All, thanks very much for your comments..

Very intersting sentiments re Patafta...agree the lack of game time has really affected his Olyroos hopes, such a shame...

I was really impressed with a couple of recent perfromances, especially when he linked up with Archie Thompson...reckon these two guys are on the same wavelength, and it shows when they're on the pitch together, some lovely interchange.

Perhaps he can make a late push via the ACL, which should suit him, if Merrick ever gives him a sustained run...

Thu. Jan. 10, 11:22:00 pm AEDT  

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