Saturday, May 17, 2008

Nick Carle – to fit in or fit around?

THE recent influential appearance of Nick Carle in the first leg of the Championship play-off away to Crystal Palace, which I wrote about while holidaying last weekend, has incited the usual fierce debate about just where he sits in the Socceroos pecking order.

Jesse Fink, subsequently writing a piece on The World Game, continues to push Carle’s case for the national team and has even had the opportunity to personally endorse Carle to the national team manager this week.

Rarely has an Australian player incited so much debate, and trust me, it’s been going on since he burst onto the scene for Sydney Olympic back in the 1997/98 season, scoring on his debut as a 15 year old Geoff Harcombe substitute against Marconi.

I was there that day, and have been following his career closely ever since, even interviewing him for a feature piece in the Australian and British Soccer Weekly back in December 2000, just after he’d turned 19.

At the time Carle was on the verge of fulfilling the reputation as ‘the next big thing since Harry Kewell’ (by virtue not only of his ability on the ball but the fact he came from “Harry Kewell territory”, the western suburbs of Sydney), a tag bestowed on him after his goal on debut. That season, the 2000/01 NSL season, he was having a mighty influence for Olympic, running the show for the Branko Culina coached side that led the table for much for the campaign and played some brilliant stuff, but ultimately fell a couple of games short of the grand final.

By the following season, 2001/02, Carle was off overseas (an unsuccessful stint at French club Troyes), and guess what happened at his old club that season?

Yes, Olympic won the NSL title.

Sound awfully familiar? Yes, the Jets won the title one season after the influential Carle fell a couple of games short in A-League v2.

Timing is everything, and so far the stars haven’t quite aligned for Carle, who was famously also left out of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games squad after playing an influential role in getting Frank Farina’s men there.

But now appears to be his time, and the clamour for his inclusion in Pim Verbeek’s Socceroos 11 is certainly gathering momentum. Certainly, I made no secret of my disappointment at the lack of match-time afforded to Carle in the pre Asian-Cup warm-up against Uruguay in Sydney last year. Here is what I wrote at the time;

The Socceroos were now struggling to hold the ball up front, and the midfield and defence were under greater pressure. The game, at the break or soon after, was crying out for the introduction of Carle, who might have been able to hold the ball up and relieve some of the defensive pressure.

Conversely, he might be have been able to conjure up a moment of brilliance - as we so nearly saw with his first touch - for the likes of Allsopp and Thompson, but they too were given little time to make an impression.

The pity for all three - like all the A-League players not involved in ACL or Olyroos - is that they haven't been playing regularly since late February (depsite Carle being at Sydney Olympic), an issue the A-League powers need to address.

It now leaves them and Arnold with a headache ahead of the Asia Cup. Given the lack of impact from the likes of Ryan Griffiths and McDonald, there is still enough of
that 'joker' element, as Hiddink liked to call it, in selecting Carle and Thompson, and maybe even Allsopp.

Certainly Carle, as an option off the bench, might even provide some decent delivery at the dead ball, an area the Socceroos have consistently been poor in. This time it was Emerton entrusted with most of the delivery, and almost every time the next touch was a Uruguay head.

Carle, when he came on, either wasn't given the responsibility or didn't take it on. Either way it was to Australia's detriment.

That cameo appearance incited much debate, with many people arguing that Carle’s failed cross with his left peg, from the right side, was a case of showboating, and unnecessary. To my mind, they were looking at the glass half empty.

Just before that game, in my preview of the likely candidates for the Asian Cup, I wrote this about Carle;


the ‘keep-ball merchant’ of the national competition, it was wonderful to watch Newcastle build its play through him. There is no reason why he can’t fulfill the same role with the national team, in behind the main striker and in front of the likes of Grella and Culina. Main problem is that this is the same space that the likes of Cahill and Holman like to forage. Carle’s other problem is that he isn’t really suited to preferred Socceroos formation which already has Viduka as the focal point in attack. However, a player of this much ability would be a fixture in most national set-ups, if only for the fact he can conjure up an opening with one moment of inspiration.
Now, the latest to add his voice to the Carle campaign is none other than Tim Cahill. It’s quite ironic given that Carle occupies the space that is invariably occupied by Cahill when he’s fit and well.

They are different players, as I’ve noted previously.

Cahill is more to type to do his business off the ball, ghosting into the box late to get on the end of a header or some scraps in and around the box. He is the perfect foil, and can play the role of the second (or shadow or ghost) striker, or equally can get forward and support two strikers. But he is unlikely to get on the ball and thread killer final balls to the strikers.

That is Carle’s game.

Carle is the type to get behind strikers, get on the ball, keep it and kill teams, like an Andrei Arshavin on Thursday morning.

As he noted in my interview almost eight years ago, “my favourite position is in behind the strikers in that creative role”. Nothing, you sense, has changed, but what he has been doing of late is adding things to his game, like work-rate, mobility, competing in the air, making tackles, even if many of them aren’t always perfect.

What Carle doesn’t offer enough of though is that currency that attacking midfielders are often measured by, goals.

Cahill provides them, Brett Holman has been providing them of late in the Eredivise, Arshavin provides (and creates) them for Zenit and Carle, while he creates his fair share, longs to provide them.

It has been his desire to improve his goal-getting ratio for what seems an eternity. In the above-mentioned interview, he admitted his aim for that season was a return of 12 goals. He ended it with two in 26 games.

At the start of A-League v2, he went on the record claiming he wanted goals. Despite his brilliant season, he only managed three in 20.

He is desperate to prove he has the all-round game that can readily translate from league to league, competition to competition and club to country, and there is no doubt from what I’ve seen over the past week (I saw both legs of Bristol’s semi final play-offs against Crystal Palace) he is a far more aerobic and competitive player, but let’s hope that’s not at the expense of his creative and technical game.

In other words, I’m not convinced the box-to-box style of the Championship, or even some Premiership clubs, best suits his attributes. Fair enough, add those things to your game, but don’t let them become your game.

After an impressive first leg, Carle showed signs, in the second leg, that he just doesn’t have the power to drive up and down the field for games after game. Truth be told, for most of the second leg, Ben Watson was giving him the run-around.

Fortunately for Carle and Bristol, Watson missed the most important kick of his career, and the Aussie marched on, having a brilliant opening period of extra time, where he got on the ball, high up the pitch, and did what he does best; offer his team the ability to control a game.

After a few moments of doubt (after giving away the penalty), he also showed in that extra time period that he has the mental toughness to "handle the pressure", something Verbeek is constantly harping.

So, looking ahead, if that’s what Verbeek and other Socceroos managers are after – a player who can control games and create openings, if others do the donkey work – then use Carle.

But if you’re looking for a player who will score you a shit-load of goals and offer consistent box-to-box drive, then right now you'd have to look elsewhere.

12 Comments:

Blogger john said...

Thanks Tony
I remember a goal for Newcastle in which Carle just about carried the ball box to box and scored. Maybe it was from in front of the box...

Sat. May 17, 09:02:00 pm AEST  
Blogger Mike Salter said...

I think you've hit the nail on the head with the "stars not aligning" comment Tony...but one particular astrological disaster for Carle was the NSL/HAL hiatus. That was a key period for him as a player, and he was hacking away with Ryde City (in early-mid 2004) when he should have been either starring in a local league or making his way in Europe.

If I remember rightly, Farina cited his lack of action at a decent level as the main reason why he didn't pick Carle for Athens (which is pretty ridiculous when you consider that plenty of the players Farina did pick were just bench-warming in Europe at the time).

I remember his days at Olympic very well...they were great to watch, that side. Provided far better entertainment than Sydney FC has at any time in their existence, TBH.

Sat. May 17, 09:18:00 pm AEST  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

....I remember a goal for Newcastle in which Carle just about carried the ball box to box and scored....

yes john, it was the goal of the year in v2...smashing run, left ross aloisi, from memory, in his wake..

....but one particular astrological disaster for Carle was the NSL/HAL hiatus. That was a key period for him as a player, and he was hacking away with Ryde City (in early-mid 2004) when he should have been either starring in a local league or making his way in Europe.

Mike, I was thinking that exact same sentiment as I was writing my piece, that break between the leagues really didnt help him did it. Didnt know he made it all the way down to Ryde City...Chris Dunkerley might have even seen him a few time there. Chris?

....If I remember rightly, Farina cited his lack of action at a decent level as the main reason why he didn't pick Carle for Athens (which is pretty ridiculous when you consider that plenty of the players Farina did pick were just bench-warming in Europe at the time)....

Yeh, thought he should have been there, even if only for the impact he might have provided off the bench, as we saw in the quals.

...I remember his days at Olympic very well...they were great to watch, that side. Provided far better entertainment than Sydney FC has at any time in their existence, TBH.....

Mate, I was doing a bit of reminiscing earlier today reading over some of the match reports I did for ABSW and thestrip.com.au, just thinking how lucky I was to witness that kind of football week-in, week-out.

Just read the names and it's a who's who of blokes who liked to play and the beauty was that they were all often on the pitch together - Marusic, Halpin, Carle, Juric, Cardozo, Chi Chi Mendez, Owens, Emerton.

I remember in one season they popped 6 past south melb and 7 past Canberra at Belmore.

These days it would be impossible to think so many good technical players could be on the pitch at the same time, playing for the same team.

You're right, SFC haven't come close to playing football of that standard (I hoping a focussed and on-song Musialik can get them going in the right direction) and the only teams that have come close so far are CCM in v1, MV in v2 and the Jets since GVE took over.

Sat. May 17, 10:35:00 pm AEST  
Blogger againstthecrossbar said...

It is interesting when you look at the Jets S2 v S3

I am not a Jets fan and would love to hear from someone who has watched the team more closely than me but it strikes me that the jets were a far more dangerous team in S3 with Holland and Song (at the end ) playing in that number 10 role.

In S2 with all the good work of Carle and Rodriguez the Jets lacked a certain killer edge.

I think that is issue that most of our national coaches see, if you are going to be a creative playmaker then you really have to be consisently influential in your team scoring (ie The killer ball) not just pretty passing.

Sun. May 18, 01:32:00 pm AEST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Tony,

I agree with everything you wrote. I remember the first time i saw him score in NSL and i thought who is this kid?? I have never forgiven Farina for dropping Carle from the Olympic Squad back in 04, especially after turning the match around the way he did when he came on.

If Carle was playing for Argentina/Brazil/France they would not ask him to run around making tackles and tracking back constantly. Does Riquelme/Kaka/Totti run around making slide tackles and mark in their own box? No because they are asked to concentrate on the attacking third and link with the forwards.

Why can't the Socceroos afford to have such a player also? And lets face it that is who Carle is most similar to in style, that classic No. 10 just behind the front 2. By all means they should and they do all track back and make their contributions in defence but that player is their for creativity and there is absolutely no doubt that Carle gives you that.

Of course he does need to improve his goal scoring but no one is perfect. But an attacking trio of Carle/Cahill/Kennedy would trouble any defence. And lets not forget the good game he played against Nigeria, the only proper chance he was ever given to really shine.

Carle should definitely be given a proper run in the side to show what he can do. Let's hope Pim is sensible enough to do that next month.

Peter Kandy

Tue. May 20, 09:13:00 pm AEST  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

...I am not a Jets fan and would love to hear from someone who has watched the team more closely than me but it strikes me that the jets were a far more dangerous team in S3 with Holland and Song (at the end ) playing in that number 10 role....

Brendan, thanks for comment, but I gotta say, i reckon NJ were far more effective in the front third in v2 than they were in v3, where they forever seemed to be struggling to find some continuity in the final third...GVE spoke about it a zillion times...Holland made a massive difference when he was on-song (pardon the pun) in the middle of the season, but they struggled for cohesion for the most part...Joel Griffiths, the goal-getter, was their major success story in the front third in v3, with a bit of support from Holland for a period...

I felt they were far more cohesive in v2, with Carle pulling the strings, with support from Rodriguez and Griffiths, who I thought had a decent v2 (often forgotten), but obviously not as decent as his v3...problem for them was they had a MV side that were even better in the front third (no such a threat in v3).

...Of course he does need to improve his goal scoring but no one is perfect. But an attacking trio of Carle/Cahill/Kennedy would trouble any defence....

Peter, as always, a very solid argument and I do like that front trio you've identified...I've never really thought of Carle and Cahill together, but I have argued in the past that cahill, when fit, is the perfect second striker;

http://roundballanalyst.blogspot.com/2008/02/some-more-pim-observations.html

So it is concievable carle and cahill could play alongside each other, Cahill getting forward to support Kennedy, with Carle pulling the strings and feeding the strikers and wide men, who in turn could hit Kennedy-Cahill in the air....potent stuff...

Pity Cahill isn't around at the moment (what a complicated piece surgery that was!), but I'd be quite excited by the prospect of seeing that trio up top...

....And lets not forget the good game he played against Nigeria, the only proper chance he was ever given to really shine....

Yes, I commented about his performance in that game in this piece as I also thought it was a very influential performance...here it is under the sub-heading 'Baan-stormers'

http://roundballanalyst.blogspot.com/2007/11/mish-mash-of-thoughts.html

....If Carle was playing for Argentina/Brazil/France they would not ask him to run around making tackles and tracking back constantly. Does Riquelme/Kaka/Totti run around making slide tackles and mark in their own box? No because they are asked to concentrate on the attacking third and link with the forwards.

Why can't the Socceroos afford to have such a player also? And lets face it that is who Carle is most similar to in style, that classic No. 10 just behind the front 2. By all means they should and they do all track back and make their contributions in defence but that player is their for creativity and there is absolutely no doubt that Carle gives you that....

Hard to argue with any of that Peter, thanks again for your thoughts.

Tue. May 20, 09:58:00 pm AEST  
Anonymous Pinuts Pethia said...

In the past Carle has had the ability to spark a team into action or provide a moment of brilliance, but this has been balanced with his ability to go missing at stages throughout matches as well!

Haven't seen enough of him since he left the A-league to make an honest opinion.

Wed. May 21, 09:30:00 am AEST  
Blogger pippinu said...

There is no doubting that Carle is your classic No. 10, so when one asks why Australia cannot afford a player like that in their XI, the answer might be the same as the reason why most nations (and clubs) on Earth cannot afford to have a player like that.

The game has changed the last 10 to 15 years (this point is very much related to a recent discussion Tony and I had on the trend towards a greater percentage of goals being scored from set pieces and long bombs, rather than intricate team play).

Riquelme has been shunted around at club level in recent years and is not always an automatic start for his country. Totti has sometimes played as a quasi-sole striker for Roma! Kaka comes close to being a classic no. 10, but even he plays more as a 2nd striker at times (and let's be honest, when you have Inzaghi up front, with his unique style of playing the game, you need someone like Kaka close at hand).

We have to be honest - the classic no. 10 behind two strikers is a romantic notion of the past - there is simply no place for it in the modern game. To long for it is a bit like longing for Brazil's 4-2-4 formation of 1970 - it would be wonderful - but it's gone - it's never coming back.

Wed. May 21, 09:33:00 am AEST  
Anonymous Sir Nemanja said...

Just waiting for your analysis of the Champuions League final.

Thu. May 22, 10:33:00 am AEST  
Anonymous Sir Rio said...

My mate is Serbian and his English is not the best. He means 'Champions League'. I think he's been hanging around an African fellow in a blue shirt for too long.

Thu. May 22, 10:51:00 am AEST  
Anonymous sir alex said...

i'm waiting for the CL wrap as well

Thu. May 22, 01:38:00 pm AEST  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

Sir's Nemanja, Rio and Alex, thanks for your comments, but just to let you know, at this stage we have only just completed the group stage of the Champions League. The good news is that Adelaide have qualified for the quarters and joined the likes of Gamba, Kuruvchi amd Al Karama. Will be sure to keep you posted.

Thu. May 22, 08:24:00 pm AEST  

Post a Comment

<< Home