In three games at the recent World Cup, playing the teams ranked 7, 11 and 12 in the World, we conceded five goals – one of them a dodgy VAR penalty and two others were super unlucky deflections. All things considered, that was not too bad for a country rated 36, so clearly, defense is not a problem. Australia’s biggest problem is scoring goals.
“No shit Sherlock!” I hear you cry.
It’s one thing to diagnose the bleedin’ obvious, another thing entirely to do something about it. But that is exactly Graham Arnold’s job – to find a way to score goals when we don’t seem to have any top notch goal scorers. It is also the job of Australian football more generally, going forward, to do something (anything!) to help identify and nurture goal scoring talent for the benefit of both the Socceroos and the A-League.
For some reason, we don’t breed strikers. We breed excellent goalkeepers and plenty of good defenders – we’ve always done that and we’ve traditionally been hard to break down. We also hold our own in the midfield department as demonstrated so capably by Aaron Mooy and Mile Jedinak in Russia. (Mooy is described by plenty on the Huddersfield fan forum as the best player ever to pull on a Town shirt.)
But that’s where it stops for Aussie football. The great Australian strikers and attacking midfielders are all legends of our game, but we haven’t really had a striker since Viduka. Timmy Cahill was a goal machine for the Socceroos but he was more of a spring-heeled attacking midfielder than a striker. Kewell, similarly, was more of a goal scoring winger. Where are the great Australian strikers?
I have nothing scientific to base the following on, but as a player, coach and football philosopher, it seems to me that football is about time and space – most crucially, having time and space in front of goal.
In front of goal is where the defenders are clustered most thickly and are most desperate to close you down. Therefore, you need either a player with the speed and technique to cope with that all by himself, or you need a team strategy to generate time and space where it will most hurt the opposition.
The teams rated in the top 10 (by and large) are the ones with excellent strikers who can make and score goals themselves. These are the teams with the best leagues in the world, or with a number of players (especially strikers) playing in the best leagues in the world.
Even mega A-League fans like me would pause before claiming our league was in the top 10 – in terms of quality – and we don’t have a lot of players playing in the top leagues. Certainly we don’t have any out and out strikers in the top leagues. Matt Leckie (a winger) at Hertha Berlin is about as close as we get. (Although there is plenty of quality in the J-League where Andrew Nabbout is winning some fans.)
This means that no Australian strikers are being subjected to the time and space constraints of the top leagues and being forced to improve in order to survive and prosper. Australian strikers, playing in leagues more forgiving in the time and space stakes do not need to improve as much as those in the more rarefied leagues and so are not equipped to deal with the highest quality defenses in major tournaments.