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A-League dodges bullet... for now

by Ben Somerford on Sep 28, 2011

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Socceroos coach Holger Osieck wasn't his usual affable self at Tuesday's press conference as he defended his decision to leave out A-League marquee duo Harry Kewell and Brett Emerton from his latest Australia squad. First, he was a bit angry, then he was a bit mad.

The German made his reasons clear for why Kewell and Emerton where excluded from the squad and it was a bit of an unusual justification, where he didn't really mention the Round One A-League blockbuster (which they are now available for), rather claiming they were short on match fitness and needed to settle into their new clubs.

Did we buy it or not? I'm not sure, but, as I said, this wasn't the normal Holger.

He stressed the point he made the call himself without any pressure from the FFA, but it's all a bit coincidental. In fact he was so keen to stress his point, he went onto call himself the “master of his own decisions”! It's hard not to like him for that comment.

Not for a second am I saying there was FFA pressure, but the German would have known the bad publicity he would've attracted if he called up either or both of the pair. He was on a hiding to nothing if he did in matches against lowly opponents Malaysia and Oman. He used a bit of common sense and made the right call (that's assuming the other Socceroos get the business done next week).

On the flipside, Holger's mad moment came when he uncontrollably broke out into laughter after he said: “I always keep saying you can only dance with the girls who are in the room, so in this case I have to dance without Emmo.” Again, it was funny stuff and endearing too. You gotta love the bloke.

But the former Urawa Red Diamonds coach made an excellent point later in the conference when he discussed the A-League failing to recognise FIFA International dates.

“This is a unique situation in the world we've got here, where a local federation does not accept a FIFA date. The calendar is not being respected and that should never happen. You also de-value your league by doing this,” he said.

Indeed, while this is nothing new, he is 100 per cent right. Ignoring FIFA dates means Emerton and Kewell will likely be unavailable for their clubs during the November window when the Socceroos face Oman and Thailand away. Osieck made that pretty clear on Tuesday morning. This situation totally de-values the league.

Sydney are due to face Perth during that period, while Victory are scheduled to travel to Central Coast. Those sides' chances of victory in those games are improved by the fact Sydney and Victory's star players will likely to be absent. That gets at the integrity of the competition.

In terms of de-valuing the league, well, for example, during that period Sydney are due to make their only trip to Perth this season. This means it's probable most West Australians won't get a chance to see Emerton in the flesh this campaign. It's a bit of a waste really.

The key point here is when a club spends outlays big money on signing a player, that valuable asset needs to be milked for every penny its worth, on and off the field. When it's not due to silly rules, it's a major waste.

Osieck added: “All the big leagues in the world know this and respect it: I won't mention the Bundesliga but the Premier League, La Liga and Serie A all do it. They schedule their leagues around these dates and they have to do it here as well. It is very easy.”

Australia shouldn't do it simply because that's what everyone else does, but when it makes perfect sense and is “very easy” then it's ridiculous not to.

The argument against this is the A-League needs consistency for the fans' and home viewers' sake and games every weekend provide that. But is this really true. Doesn't a Socceroos fixture provide the football fix and justification for a weekend off? And does this factor outweigh the integrity of the A-League?

This issue isn't new but with two genuine international regulars joining the A-League for this season, it's become more relevant than ever.

Throw in the fact more and more Socceroos are turning to the A-League, such as new Adelaide pair Dario Vidosic and Jon McKain, while Osieck is increasingly looking to the competition for talent, such as Matt McKay, then it's obvious it's a problem which isn't going to go away.

The solution, well, as Osieck says is very easy.