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Olympic cap a top call and terrible all at once

by Mark van Aken on Jan 11, 2012

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Much like former Olympic coach Graham Arnold, FFA’s decision to cap Olyroos selection to three per club has got me in two minds.

In many ways it’s a sensible decision, designed to stop A-League clubs being guttered for several weeks at a crucial time in the season. More over a crucial time for the entire league.

After much bloodletting in the off-season, the latest instalment of the A-League has stopped the haemorrhaging that had many questioning the entire competition’s future. Nevertheless, massive clouds hang over most club’s heads still, and gutting them of talent right now, albeit for something as important as Olympic qualification, it could be said, would be folly.

The flip side is poor old Aurelio Vidmar and his ambitions of seeing the green and gold grace the fields of London later this year.

For the most part, qualification results have been underwhelming, which has come down to Australia’s tough group, but mostly because Vidmar has been forced to select only A-League-based players for much of the campaign as matches have fallen on non-FIFA dates.

In August last year the former Adelaide United coach feared he’d be ‘slapped in the face’ by foreign clubs if he asked for players to be released. That being the case, you can only imagine that yesterday’s announcement came as a kick to the nether regions.

Curiously FFA’s media release announcing the cap included a slab of comments from national technical boss Han Berger. Musings from Vidmar were conspicuous by their absence.

“In this case, Aurelio Vidmar is confident he can select a very strong squad within the limits of using no more than three players per club,” read Berger’s comments.

Really?

It leads to one question: Is qualifying for the Olympics more important than, as Berger phrased it, allowing “A-League clubs [to] plan with some certainty for the period”?

The answer is subjective. However, if it is deemed that national teams, especially the second most senior ones striving to leap on to the world’s biggest multi-sport stage are at the pinnacle of the sport, then you must surely surmise that FFA has erred.

In the scheme of things though, exactly how important is Olympic football to Australia, in terms of stature and development? Did sending a team to Beijing or Athens deliver us anything tangible? I’m not attempting to answer this question, merely asking it.

Making the Olympics was once the jewell in Australian football. But then we started making FIFA’s bigger better version and we’ve apparently worked out what much of the world already knew: Olympic football isn’t all that.

No matter your point of view, you can’t help but feel for Vidmar, who’s looking more and more like the kid on the school ground at lunch time picking his team from an increasingly shallow pool of talent.

Pundits and punters take note, should we fail to get to London, cut the former pint-sized striker some slack.