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Put Matty’s Drive Inside

by Michael Huguenin on Sep 12, 2011

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Holger Osieck is my kind of manager.

The German has taken on the job of Socceroos’ chief with an open mind. New players have been tried, sometimes in new positions. It’s as if any Australian is an option as long as they can kick a ball to an acceptable level. I like that kind of manager.

Osieck has also shown a willingness to make the tough call and gamble. Against Saudi Arabia this week, the former manager of Urawa Red Diamonds dropped Australia’s talisman, Tim Cahill, and the Socceroos didn’t miss a beat, winning 3-1 in the sweltering heat of Dammam.

But every clever gambler knows when he’s made a mistake.

One of the most notable changes between Australia’s line-up against Thailand on Friday and against Saudi Arabia four days later was the move of Matt McKay further up the pitch. Since being somewhat ‘unearthed’ at international by Osieck at the Asian Cup, McKay has been tried a few times at fullback, particularly late in matches. The former Brisbane Roar captain hasn’t exactly thrived in defence and against the Thais was much less influential than Socceroos’ fans have grown to expect.

Against Saudi Arabia, McKay was back where he belonged - in midfield – and he thrived. But in my opinion Osieck still hasn’t got it quite right. Holger needs to take inspiration from an American TV show from the start of this millennium.

We need ‘Matty in the Middle’.

Since the injury of Jason Culina at the Asian Cup Australia has been searching for his replacement in central midfield. The pair of Mile Jedinak and Carl Valeri has been tried but lacks creativity. Jedinak in particular isn’t up to scratch when it comes to ball distribution. Against Saudi Arabia it took the former Mariner almost half an hour to find his range. Australia can’t afford to cough up possession so often.

Neil Kilkenny has also been tried as a more creative option. The stocky 25 year old has the ability to split the defence with a pass (his through ball to McKay against Thailand for Australia’s first goal was pinpoint). But against the Thais Valeri and Kilkenny were too static. Kilkenny’s little legs don’t get him anywhere fast.

Matt McKay ticks all the boxes as a more dynamic and creative central midfielder. McKay’s natural instinct is to attack. The 28 year old constantly tries to turn and face the opposition defence. The left-footer likes to pass the ball forward and then sprint into space to provide another option. While McKay has played out wide for the Socceroos, and at times did the same for Brisbane, his desire to get the ball and be in the thick of the action means he drifts inside. It’s where he’s most comfortable.

Plus Australia wouldn’t lose much in terms of defensive structure with McKay in the middle. Yes, he’s small (only 1.71 metres tall) but he doesn’t shirk a tackle. McKay’s no fullback but his Energizer bunny ability to run all day means he’ll harry the opposition all game. Plus he’s the kind of player you can trust to do his job time and again. McKay won’t forget where he’s supposed to be when the Socceroos are in defence.

A pairing of McKay and Valeri in central midfield would provide a strong foundation for the Socceroos. It’d be a combination just as hard working as Jedinak and Valeri but much more creative and attacking. Plus with McKay in the middle of the park, Australia would benefit from much more speed and dynamic play than it would with Kilkenny in the engine room. McKay will get forward at every opportunity and support the likes of Brett Holman, Josh Kennedy and Cahill.

McKay has quickly become a crucial part of the Australian national team. Osieck evidently likes him and if there’s one area of Osieck’s side that still hasn’t really worked out it’s in central midfield. With the Socceroos’ plethora of options in attacking midfield and out wide, McKay could lose his spot (particularly if Harry Kewell is fit). That’s less than Glasgow Rangers’ new signing deserves. But don’t worry Holger, there’s a simple solution that covers all bases.

‘Matty in the Middle’.