Young Socceroos future 'up in the air'

by Sebastian Hassett on Jul 29, 2011

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Being in charge of a national youth team is both a dream job and a poisoned chalice. At times, you fly under the radar and the next, everyone is staring at you. You can win matches yet the critics can be furious.

It’s a strange dynamic, one that doesn’t exist at the senior level. Win matches and your job is safe, but that might not be enough when you’re coaching the kids, especially when the future of your football nation depends on it.

This Sunday, Jan Versleijen takes charge of the Young Socceroos in their opening under-20 World Cup match in Manizales, way up in the Colombian mountains. In Ecuador, they face a team who won’t be bothered in the slightest that the match is taking place 2,150 metres above sea level. You can bet our boys will be sucking in the big ones by the end of the first 45 minutes. If you’ve done any training - sometimes even walking - at altitude, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Herein lies one of the great tests of the Australian team taking the field. With their lungs bursting and their heads feeling light, will they resort to the old-style bash-and-crash style in an effort to put the South Americans off their game [even though they are hardly afraid of getting stuck in themselves]?

I really hope our boys have been trained to be better than that. Even if it means getting beaten, the focus needs to be on playing football the right way on the big stage. Under-age tournaments, even World Cups, are about so much more than results. It’s about preparing yourself for senior battles.
Sure, if you make the final four, I can handle a grab for the glory but until then, Australia’s generation next should be drilled in the art of what makes winning football at the top level. Kick-and-rush football hasn’t won a World Cup in 45 years; it’s not going to change any time soon.

We were told it was a cornerstone of the national development program that youth teams would put a premium on ball retention, effective use of possession and playing the ball using passing rather than counter-punching.

Unfortunately, we saw little of this at the under-17 World Cup, where Australia played a far more physical style. It worked at times, but our lack of development was shown up when Uzbekistan trounced us 4-0 in the knockout stages.

Versleijen’s job is on the line in Colombia and there is plenty of talk to say that, unless he produces an outstanding result, he is gone.

However, an outstanding result would be seeing our next crop of Socceroos trying - and executing - to play football in the way we all like to see it, and the way we were promised when the Dutch revolution began.

Even if that means we are ripped apart by Spain on August 6 in our final group match, we should be able to live with that. Our aim shouldn’t be to beat them now. One day, we have to aim to beat them when it matters - in the big time.