Osieck's balancing act

by Ben Somerford on Aug 23, 2011

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The talk about Australia blooding players with an eye for the 2014 World Cup is a broken record. We know the story. But Holger Osieck seems to have struck a balance between the old and the new during his tenure as Socceroos boss so far.

Full credit to Osieck for that. The relative success of new faces to the Socceroos side such as Matt McKay, Rhys Williams, Robbie Kruse and Michael Zullo is testament to this.

However, yesterday's press conference where Osieck named his latest Australia squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Thailand and Saudi Arabia raised a few questions in my mind about his plans going forward.

In a nutshell, my concern was about how Osieck plans to continue this delicate balancing act, particularly given the recent movements of a number of veterans in the squad.

Indeed, in the past week we've seen two Socceroos stars, Harry Kewell and Lucas Neill, find new homes in leagues which, with all due respect, are well short of the standard of top European leagues. Brett Emerton is another who is rumoured to be heading to the A-League too.

It's not ideal, but the trio's proven track record in green and gold means it's simply something Osieck has to accept for the timebeing.

However it's in this context I was a tad surprised to hear Osieck's comments regarding another veteran duo Mark Bresciano (who also just completed a move to UAE) and Vince Grella (who Blackburn are desperately trying to offload).

The duo, both 31, haven't played for Australia since the 2010 World Cup, yet Osieck said: "I met Vince in Wales, he came to see us in our camp and we had a good chat and I had Mark on the phone and we had a good chat.

"They are ready for selection, if I can put it like that, and when I think we can include them - maybe for the next game or so - it's going to happen."

I've got no doubt these two could still be useful players in the short-term, but my concern is about the long-term?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not calling for Bresc or Vinnie to be snubbed, but I'm worried about the Australia squad becoming an 'old boys club'. Osieck needs to continue to strike that balance which he's managed to do so far and that won't be easy with two more veterans.

However, my concerns aren't only about age.

Indeed, as I previously alluded to, the movements of a couple of Australia's regulars to weaker leagues is a concern of mine, Bresciano added.

When you look back at the 23-man squad which Guus Hiddink took to the 2006 World Cup and look at the clubs our boys were playing for, there's a big difference to the current squad.

From the side (substitutes included) which took to the field against Japan in our opening game at the 2006 World Cup, there were seven players from the Premier League, two from Serie A, one from La Liga and one from the Eredivisie. All these guys were playing in good leagues and ready for the world stage.

There were a few from weaker leagues, such as Bristol City's Luke Wilkshire or Dynamo Dresden's Joshua Kennedy, and Hiddink got away with them because those two played roles. However the majority of our squad was playing regular high-level football in Europe. Comparing that to our current squad is my big concern.

How are guys playing in the A-League or UAE's Pro-League going to handle the step-up at the World Cup, especially when they are key members of the side? We can't carry these guys, they need to be battle hardened.

From Osieck's 23-man squad named yesterday, there are only three Premier League players, none playing in Serie A, La Liga or the Bundesliga, but three from the Dutch Eredivisie.

Of course, Osieck can only pick the players available to him and can't decide where they play but I'm unconvinced about the wisdom of turning to guys like Bresciano and Grella in the future, particularly when budding talent such as Mathew Leckie and Nikita Rukavytsya (both playing in the Bundesliga) have been overlooked yet again.

Once again, don't get me wrong, I'm not calling for Neill, Kewell, Grella or Bresciano to never wear the green and gold again. The key point is about the balancing act Osieck which faces with his ageing squad. Osieck has handled it well so far, but he's mostly had short-term concerns such as the 2011 Asian Cup.

The 2014 World Cup is still three years away and with key Australian players already moving to weaker leagues, some big decisions need to be made. Time is on Osieck's side but it's an issue which he can't afford to ignore.