Berger leaves sour taste in mouth

by Michael Huguenin on Jul 16, 2011

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Remember when you were at school and you got in trouble?

It happened to all of us at some stage, some more than others.

I remember that there were two main ways teachers reprimanded students. Either in front of the whole class or quietly one-on-one.

The theory of ticking off a student in front of the rest of the class seemed to be as much about warning other students as actually punishing the guilty party.

But it seemed if a teacher really wanted to get through to you they’d take you aside one on one. It at least worked for me.

When I was publicly chastised I’d get defensive, angry and ignore my guilt. I’d be pissed off that the teacher had embarrassed me in front of the class. I would be less likely to change my behaviour and more likely to try and hit back at the teacher in another way.

But when taken aside, one on one I realised it was serious. I’d usually take the arguments of the teacher on board and try and improve. It’d be there way of saying ‘I’m disappointed but hope now you’ll change’. It worked much better.

Based on this, it seems to me that Australia’s technical director Han Berger has got it wrong with his statements about Brent McGrath and Steven Lustica.

Jan Versleijen announced his squad for the FIFA World Youth Cup this week. There’s a lot of expectation surrounding this crop of Young Socceroos. Their potential for success at the tournament in Colombia is exciting and the squad looks a good one. But at the announcement of the squad the absence of McGrath and Lustica stood out.

McGrath, in particular, seemed a shoe-in to be involved. The Danish-based striker made his Socceroos’ debut this year. Lustica, at least, would have been handy to have in the squad. The versatile former Gold Coast youth team captain can play in defence and midfield and has just signed for Hajduk Split in Croatia.

So why did they miss out? Basically the two young Aussies chose to stay with their European clubs for preseason rather than compete for Australia.

It’s obviously not ideal. Plus it’s frustrating that the Young Socceroos will be without two players who definitely could have played a role (in McGrath’s case, potentially a key one) in a successful campaign. But I believe Han Berger’s response to the young lads’ decisions to remain unavailable was the wrong move and won’t help the situation.

Berger basically revealed, through the media, that McGrath’s prospects of future Socceroos selection would likely be affected by this decision. Lustica, presumably, would be in a similar boat if he were ever considered good enough.

Now I don’t want to argue the merits of this pseudo-suspension. Personally, I think that for a little while, it’s probably fair enough that the two boys are given a bit of a slap on the wrist and denied spots in Australian squads.

But it’s the public nature of this statement that worries me.

McGrath and Lustica are in tight situations at their clubs right now. First team positions are on the line in preseason. You can’t blame them too much for choosing club over country at this stage, especially if there was pressure from their clubs and ultimatums made that if they went to Colombia they’d be on the outer at club-level.

McGrath is a big chance to be in the starting XI for his side Brondby IF when the Danish league season starts this weekend. He’s played in five of Brondby’s six preseason games, scored twice and started up front twice. The 187cm tall striker has been at the club since 2006. McGrath really needs to finally cement a starting spot to give his career a kick. Australia should support him in that.

Lustica has just moved to Croatia to play for Hajduk. As a rookie, he has seen a surprising amount of game time in preseason. He’s played in the second half of six of Hajduk’s seven preseason matches so far, mainly as a midfielder. You can’t blame the former GCU youngster for trying to ensure that he’s a part of the senior side. Lustica barely got that opportunity in the A-League.

I believe Berger (and Versleijen and Holger Osieck) should have made it clear that being unavailable for the World Youth Cup would mean a period of non-selection in Australian representative squads, but I think it’s more important for the future of Australian football that in the end these boys are kept within the fold rather than lost forever. The public nature of the reprimand could, unfortunately, lead to pissed off youths who decide to spite Australia by going in another direction. Berger is 61, he should be the one showing restraint, not lashing out through the media.

In the end, while this Young Socceroos’ campaign is exciting due to the potential of the young group, it’s more important that in four to eight years time that this group makes the progression into the senior team.

If Brent McGrath or Steven Lustica is good enough at that point, who will care if they didn’t play in Colombia? Keep the young fellas interested and involved. Make sure they know they’re wanted. You never know how good they might become and we’d always prefer them in green and gold to another nation’s colours.