FORMER Socceroo Craig Moore has called for an overhaul of the national team before they flop in both the World Cup and Asian Cup in a revealing exclusive interview.
The 2006 World Cup veteran - who came out of retirement to bolster the backline at the 2010 World Cup - believes the axe has to fall on the older players to allow the next gen to regenerate the side.
But Moore, 37, lamented some of the poor career choices would-be Socceroos have made which have helped deny them the chance to force their way into coach Holger Osieck's plans.
And he tells Beau Busch we should now focus on trying to win the Asian Cup on home turf in 2015 - and consider taking a younger inexperienced side to Brazil as preparation for that goal.
BB: Can you tell me about your role with the FFA as an elite player mentor/liaison manager?
CM: The role that I have got as the elite player mentor is a fantastic role. I’m extremely passionate about seeing players do better than the generation before and go on to bigger and better clubs and do bigger and better things for the National Team. We have had a lot of examples of players making poor decisions, which is something we want to try to change because it is a short career and to lose two or three years by a poor decision or going to a country where you might not get paid or be training by yourself should not happen. For me, we have so many players, past and present, in whatever country you can think of so there is always someone to ask and get advice from before you make a decision and I just want to help those players make the right one and I am basically a safety net.
Is your job becoming more important with the older generation coming to an end and not having the biggest pool of players to pick from?
At the moment there is a worrying trend. The worrying trend is that players that are overseas aren’t playing for the best teams and aren’t playing regularly. In regards to the national team and national team performance, the Middle East is not the place, we have to have people playing in Europe, in better leagues than they are playing in at the moment. I can fully understand that it is a short career and opportunities come along, but for me, it is a worrying trend because if you look at our national team now, it is a real struggle to select a team. More importantly, I’m looking at the World Cup and yes, we have qualified - but we are all starting to see it’s going to be a real struggle when we get there.
We now find ourselves in the situation where change has to happen. Seven months after the World Cup we have the Asian Cup in Australia, where the aim has to be to win it. Are we in a position with the team we have at the moment to win the Asian Cup even as the home country? My honest opinion right now is no. We have to start planning ahead and looking further forward. It is easy to say after a poor performance like Brazil but I think outside of Japan in Asia, we are in position where we have the lion’s share of possession and we maybe don’t create loads of chances but we don’t get tested too much defensively and I have always thought that as soon as you start playing teams of the highest level, that are looking to win World Cups, defensively we are going to hurt. Matty McKay, God bless him. I love him, but finally someone targeted him and showed just how much of a weakness that position is for us, I don’t blame him - he is not a left back.
Holger Osieck has placed his faith in the older generation but many of these players are fast approaching the end of the careers is it a concern that their likely replacements have been given so little experience during his reign?
It is. At the end of the day, Holger is his own man and his job, I’m presuming, was to get us to Brazil and I don’t know if there was any more to it than that. I don’t know if he was also meant to bring through a younger generation but that has not been the case as there certainly hasn’t been too much of that. I think it has been results at all costs, which I guess, okay, we are in the World Cup but we are now realising there has to be a bigger and better plan. For me, and I’m certainly not trying to be disrespectful to the likes of Mark Schwarzer and Lucas Neil who have been fantastic, but it should not be left up to players about how they go out. For me, I thought of the future of the national team when I retired in 2006, that is why I didn’t go to the Asian Cup in 2007 because I thought it was a great opportunity for some young guy to go and get international experience as I didn’t think I would still be around at 2010. I ended up going to the 2010 World Cup because no one had nailed down that position but I was 34, which is still a little bit younger than some of the current players.
It is a hard one as well because, are they [the older generation] the better players? They are the better players if they are playing every week at their club. As a player if you are selected for your country, you would like to think you are playing week-in-week-out for your club but unfortunately that is not a position we are in at the moment and that has to be a concern. How many players are going to go to the Asian Cup in 2015 with 30 plus caps to their name? There won’t be many and the ones that will be closest will be the ones that are in Australia.
How big a difference does it make playing regularly for your club when you come into the national team?
You can’t turn it on and off like a light switch. You have to be playing for a period of time at good intensity and it has to be regular. If you are goalkeeper, it is timing. If you are a player, it is confidence and timing, all these things. If you are not getting it on a regular basis and then you are thrown into something at a good level, you will struggle. Even when you are playing regularly and you come up against the best, it’s a real dog fight because you are playing against real quality.
Do think there we could use Brazil to give the next generation experience and perhaps take a bit of punishment with the view of looking to the future?
Yeah why not? Like I said, I don’t want to be disrespectful and take things away from people who have had excellent careers with the national team - but it is about the team. I think we are not going to win the World Cup with them [the older generation] so why not focus on younger players. You might have to take your medicine and take some bad results, but what the players will learn should outweigh the negatives. It can’t be an all or nothing scenario - you have to have a balance.
Do results like Brazil mean that the squad that is likely to be go to the World Cup is still very much up in the air?
I think there are a lot of spots up for grabs. Previously you had one or two bolters but it was pretty much settled. For me now, if I’m a player based in Europe, the Middle East or Australia and I have had a bit of sniff with the Socceroos, I’m thinking if I buckle down this year and I play some good football, I have a great chance of going to this World Cup. We still have players like Shane Lowry, who is playing at good level and hasn’t had a look in, and Scotty McDonald, who everyone will look at and think he hasn’t scored for Australia but I look at him knowing the game and the way he did well at club level and it was always with a bigger striker around him and the wee man took up some great goalscoring positions. When he has played for Australia, it has been leading the line and that is a tough ask as that is not the way he plays and the type of game he is used to.
The Socceroos were badly exposed by Brazil, you mentioned the issue of left back but do you think more needs attention?
I would play Mile Jedinak as a central defender. He has got the mentality, the physique and he has the experience even though it is not his number one position and most importantly we need someone in that position as it is going to be very difficult if Lucas and Sasha [Ognenovski] continue to play together. You can then put Milligan and Bresciano in the middle of the park as I don’t think the Jedinak and Bresciano combination works. Jedinak and Holland doesn’t work either because they are too similar. I think Jedinak has to play as central defender, he is playing at a good level and at that kind of level players are smart enough, he can play that position no problem.
Trent Sainsbury has shown a lot of promise in your old position. Do you think he is one that could play a big part for the Socceroos in the future?
I will be interested to see how he goes this season. He has shown some good signs. I think he reads the game well. I certainly think he has got something.
How important do you think Tom Rogic will be for the Socceroos, another young player who hasn’t had as many opportunities as most would have liked?
We all want to see more of Tommy. Hopefully opportunities will come his way at Celtic, they will have a lot of football this year with the Champions League, the Cups and the League so he should get good game time. We just need a couple of players to start getting regular game time. It won’t put us in an unbelievable situation but it will help.
What do you make of the criticism of Holger?
There is a lot of criticism of Holger and I sort of feel sorry for him. It is a tough job when you don’t have people playing at the top level and they are not playing every week and you have to try to pick a team that people are going to pick holes in. His headache is who can I play that is playing regularly and knows what it takes to get us over the line. He does not have a headache where he has two players challenging for every position - that would be great pressure to be under - but he has not got that.
Do you think the challenge of bringing through the next generation of players has been more difficult for Holger than previous Socceroo coaches as the generation you were part of were virtually impossible to leave out? My point is that someone like yourself who started every week for a Champions League team will always be brought into the Socceroos at a young age so the team automatically has young players coming into it?
That is right. The younger players moved on the older players when I was coming through because we were playing first team football and we were playing in better leagues. You could only go on and say we were young and inexperienced for so long because that knock on the door was consistent and getting harder and harder every month. That is a position that would be fantastic if we could get ourselves in again.
Finally there is a lot of negativity around the Socceroos at the moment but what do you make of the future of the national Team?
I have just been away with the Australian U16 team and I think for the future we are in a really good position. I have been watching 15-year-old kids who really understand their position and really understand football, their game awareness is fantastic and they have a nice touch and that allows coaches to really work on the detail of the game and I think in the future that will put us in a good position. Before we may have still been working on these things when they were 18 or 20 but now we are teaching these kids much younger the details and street smarts they need and help you win games. Unfortunately you never see the results as quickly as you would like but I certainly see with my own eyes that future certainly does look good.