Australia making Harry Souttar at home and happy in the green and gold
CANBERRA -- Harry Souttar's debut for the Socceroos might have been a dream -- scoring a brace to go with a clean sheet -- but there was still work to be done for the big defender.
Long after spectators had left GIO Stadium in Canberra following Australia's 5-0 demolition of Nepal on Thursday, Souttar and Awer Mabil were separately helping haul equipment onto the team bus through the mixed zone.
Now, less established players in a squad are usually set these kinds of menial tasks. Picking up cones after training, carrying bags. It's something between hazing and a rite of passage.
Yet players can carry out these tasks however they want. Either with a pout, a laugh or with no expression at all. That is, if they are obliged to. For the debutant and Mabil, they were not asked or told. They wanted to. The smallest of gestures can mean the most, and little things like this matter, in any environment.
"It's got to be done," Mabil said with a grin as they waited for the path in the mixed zone to clear.
- Can Mark Rudan recreate his magic at Western United?
- A-League Tipping: Create a comp and test yourself against the best!
- Lynch: The tie that bonds South Sudan and Australia
- A-League Season Preview: New signings, key players, ones to watch
It is particularly relevant for Souttar who, despite the anecdotes of Socceroos posters on his bedroom wall in Scotland as a youngster, had only arrived in Australia for the first time in the days leading up to the game.
"I met a lot of the boys in the last camp, so we're all familiar with each other now, and it's been great to finally make my debut. And you can see on my face, I'm delighted," Souttar said post-match.
His debut was a strange one. With Souttar putting Australia up 3-0 after 25 minutes, heading in Craig Goodwin's corner, there was a significant drop in energy.
One of the few defensive interventions Souttar had to actually make was in that goal's ensuing passages, having to mop up a Nepalese transition in isolation. For those part, no definitive estimation could be made in terms of individual performance for a defender, given the game's complexion.
"I don't think we did much defending," he said. "Me and Bailey [Wright] mostly had the ball when we were involved. It's nice to be involved in a game like that.
"It could have been more, but 5-0 ... can't complain. We can be a bit more ruthless in front of goal, but we go again."
Souttar genuinely couldn't hide the smile from his face following the win. In retrospect, Socceroos boss Graham Arnold's wide smile and fist pump after Souttar's goal takes on an added gravity. People in the Socceroos camp were genuinely happy for him in that moment, and with evident reason: For the Australian national team, losing players to countries of an individual's ethnic origin is not exactly a new thing -- the highest profile case being Josip Simunic -- to play for a country who takes full advantage of its diaspora in Croatia.
This has become an undeniably normal thing in international football but, for the Socceroos, it is largely a recent phenomenon. Souttar, Martin Boyle and Fran Karacic have been given varying degrees of scope to play for Australia in recent times, after being born in a foreign country.
For Boyle, that scope has been affected by injury. There is little doubt he would be in the frame for the Socceroos if fully fit and playing regularly.
For Souttar and Karacic on the other hand, that post-game instance raises the topic of integration. With regards to the Socceroos and Australian football, it could be a tricky subject to discuss. Because in this country, realised or not, some are more Australian than others.
Both can and do belong in terms of talent and footballing aptitude, but some just get along better. Evidently, though, that should not be held against Souttar. Aside from his aptitude, his conduct received the most praise from his coach after the win.
"I think it made it easier [to integrate[ because he was part of the Olyroos as well. We try to send the same message to all the kids, as well as the Socceroos boys," Arnold said post-match.
"Harry's a very good player, and he's very calm. I don't think he put a foot wrong tonight. When you look at him playing at Fleetwood Town every week, on loan from Stoke City, it's all about him wanting to play every week and improving his game.
"He belongs with us, and it's been a great find for us."