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Feb 11, 2013

Ageing without grace

The A-League Angle delves into the world of Australian football, analysing key talking points from the top-flight club competition Down Under.

Ageing without grace

Lucas Neill: clubless.
Harry Kewell: clubless.
David Carney: clubless.
Jason Culina: now clubless too.

What has become of Australia's veteran players?

Last week's Socceroos squad, which went down 3-2 against Romania in an international friendly, highlighted the disappointing example being set by so many of the national team's former heroes. The list of clubs Australian players find themselves in reads as a desperate attempt to grab as much cash as one can before retirement.

Ryan McGowan and Matt McKay are playing in China, Mark Bresciano is in Qatar, Alex Brosque the UAE and Robert Cornthwaite plies his trade in South Korea. For some, this may be their one shot at playing and living abroad, and good luck to them. For others, their talent is being hidden away from the fans who have supported them for their entire career.

And who could blame them for not realising this? Australia skipper Neill has been released from a second west Asian club in 12 months, Kewell left Melbourne Victory after last season and hasn't been sighted since, and Carney has only managed a trial with Iranian outfit Persepolis after leaving Uzbekistan. That's not exactly painting the greatest picture for Australia's youth.

The problem is also more prevalent than last Wednesday's squad showed. New York Red Bulls' Tim Cahill was overlooked entirely by Socceroos boss Holger Osieck, albeit in his off-season. Plus, what of Matt Spiranovic and Sasa Ognenovski in Qatar, Luke Devere and Nathan Burns in South Korea, Michael Marrone and Erik Paartalu in China, or Nick Carle in the UAE?

Of course, the issue is not with players choosing to work abroad. The world game will always see transfers across the globe, and that aspect of football should be celebrated.

However, national team aspirants - particularly veterans - must surely aim higher than scrambling for a big pay cheque, lest they end up nomads like Neill, Kewell and Carney. Giving back to Australian fans who followed their fortunes around the world by playing in the A-League would be a start.

That leads us to Culina's bust-up with Sydney FC coach Frank Farina last week. The midfielder was dropped from the Sky Blues' squad which defeated Brisbane Roar 2-1 on Sunday for reportedly refusing to obey the boss' instructions at training.

After the match, Farina suggested that Culina's time at the club may be at an end, and confirmation landed on Monday afternoon that the 32-year-old has had his contract terminated.

Nobody wins in a situation such as this. Sydney threw Culina a lifeline when his career was at its lowest ebb but a few months ago, and Farina could have used the former PSV man's versatility heading into the finals race. But again, an example of an experienced player putting himself above the cause is thrust in front an impressionable younger generation.

Those who won the nation's hearts and minds by qualifying for successive World Cups in 2006 and 2010 will, at this rate, be remembered for their deterioration at club level rather than their feats for the Socceroos.

Three days remain in the A-League's mid-season transfer window, leaving the potential for these fallen stars to rise once more, because it would be a great shame if they didn't.


End of the line

Bottom-placed Perth Glory announced the departure of coach Ian Ferguson on Monday following their 2-0 loss at Melbourne Heart on Saturday. The defeat stretched Perth's winless streak to eight matches, leaving last season's grand finalists in free fall.

Ferguson certainly has seen his share of criticism in recent years, starting with his time in charge of the ill-fated North Queensland Fury. Rumours of a rift between he and marquee man Robbie Fowler circulated at the time, while many fans around Australia deemed his tactics too rudimentary.

His downfall, then, comes as no surprise. But the focus now turns to Glory owner Tony Sage, who has appointed former Australia Under-17 coach Alistair Edwards as interim boss.

Will Edwards be given the job on a permenent basis? Will the same names of John Kosmina, Branko Culina and Miron Bleiberg be thrown around? Or will Sage broaden his scope and give a foreign or young Australian coach an opportunity to bring something new to the A-League? Could Culina sign and bring his son Jason to the club from Sydney?

It's a potentially defining time for the West Australians, who have it all in front of them, and a lot of work to do to rescue their flailing season.

A similar point can be made about Wellington Phoenix, who arguably deserve to be last more than the Glory on their recent performances. The New Zealanders have now let in 13 goals in their last four matches after their 5-0 thrashing at the hands of the Central Coast Mariners.

While the only thing seemingly capable of stopping the consistent Mariners as they move toward the premiership is a congested schedule, Wellington look rudderless. Perhaps, after qualifying for the finals in the past three seasons, Wellington are due for a rebuilding phase. The worrying thing for coach Ricki Herbert, though, is how easily his team's shape crumbles when under pressure.


Derby finals in prospect

Melbourne Heart and Sydney FC snuck into the top six this week, creating the possibility of a finals series containing a Sydney and/or Melbourne derby.

Western Sydney Wanderers moved into second spot with a 2-1 win over the Newcastle Jets on Saturday evening. The most in-form team in the competition seem destined for post-season action, as coach Tony Popovic keeps their momentum going in the second half of the campaign.

Melbourne Victory, meanwhile, surrendered second place and the competition points on offer in Adelaide at the weekend, but should have the squad depth to bounce back before the play-offs commence.

The format of the finals series has changed this season, with third place to take on sixth, and fourth to play against fifth in the first week. The winners of those contests will take on first and second. It is more of a true knockout, cup-style competition, giving teams that finish outside the top two a greater chance at success.

This A-League season has been the most exciting and most watched yet, and sell-out derbies in Australia's two biggest cities would surely cap a remarkable 12 months in appropriate style.

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