Tuesday, 13 May 2014

World Cup 2014: Australia's 'changing of guard' in full swing with Mile Jedinak in pole position to land captaincy

Crystal Palace midfielder looks set to fill Lucas Neil’s captaincy shoes as Australia coach Ange Postecoglou puts final touches to vision

World Cup 2014: Australia's 'changing of guard' in full swing with Mile Jedinak in pole position to land captaincy

New leader? Crystal Palace's Mile Jedinak looks set to captain Australia at World Cup 

It has the biggest audience of any team sport competition and only weeks remain until the football public shifts focus to living, eating and breathing the world game for an entire month. In Australia the game of football or soccer is often referred as “The Sleeping Giant” but the game’s strong and rapid growth could soon see it referenced to the 1970’s colloquially-titled General Motors advertisement “Football, Meat pies, Kangaroos and Holden Cars”.

With the final squad announcement due this week, the Socceroos side has gone about a well-documented “changing of the guard” as coach Ange Postecoglou’s future vision beyond the World Cup starts to take shape.

Some well-timed pre-emptive taps on the shoulder by Postecoglou has seen the revolving door close on Socceroos stalwarts Brett Holman and Lucas Neil’s international careers. The move wasn’t swift by the new gaffer, but with wonderful service given to the national shirt, respect was shown to two very popular Socceroos veterans. Sadly Neil has been left stranded just four games shy of recording 100 caps for his country. In typical stoic Neil fashion he has given strong assurances to play on in a vain hope of gaining selection for January’s Asian Cup tournament.

The talk this week has centred on goalkeeping incumbent Maty Ryan, who has been linked with Spanish giants Real Madrid of all places. Ryan’s career has gained plenty of momentum after securing a starting role with Belgium side Club Brugge this season, but the Madrid move is purely speculation. Ryan has been on the radar of many European clubs but a final decision on his future seems unlikely until after Brazil. His debut season saw him impress with 13 clean sheets from 37 matches.

The local Australian A-League competition wrapped up in style last weekend in Brisbane with the Premiers Brisbane Roar hosting the Western Sydney Wanderers in front of over 51,000 passionate fans. The Roar claimed a third Grand Final win together with two premierships and look likely to provide Ivan Franjic and Matt McKay with spots in the 30 man Socceroos squad.

Postecoglou has not been hurried in his quest to name a captaincy replacement, but it is looking likely that Crystal Palace based midfielder Mile Jedinak has the runs on the board to fill Neil’s shoes. Other notable contenders could be veteran Tim Cahill or experienced defensive midfielder Mark Milligan. Unfortunately for Jedinak he was forced from the field in Palace’s final match with a groin strain that could see him miss the final Socceroos hit out at home against South Africa on May 26.
The possible “bolters” for a ticket to Brazil include Newcastle Jets Adam Taggart after a stellar year in the A-League after winning the coveted “Golden Boot” trophy for netting 16 goals. Fortuna Dusseldorf based winger Ben Halloran is also gaining plenty of attention with a fine season in the Bundesliga 2 league with six goals and 23 games this season in Germany.

Australia’s first opponent sees them with their best or some say only chance of snatching a point in the tournament. In what will give some hope to fans Down Under, no Australian team has ever returned home from the World Cup pointless since their opening campaign back in 1974. Chile’s FIFA ranking of 15 places them well above the Socceroos on 63, but with news of injury concerns to Chile’s Arturo Vidal, could mean a welcome reprieve for the Aussies before Chile play their remaining pool matches against Spain and the Netherlands. They will still have the likes of Barcelona star Alexis Sanchez and the talented David Pizarro to cope with.

The giant battle for midfield possession and strengthening the obvious defensive frailties will be Postecoglou’s biggest challenges. He will be hoping the Socceroos's proud unbeaten record against the Dutch can continue. Although with Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben anchoring their attack the “Clockwork Orange” will again be at the peak of their powers and one of the favoured sides to progress towards the semi-finals.

The ultimate test will be saved for last when Ange’s men take on football super powers and current European and World Cup Champions Spain in Curitiba. With last year’s 6-0 defeats to Brazil and France still etched in the memories of many, fans will be hoping for nothing more than a competitive showing over an unrealistic and euphoric upset victory over "The Red Fury”.
This World Cup has garnered unprecedented interest from Australian football fans here and abroad but not for a high expectation of success. You can be certain the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema will be filled not just with the green and gold of Brazil but a healthy splattering of Socceroos jerseys and Aussie football tragics.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Steve Farrell: Kitting out Brisbane Roar

There is no doubting that Brisbane Roar is a benchmark of success and the envy of clubs competing in the Hyundai A-League. Finishing atop the ladder and claiming a second “Premier’s Plate” means the Roar have other franchises desperate to channel the secret to their success. After all it is human nature which leads us into studying the best and mirroring their methods rather than making bold decisions to reinvent the coaching wheel. And Steve Farrell is the best.

Credit: Brisbane Roar
"At the Roar there appears no extraordinary player development strategy or left of center training methodology. It boils down to getting the players to perform at their best at every session and recreating the competiveness of match conditions or scenarios. Coach Mike Mulvey has made it publicly known on many occasions that if you are outside this way of thinking “You’re not a true Brisbane Roar player.”
For the uninitiated a kit-man is the individual entrusted with the often-thankless yet vital role of packing, washing, replacing and collecting a myriad of gear for a senior football team. They are employed full-time and travel to every training session and every A-League home and away fixtures. On any given day there can be 20-25 bags of player apparel dependent on the weather and conditions to be laid out, collected, packed and accounted for.

Whether true or not, a kit-man is often likened to glorified parent of a spoilt child by tending to the many unusual and superstitiously driven gear wants and needs. The job can often test the patience of the most relaxed of individuals.

Long before the players arrive to the ground in their comfortable air-conditioned coach to the airport or stadium, the kit-man has been at the airport check-in desk or the dressing room making certain a pair of socks, shin pads or jersey is ruffled or misplaced. 

Enter Steve Farrell, the Brisbane Roar “Kit-man”. Many would say Steve is a lucky fellow to secure a role that involves getting up close and personal with the Roar players and officials. For him it is all about hard work, a strong belief in a team ethos of perfection and dedication that ensured he was the best candidate.
Steve commenced his long and rewarding road to the coveted kit-man role by volunteering with the Roar soon after they clinched their second A-League title over the Perth Glory in 2012. To an outsider, a job with a professional football club seems a glamorous vocation, but at the coalface there is a huge reliance on all staff to buy into an all-important mantra of success over failure.

Club officials soon became aware of Steve’s important characteristics and tireless commitment of putting the club ahead of individual pursuits. They rewarded his hard work by offering a casual position to travel the State showcasing the A-League “Premiers Plate” and “Grand Final Championship” trophies.
“I found the experience of engaging with fans and travelling the length and breadth of the State with the trophies extremely rewarding. Watching the joy on kids faces and families making a personal connection with the trophies is something I loved and hope the club can replicate again this season. Fan engagement is something the club, team and coaching staff have worked very hard on all season. Building a strong club culture and involving fans at every opportunity is important for the continued growth of the sport in this city and the State.”
As the trip came to a disappointing end, the focus turned to completing studies in a Bachelor of Sports Management at Bond University. Steve was positive but somewhat realistic of what his possible future role at the club would be.

“I simply aimed to do the best job possible with attention to detail. I was totally gob-smacked when the club offered me the all important role of kit-man.”

 “It was a huge thrill and I immediately begun on working on how I could make the position as professional as the players, officials and the club I was representing.”

Steve wanted to bring the same level of professionalism to the position and make it his own. He set about developing systems and processes ensuring every that “i” is dotted and “t” was crossed. The focus of this kit-man was to ensure the playing group was focused on just one thing “winning”. 

“I felt I needed to tap into current technology and streamline the role.”

An iPad-Mini idea using a simple colour-coded checklist allows Steve to know at any moment in a lead up to an important match where he is placed and what still needs to be done. “

“The swipe of a tablet’s touch screen is my own unique carbon friendly way that replaces the endless need for carting around lists of paper!” 

“It never leaves my side and is my life blood and security blanket”

Preparation and organisation are two words that stand-alone when Steve talks about what makes a valuable kit-man. The more time and effort spent preparing for training sessions and home and away match days converts to a more relaxed individual on game day. I am always at the ground two hours before the players to ensure the match day gear and dressing room is set-up and spotless before they arrive. Players generally get to the game an hour and a half before kick-off and other than any last minute special requests. Steve then leaves the team to their own devices in the sanctity of the rooms to prepare individually and as a group.
“I know it’s strange to say, but a feeling in a dressing room before a game is one of those immeasurable but important indicators in gauging how relaxed or ready a team is for victory.”

“I can’t put my finger on it but I have sensed a different air of expectation within the group this year.”  “A more determined focus and self-belief in the goals they want to achieve together has been evident since pre-season started.“

 “The lift in intensity and competitiveness at training sessions all season has taught me plenty, and to play my own small part in assisting the process is the most satisfying part of my role.”

Steve is quick to point out that as important as the strict training and match day regime of football is, the time off the pitch goes along way to how a team is travelling. 
“You see a different human side to the personality of the players when they come back across that white line and they’re all great individuals away from the game.” “Despite their professional football status, players are enormously respectful of the title and are humble servants to the game that provides them a comfortable living for them and their families.”
For now Steve’s sole focus is doing what is needed behind the scenes to help the Roar team secure their third championship title. When you are watching the Brisbane Roar team go around in the Grand Final on Sunday, just spare a thought that it isn’t only the talented playing squad and coaching staff striving to get the job done. There are countless men and woman like Steve behind the scenes working or volunteering tirelessly long before and after the fans have arrived and filed out of the Stadium that go into making a football club tick.  

The Football Sack - "Grabbing the A-League by the Balls"