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Manton St Tales: Australia's selection folly

Manton St Tales

Were you in last week’s Socceroos squad too?

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Because, look, if you’re a professional Australian player you would have had half a chance.

Even people with barely a passing interest in the game know that a team can’t have more than eleven players on the pitch but, not for the first time, Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou named 30 players for the upcoming qualifiers against Iraq and United Arab Emirates.

Perhaps in the future we could extend it to 33. At least then we could all have some fun picking a first, second and third eleven, even if that would be as pointless as… what happened last week.

Which, to be clear, was the naming of a squad of 30 which would be reduced to 23 (yesterday) well before the Socceroos train together. Along with that, some of the 30 are at clubs that didn’t have a match scheduled between the initial selection and the cull.

Those chaps who had no choice but to cool their heals might have been somewhat bemused if they read the following line in the Football Federation Australia press release which listed the 30 names: “The squad will be trimmed to 23 following this weekend’s matches with players all over the world given one final chance to press their claims to be part of the squad.”

Among those was Tim Cahill who hasn’t had much game time over the last month. Naturally Postecoglou is concerned about that but in saying so he generated headlines about cutting the Socceroos’ record goal scorer with this odd comment: “You want all your players playing regularly. I thought Timmy would have had more game time over the last couple of weeks. We still have two weekends to go, we’re already monitoring it closely again.”

Monitoring what? We’re in the middle of an A-League round split over two weekends and Cahill’s Melbourne City was one of the teams out of action on the weekend past.

Adelaide's Taylor Regan tracking Melbourne City millionaire Tim Cahill. Photo: AAP/David Mariuz

Tim Cahill was always going to be out of action last weekend. Photo: David Mariuz / AAP

Cahill survived the cull and was one of the 23 names announced yesterday. Riley McGree, the surprise inclusion from Adelaide United, also made the cut.

And that’s probably just as well. The Reds didn’t have a game on the weekend either so had he been omitted it would have been without having had – as the FFA press release would put it – a final chance to press his claims.

But Matt McKay, whose Brisbane Roar also couldn’t play on the weekend, was less fortunate.

Why this exercise of naming 30 and then reducing it to 23? Particularly given that, on this occasion, match scheduling affected (what we’re told was) the main criterion for the final selection?

If it were several weeks before a big tournament I’d understand it. But a fortnight before two games?

The Socceroos are not well placed… bad results against Iraq and UAE will put their campaign for Russia 2018 in jeopardy

A squad of 23 is what a country takes to a World Cup – in which the winning team has to complete seven matches. Surely that’s all that was needed from the outset.

I understand that an extra announcement generates extra media but is that more important than Australian players around the world being sold what looks like a half-truth? That a performance over one weekend will matter in the final analysis?

If it isn’t a ruse then surely the only other explanation would be that Postecoglou – who normally shows great attention to detail – didn’t realise that some players didn’t have a chance to take the pitch last weekend because of the A-League’s split round.

Either way, we’d all be better served without this extended squad nonsense. Pick 23 from the outset. Say to the fans and the media, “We feel this is our best squad at the moment” and let that be the starting point for debate. Let it also be the reference point for the players who are outside and trying to break in.

And frankly, one last club match shouldn’t be decisive. The normal criteria, which includes regular first team action (something Postecoglou doesn’t always apply), should be used over weeks and months.

You wouldn’t want to risk picking a final 23 that isn’t the best 23. The Socceroos are not well placed in this qualifying group and bad results against Iraq and UAE will put their campaign for Russia 2018 in jeopardy.

Paul Marcuccitti is a co-presenter of 5RTI’s Soccer on 531 program which can be heard from 10am on Saturdays.

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