The world of Australian football was caught by surprise when Bruno Fornaroli was selected by Graham Arnold in his Socceroos squad to face Japan and Saudi Arabia in two crucial World Cup Qualifiers. Fornaroli possesses a unique option for Australia and a deadly threat up front, but years of easy fixes and neglecting young Australian strikers have led to this point.
Is it a move that reeks of desperation? Yes.
Is it purely a short-term fix? Most definitely.
But is it the best choice available in the current circumstances the Australian National Team finds itself in? Without a shadow of a doubt.
A 34-year old Uruguayan born Socceroos bolter, who was ineligible to represent his adopted Country until recently was the last thing Australian football fans expected from Graham Arnold’s squad, but it makes sense. Australia holds its fate in its hands; beating Japan and Saudi Arabia means a very strong chance at automatic World Cup qualification, but a lack of cutting edge finishing may prove to be fatal
One of Australia’s shortcomings has been the killer touch up front that can put the opposition away. Something that has been lacking since the retirement of Tim Cahill.
Several forwards such as Mitch Duke, Jamie Maclaren, and Adam Taggart have had mixed spells upfront, with none of them making the position their own or finding much success against top-level Asian opposition.
Fornaroli provides an X-Factor, similar to what Tim Cahill used to bring to the National Team. A player that is capable of something special at any given moment, a striker whose quality is unquestionable. An unpredictable difference-maker.
Should Australia be putting its World Cup hopes in the hands of a 34-year old in his first appearance for the National Team? Probably not, but what is the alternative at the moment?
The questions Australian football fans should be asking should not relate to Fornaroli’s ability or how “Australian” he is, whatever that means. “El Tuna” has contributed to the domestic league for seven years and is an Australian citizen via migration. In a country that is built on the back of migrants, he has a rightful place in the team just like anyone selected.
The frustration should lay squarely with the fact that a 34-year old who has never played for the Country before is being treated as a quick fix for a much bigger problem; the absence of genuine and consistent quality in Australia’s strike force. A problem that stems from the lower level.
Australian football exposes many young players to top-level professional football every year. Unfortunately for the development of young players in the country, the commitment often stops there, with long-term planning to aid their development not being the rule, but the exception.
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No position has felt the consequences of the lack of consistent backing of young Australian players more than the striker role. You only need to have a look at the forwards leading the line at their clubs in the A League Men competition to realize there is a problem.
Names include: Aleksandar Prijović, Hiroshi Ibusuki, Francesco Margiotta, Adam Le Fondre, Bobo, David Ball, Moresche, Beka Mikeltadze, Tomer Hemed, Keijiro Ogawa, Juan Lescano, Adrián Sardinero, Daniel Sturridge and of course Bruno Fornaroli.
What do all these names have in common? Imports, and in the vast majority of cases, aging.
Most of them have been brilliant additions to the league but before a club makes an investment like that, they must look inwardly first.
Is there a young, up and coming striker that can deserves a go at first team football? The answer may not always be yes but it is nevertheless a question that must be asked. It has become standard for A – League Men clubs to recruit a foreign striker regardless of the capabilities of their up and coming Australian forwards, this is detrimental for the development of our next generation of 9s.
Clubs must be in touch with themselves with a clear understanding of the qualities of their best and brightest young players before committing a large sum of money to an import. Clubs do not just have a responsibility to their fans to win games, they have a responsibility to their communities and to the future of the world game which they are custodians of.
Playing a star of the future in the present is not a painless process, it’s not supposed to be. Former Arsenal Manager, Arsene Wenger, has reflected on that fact, “You pay for the education of young players with points. If I play young players I know they’ll cost me points during that season and I have to stand up for that.
Now why would you persist? Firstly, these points lost will eventually turn into points won with focused and purposeful development.
Secondly, Australian clubs can remain profitable by selling their young players when it is their time to step up in the football world.
Finally, and arguably most importantly, you raise the quality of football development in Australia which can have short and long term benefits for individuals, clubs and Country.
Three points lost may seem like a huge deal for players, coaches and supporters in any given matchday but the issue is bigger than that. The Japanese Football Association has become the Asian standard bearer for youth development, it stands by the motto, “We must not care [about] victories or defeats in domestic matches, we must always consider the world as standard.”
Investing into a foreigner who has a solid track record may feel like a positive short term move, and it often is, but it can often be at the cost of the future football quality of our Country. The reality of Australian football is that we do not give our strikers any real opportunities at a young age to make a real impact on games, and even when do, they are still stuck in the pecking order behind an expensive foreigner a coach feels obligated to play.
Of course there is a spot for foreigners in our league, and we have had plenty of big names who have been spectacular for their clubs. A promising Australian talent must always take center stage though, and that becomes increasingly difficult when a club commits to the stature and the financial stress of a foreign player.
Recruiting must be thoughtful, proactive and mindful of the assets any given club already has. If we are not going to back our young Australian center forwards in our own competition, who will? It really does not take much!
Look at fellow Socceroos bolter Nick D’Agostino.
A year ago, he was an underappreciated player at Perth, playing backup to Fornaroli himself. Tony Popovic has not been afraid to back him in big spots and D’Agostino’s confidence and goal-scoring prowess is growing by the week and now he is a part of the Socceroos squad, all because of Popovic’s intentional and purposeful use of him.
Bruno Fornaroli is a fantastic striker who fully deserves a call up to the National Team, partly because of his quality and partly because of the lack of cutting-edge alternatives that present a long term solution.
Every weekend the Perth Glory Shed sings, “Give the ball to Bruno and he will score,” Graham Arnold will be hoping that the chant rings true in the upcoming World Cup Qualifiers, but the problem does not away. The issues with the development of young Australian players will not magically disappear if Bruno is spectacular on debut or even if Australia does qualify for the World Cup.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Continuing on the current trajectory of blatantly ignoring young Australian footballers for flashy foreigners, who are years removed for their prime, will keep presenting evident holes of quality in our National Team and a lack of representation in top leagues around the world.
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