Did J-League gamble cost Nichols a World Cup berth?

COMMENT: The hard-working attacking midfielder would surely have been in the framework for Brazil 2014 if his impressive A-League campaign had continued
As the Socceroos prepared to face Spain at the World Cup, news emerged - to relatively little fanfare outside Western Australia - of Mitch Nichols agreeing a loan move to Perth Glory for the 2014-15 A-League season.

The contrast in fortunes between the players entrusted by Ange Postecoglou to restore pride in the green and gold shirt and those of Nichols could not be sharper ahead of the game at the Arena da Baixada.

Among the Socceroos set to line up against the Euro 2008, World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012 winners early on Tuesday morning will be Western Sydney Wanderers centre-back Matthew Spiranovic and Brisbane Roar midfielder Matt McKay.

McKay's club colleague Ivan Franjic, Adam Taggart of the Newcastle Jets, Melbourne Victory's Mark Milligan and his on-loan team-mate of last season, James Troisi, have also featured in the tournament, demonstrating the value Postecoglou places on Australia's domestic competition and those who excel in it.

The message? Play well enough and staying in the A-League will be no barrier to international selection.

That's not to say taking a chance on a move abroad should be discouraged either. Postecoglou has said the goal for this new generation of Australian footballers should be to make it in the world's top leagues ahead of Russia 2018.

Injury ruined Trent Sainsbury's World Cup hopes after the centre-back - in outstanding form for the Central Coast Mariners in recent years - took a chance on a move to the Eredivisie with PEC Zwolle.

Fracturing his knee cap on a sprinkler head embedded in a pitch was a cruel twist of fate beyond Sainsbury's control but the decision to try his luck in Europe during a World Cup year was a risky one.

Spiranovic did the opposite, returning to Australia and nailing down a starting berth at grand finalists the Wanderers. The reward was to become his country's go-to defender for duels with the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Robin van Persie.

And the big difference was that 'Spira' made his move at the start of the season, presumably having sought assurances about the coach's plans for him and giving himself a full campaign to impress.

James Troisi did the same, accepting Postecoglou's invitation to move to Victory on loan prior to the coach answering Football Federation Australia's distress call.

Troisi also earned a place in the Socceroos' World Cup squad of 23, but wind back the clock to October and his flying start to the A-League season had been matched, if not bettered, by Nichols.

The industrious attacking midfielder was a valued member of Postecoglou's championship-winning Brisbane Roar teams and followed his boss to Victoria, where he shone early in 2013-14. That was fresh from a respectable showing in green and gold at the East Asian Cup.

Consider the impact the hard-running, disciplined Oliver Bozanic had against the Netherlands, a cameo that is likely to earn him a start in place of Mark Bresciano for the Spain showdown.

A full season doing the right things at Victory, directly under Melbourne-based Postecoglou's gaze, would have given Nichols a huge chance of featuring, at the very least, in one of the provisional World Cup squads.

But rather than see out the season in the A-League, the 25-year-old was tempted into a January transfer to J-League outfit Cerezo Osaka, presenting him with a huge challenge to acclimatize to a different team, competition and culture.

The ideal scenario for Nichols of course would have been to force his way into the first team at the Japanese top flight side and thus make himself impossible to ignore.

But the odds were stacked against him and, with only four caps under his belt, he must now play catch-up to the newcomers who have acquitted themselves so well in Brazil.

The lesson for other promising A-League players weighing up a move overseas - particularly those on the fringes of the national team - is clear: Have the courage to test yourself if the opportunity presents itself, but think long and hard about whether or not the time is right and remember what is at stake.