In Part 2 of this exclusive, Australia legend Adrian Alston gives his views on the A-League, the Socceroos' recent loss to Kuwait, his '74 side versus their successors in Germany in '06, and Johnny Warren...Goal: You were the first Australian team to qualify for the World Cup and Guus Hiddink’s were only the second, 32 years later. Can a comparison be drawn between the two sides? Was one better than the other?
AA: You can’t compare an individual from one era to another era. As time goes on you can only do one thing and I am correct in saying this: you can only be the best in your time. In our time we were the best in Australia - we succeeded where others failed.
We should never have qualified if you looked at it logically; part-time players earning a quid but not getting paid for playing for Australia. We didn’t get match fees, we had to leave money with our wives and kids because you had families and your wife wasn’t working. We went through all that for a few years, sacrificed and sacrificed but because we had that special belief we were unstoppable. You can only look back now in awe!
But at the time you do it, enjoy it and just play. I don’t think players who play now could have that wow factor. Theirs is different but we were something special and I am so proud to have lived and played and been best friends with those players. Today’s team can’t be as close now.
Goal: The A-League is today facing a new challenge that perhaps never existed during your playing days: there is something of a talent drain from Australia. Do you see it as a problem that our young players are so eager to go overseas?
AA: The problem that is being created is that too many people and parents now are thinking their kid has to go straight overseas straight away without first looking at him and seeing if he’s good enough. Kids are expected to become heroes and are put under pressure. It’s a drain before they make it here and that’s where we cock up - they’ve already gone overseas before they’ve tested the water!
There are 20 year-olds from state league heading straight overseas - who do you think you are? Come on parents, grow up, you have to be careful. The next thing you know the kid comes back and it is a disaster for him. There is too much of a mad rush now and we need to slow down, get the A-league growing, make sure the National Youth League starts to come through and then start talking about places overseas.
Goal: The Australia side that you played in were the first to qualify for a World Cup, with a squad made up almost exclusively of domestically based players who were part-time footballers. Last week, a professional A-League team lost at home to Kuwait. Does this suggest the standard of the national league has deteriorated?
AA: Maybe the A-League players wouldn’t have beaten us in ‘74! Those lads are good players but their experience in international football is nil. It will take time and lots of international football before they become full-time members of the squad, so it makes sense that Pim Verbeek picks overseas-based players.
Getting players away from Europe is like banging your head against the wall and people in the background are trying to promote the A-league and obviously that comes down to him [Verbeek] eventually. The people who run Australian football want the A-league to go ahead in leaps and bounds, which I do to! I live here and want to enjoy football in national league. An A-League Australia team makes a statement.
But it’s also a problem, because every time a coach goes out he wants to win every game and pick the best team. Verbeek has a great CV, respect around the world and if anyone sees that Australia are losing games it reflects badly on him.
Goal: Are you concerned, then, about the standard of the A-League?
AA: It is too easy to say the A-league is nowhere near the level of leagues overseas - we don’t know if that’s the case! If English and Scottish teams came regularly and played in Australia, we don’t know how they’d fare or how we would do over there. It is too easy to make a statement saying they are not good enough.
Goal: What was the most memorable moment of your career?
AA: The World Cup finals and putting my jersey on. Sitting in a dressing room with a mate who I’ve completely trusted in and knowing we’d do OK. We were unbelievable. Also, my debut against Greece at the SCG, where there was a massive crowd, lots of Greeks and stars who came across from Greek league. For me at 20 I was like “Wow! I suppose that’s the end of my England career!” From that very day, the only thing English about me was my accent.
Goal: As an English-born Australian who also played in England, you are perhaps well placed to speak about the apparent British influence on Australian football. Is it a fair claim?
AA: We certainly didn’t play the English way. You can’t at international level play like an English club football team. I was much better coached from [Rale] Rasic and Frank Arok than from anybody in England, in any professional clubs.
We had a few players of English background people in our team but we also had three Yugoslavs, a German, a Hungarian and home-grown Aussies and with that mixture and great blend, there were certain traits in our game and we pulled them all together. [Branko] Buljevic was a great dribbler, [Atti] Abonyi had silky Hungarian skills though he couldn’t tackle a good dinner! Johnny Warren had that tenacity along with Col Curran, while Manfred Schaefer was always the bloody same and Ray Richards could snap somebody in two if he hurt a team-mate.
Goal: Should a variety of cultural influences still be valued in Australian football? Much has been made of the ‘Oranje mafia’ invading the national coaching scene.
AA: We have to have a mix! However, the current situation is that all our players are in England. It would be nice to have different styles but it is a luxury. It isn’t a problem but we have to play a certain way but I still think Australia should never play like England because we are Aussies and we have that little bit extra! If England came here to play against our best, they wouldn’t have a chance. Our style is different to anybody else; our last two coaches have been superb but we definitely don’t play like Holland.
Goal: You mentioned before Johnny Warren, perhaps the most famous of all the 1974 Socceroos team. As someone who played with him, can you tell our readers first-hand what he was like as a footballer and a person? It can sometimes be difficult to separate the man from the myth.
AA: I was probably one of the few who were that close to him. He had everything, football was his blood, he went overseas, travelled around looking at the game, went to coaching courses even when he was playing and even qualified first out of sixty people at a FIFA coaching course. He was football-stupid and I suppose that’s what likened him to me. That’s what I live for, along with family. He was a hell of a worker, had two good feet, was strong, good in the air and an all-round player.
Goal: Thanks for your time, Adrian.
Chris Paraskevas, Goal.com