Socceroos boss Pim Verbeek has a message to all Australian footballers: If you want to put on the green and gold, just call me. The old management adage of 'don’t call us, we’ll call you' has been turned on its head.
What has prompted Pim the pragmatist to move in this direction?
Last week, during a teleconference with football journalists, Verbeek was asked whether he had considered Australian born Richard Porta for the 'super June' Socceroos squad. Australia have three upcoming World Cup qualifiers left and only need a point to qualify for South Africa 2010.
"No," Verbeek said.
"He never said that he wanted to play for us. He never let us know that he wanted to play for Australia. I think if Rhys Williams could find us, I think [Porta] could call the FFA. That's the story. So, not interested at the moment."
Porta was a record signing when he moved to Siena, and still only 23, the Australian born with Uruguayan parentage was top scorer in the Uruguayan league in 2007.
He can play for both countries as he hasn’t actually played senior football for Australia or Uruguay yet.
The situation with players that have dual nationalities has been present in Australian football over the years, with famous cases such as Hertha Berlin and Croatia captain Josip Siminic being brought up through the Australian Institute of Sport and then changing his allegiance to play for the Croatian national team.
In Richards case it is somewhat of a role reversal; he was born in Australia but went to live in Uruguay when he was one. His brothers Gonzalo and Robert stayed to live in Australia and so did his Grandfather.
So Richard was brought up through the Uruguayan system. He was involved in two home-based squads with the Uruguay national team, but never played so he wasn’t capped. He was also involved in one training camp with the Australia Under-17 team when it passed through Montevideo in 1999.
The situation is becoming a bit of a soap opera that has bemused all those associated with the story.
Goal.com spoke to his brother yesterday, and Gonzalo had some interesting messages to pass on to Verbeek, on behalf of his brother:
“I have told him [Richard] they [the media] are saying things about him, he is not going to call, that is not what players do, they don’t have to call the federation to say they want to play for a country. That depends on the coach. If Pim thinks that the player can play for the team, or can add something else that they don’t have at the moment, they should get in touch with the player.
“This is exactly what Richard told me; even if I want to play for Real Madrid, I don’t call Real Madrid and tell them 'Hey, I want to play for Real Madrid.' If I have a good season they call me.”
In today’s Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) Richard himself re-iterated that sentiment.
"The proper way of doing things is for the FA to approach me to play for Australia," he said. "It is not for me to say 'I want to play for Australia'. I don't go around saying 'I want to play for Uruguay,' or 'I want Real Madrid to sign me.'
“I am a professional, and if Australia wants me I would look into it very, very seriously. I cannot make that any clearer. I would die to play in the next World Cup. To be honest, there is probably no realistic chance of being convened by Uruguay. They have [Diego] Forlan and [Carlos] Bueno, and other extraordinary players in my position.”
Spending this season at Belenenses in the Portuguese Liga has been frustrating for Richard. Initially he was Siena's record signing, but the coach told him would not be first choice, and he went on loan to get first-team football. Unfortunately, Belenenses have been in a relegation dog fight and after a bright start to the season - and with coaches sacked left, right and centre - he has mostly been a fringe player.
He is back to full fitness and may play some minutes in the last game of the season for Belenenses.
After that game he will go back to Siena and talk to the coach to see where his future lies. He has three years left on his contact there; Siena stand 14th in Serie A.
So the question is, why doesn’t Pim want him?
His brother is not so sure either: “I can’t tell you maybe you should ask that question for Pim. Definitely something is behind his decision not to contact Richard.”
Porta doesn’t speak much English but in the global world of football that should not be a major road block. Richard was born in Australia, so the loyalty factor will not be a problem for fans.
Australia have been lacklustre in attack, struggling to score goals and open defences during the final World Cup qualifying phase. Surely having another striking option is not such a luxury Australia can afford to dismiss so easily; it’s just a phone call away.
Con Stamocostas, Goal.com