It says something about the current Socceroos squad that among the most globally recognisable players are the reserve goalkeeper and an 18-year-old who hasn’t started a professional match.
It says even more that they can walk through a local shopping centre just days out from a World Cup …. and be completely ignored.
As Australia heads into its fifth successive World Cup, it’s clear the glory days of the ‘golden generation’ and its household names like Harry Kewell, Tim Cahill, Mark Schwarzer and Mark Bresciano are a distant memory.
More casual Australian sporting fans — the kind who only tune into the World Cup every four years and a few other other big matches — may even struggle to name more than a handful of the 26 players Graham Arnold has picked for the tournament.
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Tim Cahill, Lucas Neill and Harry Kewell – members of the Socceroos’ golden generation.Source: Supplied
Far from when the golden generation was at its peak, Australia has no current starters in the Premier League, and only a handful of players in Europe’s very top leagues. While the likes of Mat Ryan, Aaron Mooy, Mathew Leckie and Awer Mabil have mainstream cut-through, the bulk of Arnold’s squad carries an unknown factor to the masses.
Reigning champions France, who face Australia in their opening match on Wednesday (AEDT) are in the same boat – striker Oliver Giroud acknowledged this week he isn’t sure who is in the current squad and no Socceroos players have been referenced by name by French stars this week.
And Qatari locals, and football fans in Doha, seemingly fit into the same category after the Socceroos took a rare trip outside their base at the Aspire Academy on Friday, and barely caused a ripple — while many of football’s global superstars can’t even leave their hotel rooms.
“We’d be one of the few nations that could just walk through a shopping centre on the eve of a World Cup,” ‘Grey Wiggle’ Andrew Redmayne said. “We kind of just slip into the background.”
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Many doubted the Socceroos would even make this World Cup until an upset playoff victory over 21st ranked Peru, a famous triumh in which Redmayne became an international cult hero.
It’s entirely possible Redmayne, one of the understudies for goalkeeper and skipper Mat Ryan, doesn’t see a minute of action in Qatar. Fans are hoping Garang Kuol, the teenage Central Coast Mariners freak bound for Newcastle United, does but he too is a role player despite being among the most talked-about current Australian players.
It looms, then, as a tournament where new stars will be born — like Redmayne was a few months ago — especially if Arnold’s squad overachieves and “shocks the world” like he deeply believes it will.
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There are plenty of contenders to be the next breakout stars, based on both talent and personality.
Jason Cummings is a squad bolter capable of providing genuine goal-scoring threat off the bench and, to put it lightly, he’s an absolute character.
If you haven’t heard of his nickname, google it, because it’s not safe for print here.
The Scottish-born striker’s banter, comedic talents and ability to pester have kept Australia’s players highly entertained in Qatar this week.
He also is renowned as a wild child, with a checkered past featuring controversy and discipline, but according to fellow Scottish convert Harry Souttar he’s the real deal on the pitch.
“First of all what I would say about Jason, he’s a great player before anything, he’s a great player and it’d be unfair for me to sit here and say what someone’s done or hasn’t done or question what they’ve done in the past,” Souttar said of the Mariners striker.
Harry Souttar is at the forefront of Australia’s next gen.Source: Getty Images
“All I know is that he’s moved out to Australia and speaking to him, he absolutely loves it. He enjoyed every minute of it. He’s scoring goals, obviously that’s why he’s, he’s been selected and I’m just really pleased from him that he’s somewhere that he feels wanted and he’s happy and hopefully he can continue goals for the national team.”
Souttar himself looms as a genuine mainstream star of the future. Within football circles he is already one. The 196cm Stoke City defender’s value has been rated as high as $35 million and he’s firmly on the radar of Premier League clubs. In his 10 Socceroos appearances he’s shown he can score as many goals as he stops, wth six to his name.
Kye Rowles, like Souttar, is just 24. The pair loom as an outstanding central defensive duo the wider Australian public is likely to become very familiar with, and enamored by.
Bustling midfielder Cameron Devlin is sort of hard-nosed player Aussie fans could easily fall in love with in the same way they did Vince Grella.
Next-gent Socceroos Thomas Deng, Cameron Devlin and Jason Cummings.Source: Getty Images
Arnie loves his “mongrel” and work-rate. Devlin loves ruffling opposition feathers and desperately wants to do so against France.
“I like to get in people’s faces,” he said this week.
Arnold’s World Cup game plan is built around players like Devlin and Rowles who he helped develop in a dual role as Olyroos quotes, and players he sought out and naturalised like Souttar and Cummings.
The coach knows what all of them are capable of.
Much of the Aussie public, and the Socceroos’ rivals, might not yet but the world is about to find out.
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