Saturday, July 30, 2011

Players must still dream

One of the best footy bloggers in this neck of the woods, Antony Sutton, also pens a regular column in the Jakarta Globe daily newspaper in Indonesia. His column this week is on a topic close to my heart, the hard-to-get-my-head-around belief around these parts that the SEA Games is a more prestigious tournament than the FIFA World Cup. In his article he includes quotes from current Phnom Penh Crown coach David Booth and former Cambodian head coach Scott O'Donell.

If the World Cup Is Not The Main Thing, Players Still Must Dream - by Antony Sutton

One of the first things Djohar Arifin Husin, the new head of the Indonesian Football Association, said in his new post was that the priority for what remains of this year is success at the Southeast Asian Games. With World Cup qualifiers on the horizon, a tricky home and away affair against Turkmenistan, it struck many fans as odd that the organization, known as the PSSI, would prioritize an Under 23 tournament instead of the more global tournament. Indonesia, though, is not alone in deciding that the world’s biggest competition, for all its recent travails, isn’t worth the effort. The South Korean coach of the Cambodian national team, Lee Tae-hoon, also made similar comments recently.

Surely, football fans relish the chance to see their national teams go toe to toe against some of the region’s powerhouses. The SEA Games, after all, are held every two years against the same old teams. But former Cambodian coach, Australian Scott O’Donell, views things differently. He said that every game was important — even friendly games. “Every time the players put on the national shirt, I tried to emphasize the importance of playing for their country. If I had prioritized the importance of respective games, then I would have been contradicting what I had been telling them,” he said.

A few years back, when Charlton Athletic was in the English Premier League, then-manager Alan Curbishley once said that for him the important games were not against the likes of Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea because he expected to lose those games. For him, it was far more important to rise to the challenge against the other teams in the lower half of the table. But is football that simple? Can players — and by extension coaches and managers — just decide when to turn on the style and when to coast?

English coach David Booth has spent several years working in Southeast Asia with both club and national sides and he is clear on this point. An FA president, Booth said, once told him that he wanted the team to place second in order to avoid playing a really tough opponent in the next round. Booth tried to explain that “our team was not able to play and decide how many goals to score.” But, after serving time as a coach in the region, Booth can empathize. He says he has “come to understand that face is very important here. As such, worrying about playing stronger teams creates a feeling of not wanting to play them and get beaten badly,” he explains. But Booth retains his Englishness and says he wants to win every game his team plays. “As a coach I hope to win any game my team performs in at any level. That is the English combative style which I am happy to have,” he said.

Then again, despite there being only eight or 10 nations involved in the SEA Games or its older brother, the AFF Cup, there are still no guarantees, a point made by O’Donell, referring to Thailand’s implosion in 2010 when they were considered favorites by many. This weekend sees countries like Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore take their first steps on the road to Brazil in 2014. Chances are high none of them will make the long journey all the way to the World Cup, but for the players involved, they will still have their dreams.

Football allowed us to dream. Coaches and officials should allow the players their dreams of stardom and glory. Without dreams, football loses one more piece of magic that separates it from other sports.
  • You can read Antony's Jakarta Casual Blog here.

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