Pim needs more vim: not enough Guus-to

James Farrell has very kindly asked me to post my thoughts on the Australia vs Germany World Cup Finals tie to be played tomorrow morning.

So far, for me, the tournament has got off to a relatively entertaining start. The opening game between South Africa and Mexico was a promising beginning: a fast, skillful and open match. Argentina vs Nigeria was similar with the bonus of Messi in sparkling form (and of course some lovely sideline flicks from the incomparable Diego).

First things first though. FIFA has done it again with the ball! Players aren’t confident in hitting it. It flies too long and doesn’t curl. It seems to me that they are concentrating on keeping it low to avoid it skying away. I’ve felt it in a shop. It’s light and is covered with a rough skin, perhaps to help players bend it? This is just ridiculous. If FIFA wants a new ball, they should just tell Adidas to produce the Champions League ball and name it and wrap it however it likes!

Secondly, the stadia look terrific, especially the one for the opening game.

On to Australia. We are in a tough group with three teams of contrasting styles. Germany plays a similar game to us: very tight, with attacking tending to flow down the wings. Serbia’s has a very cerebral and technical style that can really hurt us. And I would imagine that Ghana’s game will be very similar to the way South Africa and Nigeria play:physical and fast but skillful with attacks coming quickly and from all directions.

Before our qualifiers, I said that we could be good for a point against Germany. They didn’t impress in the qualifiers and provided we could defend well, and closed them down in midfield, our two styles would nullify each other.

But we haven’t played well in our friendlies. I know that they are only that, and we have had some star players injured, but what you want to see is a team that has cohered. And we haven’t.

You only have to compare us now to our side under Guus just before the previous Finals. He had definitely, and very quickly, blended a tight unit. The team pretty much picked itself and had been playing together successfully for a while.

And a good soccer team is not best described as a machine, but as an organism whose functioning is dependent on an almost unconscious continual feedback loop among its vital components, the players. This understanding takes talent and time to fashion, and a coach’s primary role is to try to create this out of his squad. (This is how the Golden Team of Hungary was fashioned and what Guus did with South Korea in 2002.)

This takes us to Pim. And it is this cohesion that he has failed to achieve as evidenced in our generally unconvincing qualifiers in the World and Asia Cups.

He seems more an auditor, than a coach, ticking boxes on some pro forma checklist from a coaching manual. He certainly lacks the fire and gusto of Guus (remember Guus on the sidelines defending his team in the match against Japan). Pim seems to take little joy from his role in a match, with the same dour expression even after a good passage of play. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him kick or juggle a ball, and all soccer players, no matter how old or in what role, love the ball (q.v. Diego again).

To wrap up, I think Australia will put up a brave fight. We are mentally tough and I wouldn’t overrate the Germans. But the following is a list of the issues that we may have.

1. Neill and Moore don’t seem to be working correctly together at the moment. We need to fix these holes in the middle of our defence.
2. Our midfield needs to be reshaped. Grella is not a central playmaker, a la Pirlo or Xavi. That is what you want there and Grella doesn’t have the vision. The only other option I can see that we have is to play Cullina there. Grella is better slotted into one of the other midfield roles.
3. Our play is too stereotyped with lots of meaningless square passes in the midfield, and we don’t play vertically enough and attack quicker and more incisively.
4. We miss Viduka to hold the ball, dribble and create scoring chances in attack.
5. We need Cahill and Bresciano to be more involved and creative.

Here’s hoping that Australia can start with a win. In soccer, everyone loves to beat Germany!

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14 Responses to Pim needs more vim: not enough Guus-to

  1. cbp says:

    Excuse my off-topic ignorance, but I was interested in your use of the word ‘tie’ in the first sentence… the only time I’ve heard the word used other than for the meaning ‘draw’, is in Japanese, where they use it for ‘versus’, i.e. ‘Australia tie Germany’. I always presumed it was Japlish, but is this actually common in the soccer lexicon (it’s not in the dictionary)?

  2. James Farrell says:

    Thanks, Gaby. That’s very useful indeed, especially with regard to the Serbia and Ghana games, which are very hard to predict. Having watched the socceroos struggle against youthful and athletic attacking sides like Qatar in recent years, I’m afraid we may play the whole against Ghana in our half. As for Serbia, I’m curious find out exactly what cerebral means!

    If you’re right about Pim v. Guus, it’s a shame that so much depends on the choice of coach.

    Can anyone tell me why SBS 2 replayed the England-USA match (the most boring match I’ve ever watched) three times today, and didn’t replay Greece-Korea at all? Must have been a stuff-up.

  3. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Thx Gaby – and thank goodness for the division of labour. I’m afraid I couldn’t have contributed anything as helpful as that!

    But Collingwood should get over the line against Melbourne tomorrow!

  4. James Farrell says:

    Yes, after that 4-0 fiasco, maybe we should all change the subject to AFL.

    At least it’s clear what we have to do now.

  5. Richard Green elsewhere says:

    Supposition 1 has been vindicated, sadly, by an extraordinarily disfunctional offside trap.

    This discussion does reflect concerns I’ve had with the tactical direction of Australian football. The pro forma tactics used by Verbeek are very useful to any coach that needs tactics to apply to any team for results that will at least fail convetionally. It doesn’t need to be adapted to the particular strengths and weaknesses of a given body of players.

    When you’re a globetrotting coach with only a limited tenure, and a knowledge that a minor footballing nation won’t fire you for 1-0 results and nil all draws, why would you choose anything else? Especially when it gets results against teams that aren’t ticking the boxes so well.

    But when the tactics of all sides become homogenised by these coaches, tactics cease to be a factor and victory becomes a matter of logistics. Two teams with identical tactical set ups will be differentiated by the side with better playing stock, probably due to larger playing populations (e.g Germany).

    So there’s substantial short term gains by being a first mover, so Australia has had (unspectacular but consistent) success against other Asian countries whom have not adapted the system, but they will surely soon adopt it, and Australia will be stuck having made considerable investments in a system that no longer has currency against similar sized powers and none against major powers.

    It’s like a technological innovation that can be neither patented nor hid. Profits soon get dissapated by adoption by rivals.

    So I guess the only way out of that trap is tactical innovation, or tactics designed to maximise the return on a given unique playing stock rather than the average return over varied playing stocks, which the pro forma approach is designed to do.

    Unfortunately no foreign coach is likely risk unconventional failure by innovation when conventional failure will condemn them less, and no Australain coach (yet) has the nuance, nor the support of the FFA to develop tactics designed on Australian attributes.

  6. FDB says:

    “At least it’s clear what we have to do now.”

    Play better football accross the board, yes. Perhaps start by playing a frickin’ striker.

  7. Nicholas Gruen says:

    cbp – my understanding is that the expression ‘tie’ is common in British usage anyway, particularly in soccer. Not Japlish, or if so, it’s been going for a long time.

  8. Rafe says:

    Everyone likes to win but the German crowds in the streets at home were going off their heads! Reminded me of a Hitler rally. Maybe I’m biased, having visited the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem last week.

    See Catallaxy for a report.

  9. Stephen Hill says:

    Have to admit a terrible performance, even if the Germans were magnificent.

    The problem Pim’s tactics are, if you are playing counter-attacking football, there has to be the potential to attack – otherwise you just get overwhelmed by the opposition as they send the fullbacks and deep-lying midfielders further forward. This doesn’t mean you need to pick a side of 6 foot strikers (look how badly Greece’s strategy back-fired against Korea) – but you need to at least threaten to break into the opponents area.

    For this reason, it was ridiculous that Bresciano was omitted who would have given us an option on the left-wing (which would mean there was an option B to going down Emerton’s flank) – to think Pim picked Garcia who was invisible in the warm-up friendlies. And that’s before we think about the ridiculousness Cahill being forced to play up-front, which had failed in a previous attempt about six months ago. It also looks even more ridiculous Verbeek leaving McDonald out of the squad completely.

    But more importantly the players looked lost playing in positions that they hadn’t played in. While this was probably meant to confuse the Germans, it ended up causing more confusion for our side, not familiar with such roles. This was not Dutch clockwork orange where a player is meant to adapt to his position on the field, this had more the randomness of Russian roulette. It wasn’t a pretty sight. While people might say if we’d scored from that corner in the third minute the strategy to park the bus would have worked, we just couldn’t get possession and the German’s stretched us until we were about as plausible in our roles as an actor in Home and Away.

    So what goes Pim do – He could still go 4-5-1 with one midfielder not far from the strikers. (would have loved to have Nicky Carle as an option, even if as a second-half change agent)

    Schwartzer, LB Chipperfield, LD Neil, RD Moore, RB Wilkshire, DM Valeri, CM Culina, LW Carney, RW Emerton, AM Bresciano, S Kennedy or Kewell. (The other option would be go with Vidosic as the floater, and move bresciano back to the wings)

    Or 4-4-2 Schwartz, LB Chipperfield, Neil, Moore, Wilkshire, DM Valeri, DM Jelinik, LM Bresiano, RM Emerton, S Kewell (or Holman if not fit), S Kennedy

    Guess it can only look up, after this.

  10. Butterfield, Bloomfiled & Bishop says:

    Verbeek’s tactics were very good to qualify but in the World cup you have to play to win and he has no plan B as we saw in the opening game.
    NO strikers at all.

    He cut our creative midfielders and didn’t play Arry at all. Arry didn’t like that judging by his throwing of his shin pads.

    I told my boys before the tournament started we would not score a goal and i think they will prove to be correct.

    As a ref Cahill was unlucky but Valeri lucky re red cards.

    We played dreadfully and with little spirit ( reminded me of the Asian cup especially Lucas) and team spirit which was fermenting in 2006 looks to be vinagarish now.

    A tie can happen in cricket but never in the beautiful game. It is only a draw

  11. Patrick says:


  12. James Farrell says:

    Actually, the only solution I can see is to challenge the Germans to a game of cricket. (Even then, I’d only be offering even money).

  13. Chris Gray says:

    Nice opinion piece, Gaby. Unfortunately (for us) events confirmed your predictions. To take your five points in retrospect:

    1. Lack of defensive simpatico. Yes.
    2. Vince Grella in the wrong position. Was he even on the field? He might as well already have been in the Galatasaray quarter.
    3. Not enough vertical movement. Yes, with the limited exception of Emerton’s passes to Garcia down the right.
    4. We miss Viduka’s ball holding and creativity. Yes indeed. Just as gli Azzuri will miss Totti.
    5. Cahill and Bresciano. A crystal ball on that one.

  14. Paul Case says:

    Gaby is clearly a man of great insight and wisdom on the world game.
    Could he possibly be the six million dollar man for 4 years time?

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