The Bert van Marwijk era finally gets under way in a few hours when the Socceroos begin their World Cup build-up against Norway – and Australia legend Mark Schwarzer reckons all bets are now off when it comes to predicting the team that will take the field against France on June 16.
Van Marwik, who has taken temporary charge of the Socceroos for the World Cup in Russia, met his players for the first time this week after naming a 26-man squad for the friendly in the early hours of tomorrow morning (4am AEDT) in Oslo and against Colombia on Wednesday (6am AEDT).
There are a further two friendly matches planned, against Czech Republic on June 1 and Hungary on June 9, before the Group C opener at the Kazan Stadium in Russia and Schwarzer insists nobody can take their place in the squad, let alone the starting line-up, for granted.
“I don’t think that just because you were part of the team that qualified guarantees you a place at the World Cup,” said Schwarzer, who played in the 2006 and 2010 World Cup tournaments before retiring from international football in 2013.
“I know it is harsh but qualification is won in November and seven months down the line is the World Cup, there is a lot that can happen in between and the obvious thing for us now is we have a new manager
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“All bets are off. It is down to players showing the manager what they can do. Reputation gets you so far, but bottom line is you have to back it up with performances.
“Lets not forget, Guus Hiddink in 2006 brought in Luke Wilkshire and Josh Kennedy from completely leftfield and they went on to be a major part of the success through that period of time so anything is possible.”
Socceroos hold first training session with Bert
The stand-out name in Van Marwijk’s first Socceroos squad is goalkeeper Brad Jones, back in the fold for the first time since 2014 after being discarded by predecessor Ange Postecoglou.
For Jones, it is a chance to finally appear in a World Cup – and an opportunity the 36-year-old surely must have thought had passed.
Jones was picked in the 2010 World Cup squad but tragedy struck when he was told on the eve of the tournament his four-year-old son Luca had been diagnosed with leukaemia. He immediately flew to be at his son’s side, but Luca lost his brave battle two years later.
Understandably, his career stalled and Jones’ subsequent dream move to Liverpool turned sour. He turned to the Netherlands in 2016 and a loan move to Nijmegen sparked interest from Feyenoord.
Jones has not looked back since – he helped the club to the title last season and his sparkling form has now earned a recall to the international scene. And the fact his new international manager is a Dutchman, and lives nearby Rotterdam, has obviously helped his cause.
Schwarzer, who made 514 Premier League appearances in goal for Middlesbrough, Fulham, Chelsea and Leicester, says Jones’ recall is long overdue and he can battle the current No.1, Brighton’s Maty Ryan, for a place in the starting line-up.
“I’m surprised he hasn’t been involved more frequently but I think there are reasons for that – nobody really knows 100 per cent but decisions were made for whatever reason,” said Schwarzer.
“But Brad has been playing really well, he’s been excellent for Feyenoord, playing consistently well week-in, week-out at a very, very good club.
“One hundred per cent he deserves to be back in the squad and he deserves the opportunity to show the new manager what he can do.
“There’s not too many Aussie goalkeepers playing in a top league. Obviously Matty Ryan is playing in the Premier League, which is a step up again, but there are not a lot else out there playing at a top top level, so it is only natural that someone of Brad’s quality and calibre should be involved.”
Van Marwijk confirms 26-man squad
With Ryan having impressed for Brighton after initially struggling, the 25-year-old, who played for the Socceroos in the last World Cup, is favourite to start against France.
Schwarzer believes the competition will only drive the two goalkeepers on – but insists van Marwijk must decide on his No.1 well ahead of the World Cup opener.
“Competition is really healthy. It comes down to what the manager prefers. We all know about the style of play that Maty has, his strength of playing out from the back, a really high line, he’s really quick, very explosive. And then with Brad he is a goalkeeper that plays a little bit deeper, can play with his feet but obviously has more of an aerial dominance. It really depends on the manager.
“What he’s getting is options. He’s getting two goalkeepers that are very different and will give him options. It comes down to what the manager prefers.
“The key is having a healthy relationship, an amicable and good working relationship. You want a healthy competition for places. You’ll get that with Maty and Brad.
“But the competition for places becomes more intense. It’s a World Cup, it’s just around the corner and people are going to do everything they can to impress the manager. Secure a place in the squad and then a starting position.
“And that maybe is something that won’t be apparent until weeks before the tournament begins, who knows. It happened with me under Guus Hiddink [in 2006], he kept us on our toes all of the time, he played mind games with us and it wasn’t until literally until a couple of days before the first game that I knew I was playing and that’s the way he was the whole way through.
“When I was actually dropped for the game against Croatia I only found out a couple of hours before the game, so managers do play certain games, tactics, ideas how they handle positions and players.
“For me I always found, particularly for goalkeepers, that if you knew you had the manager’s backing 100 per cent and it was clear early enough to prepare. There are so many distractions at a World Cup, let alone trying to work out whether you are playing, not playing. I felt that whenever that hasn’t been the case, generally neither performs at their best. I think managers should be clearer but everyone is different and it varies under the circumstances as well.”
(Socceroo’s Mark Schwarzer speaks at a media conference in Melbourne, Saturday, June 8, 2013. The Socceroos will play Jordan in a FIFA World Cup qualifier match on Tuesday. (AAP Image/Joe Castro))
For Schwarzer, Australia’s most-capped player of all time, this summer will represent a very different challenge, as he will be working as an analyst and commentator covering the tournament, with all 64 games live on Optus Sport. Optus Sports will also be broadcasting nine live friendlies in the run-up to the tournament, including Group C opponents Denmark, who take on Chile on Wednesday (6am AEDT).
“You’re going to have to be prepared, really have a proper understanding of the players and the strength and weaknesses. You don’t just turn up and commentate on the game,” he said.
And his early tip as possible champions? Outside the usual suspects of Germany, Brazil and Spain he says Belgium’s quality means they have to be taken seriously.
“Belgium have the quality to win it, no doubt whatsoever. It is whether or not it is managed right. They’re only a dark horse because they haven’t performed at major tournaments at the level expected at the best. It will almost be a travesty if this team did not reach the semi-final or finals – but often the World Cup shows you often it is not the best team on paper to win it.”