Popovic and Aloisi join calls for ALM to observe international breaks

Socceroos legends and A-League Men coaches Tony Popovic and John Aloisi have joined the growing chorus calling for the competition to observe international breaks.

The Socceroos will play Japan and Saudi Arabia in must-win World Cup Qualifiers in the current international window; facing the Samurai Blue in Sydney on Thursday evening before jetting off the Gulf to take on the Green Falcons the following week. 

ALM, however, will not join the majority of top-flight leagues around the world in breaking during this period, meaning that its clubs are missing 10 of their most important and influential players during a busy period on the schedule. 

Melbourne City, for instance, were without the services of Mat Leckie, Jamie Maclaren, Marco Tilio, and Connor Metcalfe for their 2-1 win over Brisbane Roar on Wednesday evening, while Melbourne Victory had to make do without Nick D’Agostino and Ben Folami in their 1-1 draw with Western United. 

The ALM had initially planned to pause its seasons for the stretches where the Socceroos were in action but due to a desire to finish their season on schedule despite the disruptive effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, abandoned those plans in late 2021

Following his side’s draw on Wednesday, Victory coach Popovic, a 58-time Socceroo, said that they should be introduced into the competition in the future, not the least because the national team’s games should be sacrosanct. 

“That’s something I would have loved to have seen every year that I’ve been coaching,” he said. “We shouldn’t be losing players during this period. 

“We should all focus on the Socceroos and we should all be cheering them on and not playing during this period. 

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“There are various reasons why that doesn’t happen and can’t happen. Hopefully, we can have a normal schedule next year with a game a week for every team and maybe that’s something that can be included as well.”

Albeit a much easier stance to take due to his side not losing any players to this Socceroos squad, Western boss Aloisi was slightly more sympathetic to the plight of A-Leagues organisers the APL but still voiced his hope that international breaks would be observed in future seasons. 

“It’s difficult. The way that the season has gone and the way that it’s been put together, especially with the COVID situation and the whole situation with the A-Leagues. I can understand why there’s no break,” he said. 

“In the future, I’m hoping there will be. In terms of when we have such big international games. Because we want our best players playing in the competition but also playing for the Socceroos. 

“You’d have to think now there’s 10+ players that are in the Socceroos that are in the A-Leagues. That’s good for our A-Leagues but it’s not great when you’re missing them from the league.

“I just hope that the Socceroos win against Japan and set it up nicely for their last game. There’s a lot that’s gone against them but Australians seem to stand up and make sure that things are going against you that we put on a performance and get a result that we need.”

A particular sore point that has arisen as the ALM presses onward through the international window has been Football Australia’s attempts to call up late injury and COVID replacements for Graham Arnold’s heavily undermanned squad. 

Folami, for instance, was brought into the squad at late notice on Sunday after Craig Goodwin and Jackson Irvine were forced to withdraw. 

On Tuesday, however, City blocked defender Curtis Good from being called up to the team to replace COVID-positive Kye Rowles due to the 29-year-old not initially being named on the Socceroos preliminary squad list – which would have obligated his release for international duty.

Good started in a significantly depleted City backline (Scott Jamieson out with an injury and Nuno Reis out with COVID) in their 2-1 win on Wednesday.

“It’s very easy to point fingers but if we want to grow and we want to follow rules around the world – because we are a world sport – what’s good for one country has got to be good for all,” City coach Patrick Kisnorbo said following his side’s triumph.

“We’ve been talking about international breaks, last year, what happened? We missed how many Socceroos? We had 12 kids that have been at Melbourne City or played at Melbourne City in the Olympics.

“It doesn’t change, that’s why there’s no point in me wasting my breath because it is what it is. I think people need to have a look maybe at what the real problem is not point fingers.”

For his part, Popovic confirmed that Folami had been placed on the Socceroos preliminary squad list but signalled that he wouldn’t have stood in his way even had he not been. 

“We had eight or nine players on the list. So we had a lot of players on the list. We even had injured players on the list. So I don’t know. It’s a big list,” he said.

“But in the end, Benny deserved to get called up and whatever the circumstances are we’re happy for him. 

“We can’t give these boys a platform here and encourage them to train with us and play with us and be the best they can be and then hold them back when an opportunity comes to play for your country in the two biggest games that we’ve had in this campaign.

“But it really should be a free week that we just focus in. We shouldn’t be playing the day before the Socceroos play. But it is what it is for now and tomorrow we all cheer on the Socceroos and hope they get the result.”

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Header Image Credit: Football Australia

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