19 Jan 2016

Too few matches, but own goals galore

10:31 am on 19 January 2016

Sports Call - Given the lack of matches New Zealand Football (NZF) plays, the number of own goals the organisation manages to score never ceases to amaze.

We were treated to an example of one over the past week with All Whites coach Anthony Hudson bemoaning the lack of match play for his side - just three games in 2015 - as he tries to qualify New Zealand for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Hudson also lamented the poor attitude of New Zealand's young up and coming players, saying they weren't prepared to work hard enough to get to the top and were too big for their boots.

The message was they were big fish in a very, very small pond and they were never going to make it in the professional arenas around the world if attitudes didn't improve.

All Whites coach Anthony Hudson.

All Whites coach Anthony Hudson. Photo: Photosport

All seemingly valid comments for a national coach to make.

But it blindsided NZF chief Andy Martin.

Was Hudson suggesting it was NZF's fault the All Whites weren't playing enough?

Was he suggesting the age grade programmes weren't producing the right type of young footballers?

Surely this amounted to an attack on the national body.

But no response came from Martin. He was away on holiday and unavailable for comment.

The irony in this was that among Hudson's criticisms was that NZF shut down over the Christmas and New Year period just as he was needing decisions to be made about his squad for the first international window of the year in March.

Hudson's concerns, while valid, caught Martin unawares and hardly suggest a good working relationship between the pair.

A 'no surprises' policy is usual business practice and not giving Martin a heads-up on what he was about to say is not a good look.

Martin hasn't handled things well either. Waiting five days to make a public comment was a public relations and communication disaster.

He may well have been on leave, but when you have your national coach sounding off over how unhappy he is on the state of the game in the country you need to react and quickly.

So for several days there was a vacuum.

That left the door open for footballers past and present to once again expound their views on what is wrong with the sport - and with the All Whites world ranking dropping to 150 there was plenty of ammunition.

There hasn't been a lot for the All Whites to celebrate in recent times, with their world ranking dropping to 150, just ahead of Lesotho and Afghanistan.

There hasn't been a lot for the All Whites to celebrate in recent times, with their world ranking dropping to 150, just ahead of Lesotho and Afghanistan. Photo: Photosport

It doesn't help too that all of this comes so soon after another NZF own goal...the Deklan Wynne saga.

Wynne, 20, was born in South Africa and NZF failed to get the necessary clearance for him to play in last year's Oceania Olympic qualifying tournament.

He was subsequently ruled ineligible by the Oceania Football Confederation, ending New Zealand's hopes of heading to the 2016 Rio Olympics.

When Martin finally did speak out on Hudson's comments, he was at pains to point out that he agreed with them.

To say Hudson wasn't having a crack at NZF management, but rather simply venting his frustrations... that's a hard sell I'm afraid.

Hudson knew what he was coming into when he took on the All Whites role two years ago.

Funding for matches is limited - Martin has said they've had offers of international matches in Europe but they come with a price tag of $500,000, something NZF simply can't afford.

NZ Football chief executive Andy Martin.

NZ Football chief executive Andy Martin. Photo: Photosport

NZF has put a lot of time and resources into age grade football over recent years, but a football culture to challenge rugby is still decades away, so Hudson's complaints of lazy, young footballers are unlikely to abate either.

Don't expect Hudson's comments to lead to a rash of international matches for the All Whites, or young New Zealand footballers to all sudden become dedicated practitioners, or former grizzled players to stop complaining for that matter either.

Nothing is changing it seems, so expect the own goals to keep on coming.

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