‘Football is life, and life is football.’
The opening words from Craig Foster’s book, Fozz on Football, certainly ring true for a man who has spent most his life either playing soccer professionally or working in the football media.
Off the field, Foster is well known for his direct and sometimes brutal analysis of the state of the Australian game, much to the chagrin of some, but to the delight of many.
While some within the football community, such as Ange Postecoglou, disagree with Foster’s views, his commitment to both the game and Australia’s journey to becoming a truly footballing nation is undisputed.
When asked how football will become Australia’s national sport, Foster explains that ‘passion’ is the driving force. ‘The game has an undeniable capacity to evoke strong passions in every country, culture, gender and age.’
Although many people see the round ball game as the poor cousin to Australia’s other football codes (AFL, NRL and Rugby Union), it is easy to understand the point Foster makes.
At both the 2006 and 2010 FIFA World Cups, many Australians went to school and work bleary-eyed after forgoing sleep to watch the Socceroos compete in arguably the world’s biggest sporting event.
This is where football has the distinct advantage over provincial codes like AFL or NRL. Foster says that ‘over 250 million human beings around the world are registered football players… thus, whether as a participant or spectator, football engages more human beings then any other game ever invented.’
Cynics suggest that both the popularity of the AFL and NRL and the Socceroos’ very low chance of winning the World Cup in the near future mean that the sport will never become ‘Australia’s game’. Foster disagrees, saying the introduction of Football Federation Australia’s National Football Curriculum, aimed at improving the skill level, quality and performance of Australian footballers, will inch Australia ever closer to football’s most grand of prizes.
‘We are already seeing the fruits of a new philosophy and way of looking at the game. Young teams everywhere are now actively trying to play out from the back (from defence) and the long ball approach is quickly dying.’
‘At Under-13 and -14 National Championships this month, the style of play was far, far better than just two or three years ago.’
Despite this, Foster is keen to point out that the National Football Curriculum is not a quick-fix solution, and international success at senior level will take ‘at least 20 years’.
A key aspect of the National Football Curriculum is that the 4-3-3 system of playing has been mandated across all levels of junior football. ‘This teaches players how to understand football, not just play it,’ Foster says.
‘It teaches space, and space equals understanding. Each player has a specific area on the field which is defined in attack and defence… it teaches youngsters the correct use of positioning on the field.’
Foster believes that the Australian junior national teams, such as the Under-17s and Under-20s, should play this system regardless of the opposition and no matter the result at junior level.
‘Results over time on a consistent basis are the direct consequence of the quality of performance … it is possible to win a single match by any means, however in a high quality competition, the performance level will determine ultimate success,’ he says.
‘Every successful nation at youth level plays football to a very high level to eventually succeed (at senior level), Australia must do likewise, there is no other way.’
A current team who has used the 4-3-3 system to great effect, Spain’s FC Barcelona, is a team that Foster considers one of the best ever.
When probed on what Australia could learn from the Catalonian giants, Foster did not pinpoint one exact area Australia could adopt, he simply stated that we could learn ‘everything’, and that ‘in essence, we already are, because whilst they have exceeded the initial vision, the (FFA) National Curriculum philosophy is also theirs.’
He also stated that both the National Curriculum and Barcelona’s philosophies were based on being able to ‘play proactively… focus on technique over physique, to select football players over runners, and to play a 4-3-3 system. All of these are philosophical similarities since both are based on the Dutch vision.’
So then it’s no surprise who Foster says his favourite manager was when asked: ‘Terry Venables (Barcelona coach 1984-87 and coach of Australia 1997-98). He opened my eyes up to concepts of space and time in football.’
It is clear that Foster views Australia’s progression into a football nation by not only winning matches, but the manner and style in which Australia does so – much like the approach of FC Barcelona.
Daniel Baricevic is a first-year Bachelor of Sports Journalism student at La Trobe University. You can follow him on Twitter: @danielbara4