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“It became very clear to me sitting out there today, that every decision I’ve ever made, in my entire life, has been wrong.”

So said George Costanza following one of his coffee shop epiphanies. But it could equally apply to Football Federation Australia, which has made a habit of shooting itself in the foot when it comes to the rather important business of running the game.

The news that the Socceroos won’t play a farewell friendly on home soil ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia comes as no surprise, after new coach Bert van Marwijk poured cold water on the idea in his very first press conference. The taciturn Dutchman made it clear he prioritised training camps over traditional send-offs, and an FFA helmed by leaders with little understanding of the game – and quick to acquiesce to anyone with a European accent – was only too happy to oblige.

So it is that the Socceroos will play the Czech Republic on 1 June in the Austrian town of St Polten, as well as Hungary in the Hungarian capital Budapest on 9 June, in their final warm-up matches ahead of the World Cup. It means the Socceroos will not once play on home soil with van Marwijk in charge, a fact that seems to suit the vastly experienced European campaigner just fine.

But here’s the problem. Australia is not Europe, and football is not our national sport.

And if van Marwijk doesn’t understand the unique challenges the game faces down under, that’s his problem. He should have been respectfully informed that it’s his job to coach the national team, and the FFA’s job to grow the game in Australia. And they should have then pencilled in a farewell friendly as a goodwill gesture to fans. You know …  the ones in Australia?

Gallop blamed the lack of a farewell friendly on the short period of time van Marwijk has to mould his team and the desire to give the Socceroos the best possible chance to spring an upset in a World Cup group containing France, Denmark and Peru. But he’s changed his tune from only a week or so ago, when it was apparently financial constraints – and more specifically the unwillingness of state governments to open the purse strings – as the supposed reason no farewell game had been scheduled.

And this business of selling national team games to the highest bidder is yielding rapidly diminishing returns. The Socceroos ran out to a half-empty ANZ Stadium in last year’s Asian Football Confederation playoff against Syria because FFA had sold the game as part of a package deal, paid for by Destination NSW, along with the subsequent inter-confederation playoff against Honduras.

Had the playoff against Syria been played across town at Allianz Stadium – or better yet, in a city like Brisbane or the Gold Coast crying out for a Socceroos fixture – it would have been packed to capacity. But having placed more value on short-term cash-grabs than inspiring the next generation of football fans, FFA now seems anchored to the idea that Socceroos games must be paid for by state governments at any cost – even if that cost is the dwindling goodwill of fans outside Sydney and Melbourne.

Which is a shame, because a national team boasting few traditions could really have used one in the form of a farewell friendly. The game should have been played at the new Optus Stadium in Perth, it should have been against Chile and van Marwijk should have been reminded that he’s coaching a team from the Southern Hemisphere, not South Holland.

If Aussies want to watch a European team with a bunch of Socceroos running around for them, we’ll tune into the English Premier League. But this is our national team, and it's representing Australia at the biggest sporting event on the planet. We deserve better than a game in Oslo, a game in London, a game in Austria and a game in Hungary to see them off.

We deserve a farewell friendly. Yes, the logistics are difficult. But surely no more difficult than the thought of turning Australian-based fans off the world game for good?

Categories: Opinion | Socceroos

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