Australians expect gamble on Venables to pay off

Terry Venables (left) is the new manager of the Socceroos. So what has been the reaction to the appointment Down Under? Dave Hadfield reports from Sydney
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The Independent Online
The prospect of Terry Venables as El Supremo of their national football side is being greeted with equal measures of excitement and incredulity in Australia.

Soccer Australia is an organisation with big plans, which extend beyond merely qualifying for the World Cup finals for the first time in 24 years to actually making an impact in France in 1998. But it is also an organisation with such a reputation for poverty that it is widely believed here that it recently had its phone cut off because it was unable to pay its bills.

"That is factually incorrect," said Soccer Australia's public relations officer, Steve Speziale. "Phone lines were being switched over that day and we were far from being the only business cut off."

All the same, news of the pounds 400,000 contract for one of the football world's highest profile operators has startled Australia. It is money, however, that Soccer Australia believes it will recoup.

Venables' first duties with the national side will be during a four-team tournament here next January, involving Norway, South Korea and New Zealand. His mere presence is confidently expected to double the gates for that series of matches while Venables' influence on the international stage is also predicted to bring in more top- class overseas opposition, with the attendant extra revenue from better crowds and television rights.

"People think about what it's going to cost to bring a person of Terry Venables' calibre to Australia, but they don't acknowledge the other side of the equation - the fact that it's also going to bring in money," said Speziale.

In a country where three other codes of football have deeper roots - even the Soccer Australia chairman, David Hill, who clinched the Venables deal in Britain, is a refugee from rugby league where he used to run the North Sydney club - the other significance of the appointment is symbolic. "The signing of Terry Venables is a statement about where Australian soccer wants to go," said Speziale.

Where it wants to go first and foremost is to France, although it should not really require a Venables to get them there. Their Oceania qualifying group pitched them against Tahiti and either the Solomon Islands or Tonga and they must then play the fourth-placed Asian side.

That opens up the possibility of a further European adventure for a Socceroo squad already largely based on the opposite side of the world from home.

There are now more than 20 Australians playing professionally in England - ranging from Premiership regulars like Mark Bosnich and Robbie Slater down to the likes of Steve Riches of the Warringa Dolphins and Leyton Orient - and a total of almost 200 in Europe as a whole.

That makes Venables' desire to retain his English base a positive advantage, although Soccer Australia was at pains yesterday to stress that he will not be an absentee coach and will spend 45 per cent of his time in Australia. His time, both at home and abroad, will also be devoted to a battle for credibility for the game.

Although Soccer Australia has tried desperately hard to down-play the ethnic base upon which most clubs here have been built and which led to frequent crowd trouble as old enmities were revived, football here is still perceived as a game for recent immigrants.

Against that, football can claim to be the first code, founded 21 years ago, to have a truly national competition, even though it is often sparsely supported. They bridle here at suggestions that Venables is going into a football wilderness.

"There are people in England who have been lampooning us as a sort of soccer banana republic," Speziale said. "But if they are doing that, they are really lampooning themselves, because they are keen enough in Britain to have our players."

There is some criticism here from those who have worked to keep the game afloat in the face of international indifference.

The former Socceroo goalkeeper Jack Reilly summed it up when he described Venables' impending appointment as "a slap in the face for the people involved in the game in Australia".

More to the point for Soccer Australia is that the appointment should have an impact on those who have stubbornly declined to become involved. One small sign of how far they have to go was that the news of Venables' appointment last night was only the third sports item on the television bulletins.

After his profile in Britain that might even come as some relief for Venables, but his expensive acquisition will not be considered a success unless football here soon has more recognition to show for its efforts.

AUSTRALIANS PLAYING IN ENGLAND

FA CARLING PREMIERSHIP

Mark Bosnich Manchester Utd to Aston Villa Free

John Filan Cambridge to Coventry City pounds 30,000

Adem Poric St George's Budapest to Sheffield Wed pounds 60,000

Robbie Slater West Ham to Southampton pounds 250,000

Chris Coyne Perth SC to West Ham pounds 20,000

Stan Lazaridis W Adelaide to West Ham pounds 300,000

Steve Mautone Canberra Cosmos to West Ham pounds 60,000

NATIONWIDE FIRST DIVISION

Andy Petterson Luton to Charlton pounds 85,000

Kevin Muscat South Melbourne to Crystal Palace pounds 200,000

Carl Veart Sheffield Utd to Crystal Palace pounds 200,000

Andrew McDermott Australian Institute of Sport to QPR Free

Andy Bernal Sydney Olympic to Reading pounds 30,000

Doug Hodgson Alex Heidelberg to Sheffield Utd pounds 30,000

Frank Talia Blackburn to Swindon pounds 150,000

Steve Corica Wolves to Leicester pounds 1.1m

SECOND DIVISION

Paul Agostino Young Boys Berne to Bristol City pounds 50,000

David Deal Aalst to Bristol City pounds 80,000

Jason Kearton Everton to Bristol City Unknown

Lucas Neill Australian Insitute of Sport to Millwall Free

Jason Van Blerk Go Ahead to Millwall pounds 300,000

Shaun Murphy Perth Italia to Notts County pounds 4,500

Richard Johnson Watford From trainee

THIRD DIVISION

Steve Riches US University to Leyton Orient Free

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