Thank god for the A-League. After a week which underlined why the Dutch way is often a dull way, the domestic competition has demonstrated – in Adelaide, in Brisbane, in Townsville, in Robina, and in Newcastle – why beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Open, adventurous, and spirited. A league which, in general terms, reflects what Australians like about football is looking pretty good at the moment.There’s the uncertainty. There’s the spontaneity. There’s the honesty. And, yes, there’s the immaturity. The A-League is not all things to all people, but in just its fifth season it continues to make a compelling case. That is, given time, it will become a competition to be proud of. Maybe one of the top five in Asia, despite the strictures of a salary cap.What it needs in the meantime is to be nurtured. Which means all those with a stake in the game – whether they be fans, coaches, the media, players or administrators – need to keep a sense of perspective. Let it breathe, and it will grow.Suffocate it, however, and who knows what might happen. Which is why it was so encouraging to see Aurelio Vidmar, the young Australian coach in charge of Adelaide United, ditch his Dutch system for the match against Sydney FC on Friday night. A small step, but a big statement.Pim Verbeek’s strident criticism of the domestic league has had a ripple effect. Most obviously, in terms of the career choices of players such as Jade North, Scott Chipperfield, Jason Culina and others. Less obvious is the implied message to the coaches. That their teams are tactically naive, technically inept and perhaps even unfit. It’s a message disseminated with great enthusiasm by the usual suspects, mostly Euro snobs in the press box and in the grandstand. Those who see things in a different light are blamed for rewarding mediocrity.Let it be said, the A-League is not mediocre. The clubs, by and large, have an environment every bit as professional as many clubs overseas. What’s not in doubt is that professionalism, as a concept, a way of life, is still a novelty to many Australian players. They will act like professionals when they learn to think like professionals. In a competition only five years old, clearly there is still some way to go.To get there, however, we can’t discard our football culture. That is, a culture which has evolved through the prism of many different ideas and styles. Chances are, the 35 players in the frame to go to next year’s World Cup will have been taught, or influenced, by coaches from a kaleidoscope of backgrounds. Why, then, the new orthodoxy that tells us we should now wed our future to just one?Dutch football has many fine attributes. But it’s not perfect. One of the first things then FFA technical director Rob Baan said when he arrived three years ago was he wanted to see kids out in the parks, learning football in an unstructured way, because Dutch football no longer encouraged or created true creativity.Baan has since left, having claimed credit for a new blueprint that has enshrined the very system he railed against. A system brought sharply into focus by last week’s dreary scoreless stalemate between Netherlands A and Netherlands B – the team formerly known as the Socceroos. A system which has Verbeek replace a holding midfielder with an attacker as he chases a result against Oman, only to then withdraw Brett Emerton into a defensive role in order to keep his beloved 4-2-3-1 formation intact.Is that really the way forward? Not if you listen to the disaffected fans as they streamed out of the SFS, or Etihad Stadium. Which is why Vidmar’s teamsheet against Sydney was such a poignant moment. The Reds fans had had enough of gunshy 4-2-3-1, and he knew it. Finally he reacted, and Adelaide suddenly looked like a team that could score again. Around the country, other coaches have begun to consult their own conscience, and perhaps even the mood of their own players, instead of slavishly following the Dutch manifesto. The spirit of independence, and tolerance, is alive and well. And the A-League’s future is going to be better for it.
Nanjing Night Net