Archie aiming for Aussie action
Seven-and-a-half years after a world record scoring spree guaranteed his place in footballing folklore, Archie Thompson remains on the fringes of the Socceroo scene, behind younger strikers Josh Kennedy and Scott McDonald in the pecking order.
The Melbourne Victory marquee player, who's just turned 30, produces goals almost everywhere he goes yet continues to be overlooked for national squads under coach Pim Verbeek.
Left out of the World Cup qualifiers against Qatar and Bahrain, Thompson is having to manage more frustration at national level after being an unused substitute at Germany 2006 and limited to a brief cameo at the 2007 Asian Cup. And he hinted that his omission from the Socceroos squad for the Brisbane qualifier against Qatar in October may have been the catalyst for a two-match suspension for an uncharacteristic red card against the Newcastle Jets in the A-League for abusing referee Matthew Breeze.
He told Melbourne's Herald Sun newspaper: "I was disappointed I didn't make the squad and that might have boiled (over) onto the game against Newcastle. Who knows?" His club coach, Ernie Merrick, for one, can't believe that Thompson isn't a regular in the national squad.
He marked his return to action with the winning goal away to Queensland Roar in Round 11: scoring for the fourth time in a 2008-2009 campaign that sees Melbourne riding high at the top of the table, despite a slew of suspensions.
Apart from a loan spell in 2006 under Guus Hiddink at PSV Eindhoven in the Dutch Eredivisie, the popular and likeable Thompson has been Melbourne's rock up front during the four seasons of the A-League, making 64 appearances and scoring 33 goals, including five in the 2007 Grand Final as the Victory crushed Adelaide United 5-0. The 2006-07 season saw him produce a league-best tally of 15 in 22 matches.
Only Newcastle's Joel Griffiths - another homegrown product - can rival him as the A-League's most prolific striker. The media-friendly Thompson is the hero of the Telstra Dome faithful and one of the familiar faces of Australia's fastest growing professional sport. But, internationally, Thompson's career has struggled for momentum, despite earning 30 caps since 2001 and scoring 21 times.
Thirteen of those goals came on a slightly surreal autumn night in the New South Wales town of Coffs Harbour in a now legendary Oceania qualifier against American Samoa for the 2002 World Cup. Thompson - and the Socceroos - set new world records as Australia won 31-0 against a nation then ranked 200th on the FIFA list.
After a scoreless opening 12 minutes, eight of his goals came in the first half - including four in 13 minutes before half time as Australia led 16-0. His spree smashed the international record of 10 set soon after the start of last century.
In the 2006 World Cup campaign, Thompson was thrown in the deep end by coach Hiddink who picked the compact forward in the first leg of the play-off against Uruguay in Montevideo. But after Australia qualified for their first World Cup finals in 32 years, Thompson couldn't get off the bench in Germany as Mark Viduka and John Aloisi played lead roles.
It was a similar story a year later in the Asian Cup with only a brief substitute appearance in the 3-1 loss to Iraq in Bangkok.
The 2008 Beijing Olympics - where he was picked as one of three over-age players - finally gave Thompson the chance to prove himself in a big tournament. However, his injury-curtailed campaign produced two matches and no goals as the Olyroos were bundled out in the group stages.
But, in the A-League, Thompson is a proven match-winner, known for his joyous and colourful reactions after scoring goals. In fact, his close friend and sometime Socceroo teammate Tim Cahill has revealed that his trademark celebration of punching the corner flag was inspired by Thompson who'd earlier shown off a kung-fu goal salute. Both were doing it to entertain their kids.
In this interview with ESPNsoccernet, Thompson talks about his friendship with Cahill, compares this Melbourne Squad with the title-winning side of 2006-07 and hints at his frustration at being left out by the Socceroos.
Q: Archie, how does it feel to be scoring important goals for Melbourne again, given the injury-plagued start to the season?
A: It's good to be back playing again. I've just come back from a two-week suspension this time and I was eager to get out there. I was disappointed when I got sent off knowing that it was a big match against Sydney the week after in such an important game (to start with). But the results have gone our way, we're on top of the table and I was glad to score the winner against Queensland.
Q: How does this Melbourne side compare to the one that won the title a couple of years ago?
A: That question was asked to me last year and I said the squad was definitely up there. We didn't do much in that year, but now I believe we've got a lot more depth. We've got so many players who can play in so many different positions, so I think this squad is definitely right up there.
Q: What did you learn from your two match suspension?
A: I learnt that I need to watch what I say to referees and try not to get frustrated.
Q: What do you need to do to get to the next level and be a regular Socceroo starter?
A: If I knew that I would be the happiest man in Australia. It's as simple as that.
Q: How did your friendship with Tim Cahill evolve and how close are the two of you today?
A: You meet someone and you connect. It's not just Tim Cahill… it's everyone in the team. Jason Culina and Jade North are two of my best mates too, so it's hard to single someone out. Obviously Timmy's the well-known one and it's good to be around him too because you get heaps of free stuff!
Q: What are your favourite memories of playing with PSV and where do you see your European ambitions now?
A: It was a good experience. Obviously I would've loved to have done more, got more game time (he made two substitute appearances) and experienced more. But I experienced such great facilities and what it's like to be at a world-class European club. But being back here, watching the game evolve in Australia and in Melbourne and being part of the biggest and most supported club in the country is better than being in Europe.
Q: What do you remember about your world record scoring spree in the 2002 World Cup qualifier?
A: I honestly don't remember a lot about it. But two things I clearly remember was when Damian Mori was worried about one of us breaking his quickest goal record, so he was yelling at their goalkeeper to get back in his goal. I also remember them kicking off the wrong way and the referee having to show them how to kick off!
Q: What are your biggest remaining ambitions in football, club and country?
A: Club is obviously just to grow the club and football, in general, not just throughout Melbourne, but also Australia. Being part of the World Cup squad too is an ambition. I missed out on the squad to play against Bahrain, but hopefully if I start playing well, start playing regularly and start scoring some goals, I can get my foot back in the door.
• Sydney-born Jason Dasey www.jasondasey.com is an international broadcaster and corporate host. He covered the 2006 World Cup and 2007 Asian Cup for ESPN.