Carle puts strong case forward
The jury may still be out on Brett Holman's place in the Socceroos line-up, however the verdict is in for Nicky Carle - hand the lad a ticket to South Africa and give him a decent run-out during Australia's upcoming matches against the Netherlands and Oman.
In Australia's international friendly against South Korea last month, many players still on the fringes did their best to convince coach Pim Verbeek not to select them for his 2010 World Cup squad. Carle chose to do otherwise, putting forward a case that was as compelling as one from Erin Brockovich.
And in theory, it was a performance that should end the Carle vs. Holman debate.
The latter's place in the Socceroos squad has been pretty safe since the Graham Arnold era. He's been the preferred option in the attacking midfield role, particularly when the likes of Harry Kewell and Tim Cahill are absent from the starting XI. There is no disputing his efforts; Holman is a hard worker whose commitment cannot be discounted. He is also great at getting himself into attacking positions. However, his execution, particularly his shooting at international level, is a major flaw of his game.
Carle, on the other hand, has been used rather sporadically in his 11-game international career, both by Verbeek and Arnold before him. In most cases, he has been used as a substitute in the latter stages of a game.
Against South Korea, however, he was given a little extra time - 30 minutes in fact - to show what he could do. While it wasn't a performance that people will be speaking about for years to come, it did provide a tasty sample of what he could deliver with adequate time on the park. In truth, Carle did more in that half-hour window than Holman did in his hour-long appearance.
Coming on as a 61st-minute sub for Holman, Carle looked lively and was involved from the outset. He created, supported, defended and injected some mojo into Australia's impotent attack.
On that September night in Seoul, most of the Aussies on the field were outplayed by their South Korean counterparts - defensively and offensively. Not Carle. He held his own many a time, closing down defenders (in his attacking third) and forcing interceptions. He also dropped deep into defence to dispossess opponents. Seems like he has learnt a thing or two playing in the Championship...
In an attacking sense, meanwhile, he was always looking to create and play, not run and chase.
Carle provided an example of his intelligence shortly after entering the pitch, producing a moment of magic in which he sold some candy to one defender, then waited patiently for a second defender to commit before calmly slotting the ball through to Josh Kennedy, who was unmarked on the edge of the penalty area. Unfortunately, the beanpole striker sent his low cross directly into the oncoming defender, ending a wonderfully crafted passage of play.
The above wasn't an isolated incident as Carle made a habit of drawing defenders to free up his team-mates, thus creating an extra man or two in attack.
Verbeek now has a highly-creative player at his disposal; a player that appears to have grown against the grain in contrast to the more commonly known technically-frail Australian footballer.
Carle is imaginative, creative, and is blessed with amazing technique and talent. He is a visionary in that he sees the play unfold before he receives the ball, and he is calculated; when he is in possession, he rarely wastes it. He is also incredibly cool on the ball, which allows him to create passages of play others seem incapable of even attempting.
In some respects, he could be the missing piece in Verbeek's puzzle - the piece that provides that X-factor. And with a game against the Netherlands on Saturday night in Sydney, followed by an Asian Cup qualifier against Oman a few days later in Melbourne, Verbeek has the perfect opportunity to complete the puzzle by giving Carle some consistent game time.
For quite some time now, an Australian national team has been bereft of the playmaker-type individual; that is, a player who can single-handedly take control of the game and create something out of nothing. A player who can prise open the tightest of defences with a precision pass or crafty piece of play. The world's best teams have one, maybe two, generation after generation. Australia is still waiting for its own to come along - the reason for the lengthy delay is another issue.
While Carle is no Lionel Messi, he is also no Holman, who Verbeek has persisted with for far too long now in this role.
On the evidence Carle tabled, it is pretty difficult to deny the player his rights. That is, a right to entertain on the grandest of stages in world football - particularly when he is so entertaining to watch.