Archie's Last Chance Saloon
It's been a while since Archie Thompson sported a golden yellow jersey with dark green shorts. His time in the international wilderness has led many to ponder his Socceroos future; not necessarily a case of when will he play for the national team again, but if.
Those assessing Thompson's international career rate his chances of accompanying his Socceroo buddies on an African safari next June similar to that of the Aussies actually winning the thing: slim to none.
Socceroos coach Pim Verbeek has made no attempt to hide his criticisms of Thompson, labelling his performance against Indonesia in January as "absolutely hopeless".
Almost a year on from that game, it appears Verbeek has made his point clear. The signs suggest he doesn't rate Thompson in his best squad and doesn't intend on taking him to South Africa.
A few rounds into the 2009-10 A-League season, there would've been little argument with that ruling. Despite enjoying his best pre-season in years - and even shaving off a few kilos in the process - Archie was misfiring all over the park. He'd lose possession, seize up in front of goal and appeared desperate at times. The immense pressure placed on his shoulders was as obvious as Thierry Henry's handball.
Then something changed. It appeared as though he stopped giving a toss. After taking three games to open his A-League season account, Thompson publicly revealed the amount of pressure he had placed on himself and how a chat with his wife in his hallway at home snapped him out of it.
"I was putting too much pressure on myself," he said at the time. "Instead of going out there and enjoying myself like I usually do, I was caught up in the World Cup hype and everything like that and I forgot about the smile on the face. I know when I'm playing good when I do have a smile on my face.
"My wife checked me, body-checked me in the hallway at home, said 'snap out of it'. I've just been concentrating too much on the things that are in the future and I have no control over. I have to worry about the present, and that's what I'm trying to do. It's about getting back to enjoying football."
And enjoying his football he is. Since that fateful body-check, Archie's form has warranted debate - again, I know - regarding one last chance to prove Verbeek wrong.
The Melbourne Victory striker currently finds himself in a rich vein of form. Three goals from the past four outings have seen Thompson soar up the goalscoring charts with eight strikes, just three shy of the competition's top marksman Shane Smeltz. He's also busy helping his team-mates get on the scoresheet too, providing a massive injection of energy and creativity into a Victory line-up that, coincidentally, is back to its attacking best.
Thompson has polarised opinion regarding his place in the Socceroos line-up. Some argue he simply isn't prolific enough to cut it on the international scene. Others argue he could provide that X-factor - a bit of speed, a little razzle-dazzle and maybe a goal or two.
I won't sit on the fence; I have been one to question his prolific nature in front of goal, particularly on the world stage. His lack of impact, however, is probably attributed to way he has been deployed.
As we've seen in the A-League this season - particularly during the past month - Thompson can be extremely dangerous when actively involved in an attack. He keeps defenders guessing with his trickery, speed and creativity, and while international football is played on a different level with higher quality defenders, offering variation never hurt anyone, especially while experimenting.
This month of football leading up to Christmas will essentially decide Thompson's World Cup fate. With an Asian Cup qualifier against Kuwait on January 6 falling outside a FIFA international window, this is Thompson's Last Chance Saloon.
Verbeek may believe he's experimented with Thompson one too many times, but whatever side of the white line you stand on, it seems a fair view that players should be selected for their respective national team based on form, not reputation. Not many national team managers have subscribed to this theory over the years and, for some, that has been to their own detriment - former Italy boss Roberto Donadoni being a case in point before his sacking in June 2008.
While it is doubtful the same fate awaits Verbeek if he overlooks Archie for his World Cup squad, it seems a downright shame if he denies Thompson one last chance - particularly when he's playing so damn well.