Monday, January 10, 2011

Steve Darby speaks forthrightly about the Asian Cup and Asian football on the eve of the Socceroos' first match

Photo: Steve Darby (nearest camera) on the bench at South Hobart when he was White Eagles' coach. The other people are (L-R) Craig McKenzie, Franco Previdi and Eugene Banasik [PlessPix]; Thailand's assistant national coach Steve Darby worked in the Middle East before coming to Tasmania

Former Tasmanian director of coaching, Steve Darby, is currently assistant national coach to Thailand. He is second in charge to Bryan Robson, one of the biggest names in world football and a star with Manchester United and England.

Darby was assistant coach in Bahrain before he came to Tasmania. He has also played for Tranmere Rovers in England.

In Tasmania, he coached and played for Devonport City, coached New Town Eagles, and played for South Hobart, Glenorchy Knights and University.

From Tasmania, he moved interstate and coached with Sydney Olympic in the old NSL. He was also coach of the Matildas and was married to the captain, Anissa Tan-Darby.

Darby then moved to South-East Asia and coached successfully in Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam. He was the national coach of the Vietnam women’s team. He is now married to a former Miss Vietnam and they have one son.

I interviewed Steve today about the Asian Cup and about Australia’s chances.

Darby has always been a straight shooter and he doesn’t hold back when he talks about Asian football. This interview is an example.

Walter Pless: Steve, you've coached in both Bahrain and Australia. Both countries are in Group C of the Asian Cup. Who will win when the two meet, and why?

Steve Darby: I think Australia will win. They have so many players with top-level experience that it should see them through. Goalscoring, though, seems to be a problem. But, that is the problem all over Asia.

But I’m happy the Asian Cup is on as it means I can avoid Bryan Robson rubbing in Man United’s success over Liverpool on a daily basis!

WP: How do you rate Bahrain and what should Australia watch out for?

SD: I’ve not been in Bahrain for a long time. In fact, the coach, Salman Sharida, is one of my ex-players! The Bahrainis did very well in the mid-2000s. A Croatian, Srecko Juricic, and German coach, Wolfgang Sidka, did very well. In fact they only missed out on 2010 World Cup qualification by missing a penalty versus New Zealand. For a nation that is so small (smaller than Tasmania!), it does very well.

Their captain, Salman Isa, is a good player. He is a striker with over 90 caps. They have a strong defender, Abdulla Al Marzooqi, and a veteran in midfield, Mohamed Salmeen, with 114 caps, who now may struggle for pace. Again, goal scoring may be a problem with them relying on naturalized Bahraini Jaycee Okwunwanne.

WP: Who will win group C and why?

SD: I think Korea will win the group. They are well organised and super fit. Plus, it means something for the Koreans to win the tournament. I think the Aussies don’t see it as that high in their priority list. The key may well be who scores the most goals versus India. Thailand beat India twice recently home and away and we only fielded our U23 team. They are physically way behind the other nations, with only Baichung and Chatri having a chance to make the other squads. So, it’s essential that Australia get off to a great start with a big win.

WP: What does Australia need to do to master the climatic and other conditions in Dubai, even though it's winter there now?

SD: Climate won’t be an issue. It will be about 22 degrees Celsius and perfect for football. I think the European-based Aussies will love it.

WP: How far do you think Australia will go in this tournament?

SD: They should be in the semi finals. They are in the big four, with Japan and Korea and North Korea. After that, it’s how injuries and suspensions come into play. Iran are a big, slow team, and Saudi Arabia just always seem to self destruct. They’ve already sacked their coach after the first game, which they lost to Syria.

WP: Who do you think will win the Asian Cup?

SD: One of the big four. The team with the striker who can score regular goals will be the key. All of the big four struggle to score goals and set-pieces may well be the major decider. If I was to put money on it, it would be on Japan. They have the most flair amongst all the big four. Plus, they have top-class free-kick takers. They practise set-pieces, believe me.

China should be in the big four, but match fixing and corruption are killing the game.

WP: Do you think Qatar was a good choice for the 2022 World Cup?

SD: It all depends on what your criteria for World Cup selection are? If one of them is spreading the game, then Qatar and Australia were choices. If it is the best facilities and infrastructure, then it should be in Europe or USA. I think Australia wasted a lot of money on the bid. They were never going to get the spot once Qatar came into opposition. Football politics is a tougher game than on the pitch!

WP: What are the strong points of Middle Eastern football?

SD: Money! And, it has been invested very well in some countries. I would recommend any football fan to check out the Aspire Academy in Qatar and see what money well spent can build. It makes Carrington (Manchester United) and Cholney (Arsenal) look average. The facilities all over the Gulf are excellent, but not as good in other countries such as Iran and Jordan.

WP: What are the weak points of Middle Eastern Football?

SD: In some countries, the short-term thinking and the repeated sacking of coaches. It just does not work! Plus, some of the players have the ability to play in Europe, but don’t seem to have the desire to leave. The passion is there for the game, but I suppose they think, ‘Why leave when you’re a star in your home and financially safe?’

WP: There has been talk of changing the 2022 World Cup to January. Do you agree with that, and do you think it will happen, given the disruption it would cause to some leagues in Europe?

SD: It’s in eleven years’ time!! The people who make these decisions may well be dead by then!

WP: Why didn't Thailand qualify for the 2011 Asian Cup?

SD: We couldn’t score! We battered Jordan twice and drew 0-0, drew 0-0 with Iran but lost two games, 0-1 versus Iran away (deservedly), and Singapore at home. We were not robbed by referees. We just couldn’t get the ball in the net and we made so many chances. Where was Bruce Ward or Richard Leszczynski when you need them, or even Mike Denton? We have beaten New Zealand and North Korea with their World Cup squads, but when it came to our really big games, the chances were missed. Pressure?

It’s a tough life coaching in Asia. Every game is a ‘must win’ and long-term development is next week. Aussie coaches have it easy and the press in Australia are quite supportive.


Anonymous said...

G'Day Walter,

The guy on the end is Craig not Scott ... Big Red played a few games for Croatia as well.

Hope you had a safe and Happy new Year.

Keep up all your great work you do on here.

I look at your blogs everyday. It keeps me informed about whats going on in the world of Tassie Football now I live in NSW.


Allan Grundy

Walter said...

Thanks, Allan. I've fixed it. Much appreciated.

I ran into Craig, or Big Red, in North Hobart last year when I was with Ken Morton and Otto Klaus having a coffee.

Thanks again for correcting me.


Anonymous said...

I think you mean Bryan, not Bobby Robson. Sir Bob passed away two years ago.

Walter said...

Of course I did, Anonymous 1.30am. Thanks. Much appreciated.

Anonymous said...


Very interesting interview, Walter.

Anonymous said...

I interviewed Steve for another football website. He makes interesting points.

It is fantastic to get Asian national team coaches for interviews on this blog.

Casual Observer