Get used to Brazil shambles as the superstars stick to their day jobs

by Richard Hinds in his "Hindsight" column at

Hot on the heels of Harry Kewell's no-show Inter Milan, backed by a FIFA decision were only prepared to release Ronaldo for one match rather than both. Deciding that this would disrupt Olympic preparation the Brazilian coach Wanderley Luxemburgo decided that it was either both matches or none. Inter held firm and after a few training sessions Ronaldo flew back to Italy without having played. This resulted in the promoters throwing their hands up in the air and refunding all monies and making the two matches free admission events.

Just to hand: the line-up for the Socceroos' next series of home internationals against Eritrea. And I think you will be impressed by some of the names.

Barry Humphries is up front with Kathy Lette, Clive James will be alongside Germaine Greer in the midfield, Jason Donovan is left-back as usual, Dame Joan Sutherland will make a final farewell performance at libero and Rolf Harris is in goal.

There is, of course, no chance any of these London-based Aussies will actually be coming home to play. But we thought if we stuck their names on the posters and television commercials they might pull a few more people through the gates.

Go and buy your tickets now before we reveal they have been replaced by a couple of backpackers we dragged out of a youth hostel in Earls Court and are forced to throw open the gates.

Absurd, sure. But no more absurd and frustrating than the continual mind games being played on the ever more sceptical Australian public.

IMG deserves to be commended for making the two Brazil games a free-for-all. However, even while it will give refunds there will still be no real satisfaction for those who bought tickets expecting to see Harry Kewell and Ronaldo play.

There was never any suggestion that the promoter set out to deceive the Australian public by including Kewell and Ronaldo in its pre-match publicity. It was, however, either exceedingly optimistic or touchingly naive about the politics of world football if it thought their presence could be guaranteed more than 72 hours before a match.

Such poor judgment has come at a high price, especially when there were lessons from the Manchester United tour when the Socceroos were forced to field a third-string team. And from the FIFA All-Stars match for which about the only ones on the original list to accept their invitations were the linesmen.

The trouble with Kewell is not that he is reluctant to play. We'll take his word on that. It is that he is just too damn good. Anyone who saw him create mayhem up the left side against Manchester United six weeks ago must have wondered why Leeds would be willing to release such an important player near the middle of their domestic season for a couple of friendlies in what they regard as a third-world football nation.

The truth is they weren't.

And no matter how much Leeds complain that Hobbling Harry has an injury that keeps him off the plane - though not the pitch - his absence coupled with the Ronaldo shemozzle was the death knell for the promoter.

To a small degree, you can understand Leeds' thinking. From Elland Road these games must seem like meaningless friendlies designed to line the pockets of the touring Brazilians. For the Socceroos, however, they mean far more.

While the results against a junior Brazilian team with a couple of stars thrown in are of little consequence, this is the first chance for new coach Frank Farina to put his stamp on the team. They can also rekindle the enthusiasm of an increasingly frustrated Australian public which knows the Socceroos have the talent, but not yet the cohesion, to play in the World Cup finals. In his once reluctant goalkeeper Mark Bosnich, Farina seems to have a convert to the cause. Or maybe Bosnich is just relieved to have escaped the acid tongue of Alex Ferguson for a few days. Either way, it is hoped his enthusiasm spreads throughout the locker-room.

Farina can also take comfort from the futile battles fought by the Brazilians to get a clearance for Ronaldo. It seems every country outside Europe now faces a tough task to have their superstars give up their day jobs to play for the national side.

That is because, beyond the World Cup and the European Championship, international football has been forced further into the background. The game now revolves around the top flights of the major domestic leagues in Europe and the European Cup.

It won't be long before the television-driven dream of a European super league composed of the best club teams becomes a full-time fixture. Prising Kewell from Leeds when they have an important match against Grasshopper Zurich is going to be even more difficult than extracting him from a Premier League match in England.

So it might be just as well to put aside the scepticism, accept the once-in-a-lifetime bargain offer and go and watch those Socceroos who did turn up. Regardless of the commitment of the players, it is going to become more difficult to assemble full-strength Australian teams in the future.

written by Richard Hinds