Saturday, July 15, 2006

In-demand Kennedy ready for Socceroos starting berth

The irony surrounding the eternal logistical problems of representing Australia is not lost on new Socceroos super-sub Josh Kennedy.

Kennedy, one of two uncapped call-ups for the World Cup squad, came from the depths of second-tier German football to stamp his mark on Australia's journey to the knockout phase with a handful of striking displays upfront.

However, now he's reached the stage of nailing down a regular international place, the inevitable club versus country conundrum is ready to rear its ugly head.

Kennedy will receive plenty of sympathy from the likes of superstars Mark Viduka and Harry Kewell, players who between them have amassed just 60 Socceroo caps in part because of the constant headache of international travel.

But resolving the discrepancy of the striker's twin goals is really no closer despite Australia moving into the Asian confederation earlier this year.

And representing your country hardly gets any easier when you become a high profile signing for a top-flight club preparing an assault on a UEFA Cup place this season.

That's exactly the situation Kennedy finds himself in.

Having served his apprenticeship in Germany since age 17, the long-haired hitman penned a three-year contract with ambitious Bundesliga side Nuremberg before the World Cup.

It was an offer too good to resist after patiently building a solid reputation as a goalscorer in the lower leagues with Stuttgart Kickers and latterly Dynamo Dresden after fruitless spells with VfL Wolfsburg and FC Cologne in the top division.

However, now six painstaking years of steady progress have paid off, how can the amiable Kennedy reward his new employer's faith with continuous trips down under to represent his homeland?

"It's definitely a touchy situation," Kennedy admitted to Soccerphile during a two-week break in Australia after the World Cup. "We'll definitely have to weigh up what's the best thing at club level and at the same time keeping my Australian commitments without making either side angry.

"I'll talk to the coach (Hans Meyer) when I get back to Nuremberg and no doubt will be in contact with Australia as well. Hopefully we can balance it pretty well.

"[But] the hardest thing to do is to balance both at the same time and keep everybody happy.

"I've made it clear to the Football Federation that I'd love to play every game. Obviously they know I can't, so it's just a matter of finding that right balance."

But what is the right balance for Kennedy, Nuremberg and Australia's governing body of football?

At club level, his importance to Nuremberg will rocket should Slovakian striker Robert Vittek, who had a fantastic finish to the 2005-06 season, move to pastures new.

While internationally, the expected retirements of Viduka, 31 in October, and 30-year-old John Aloisi add greater pressure.

Indeed, temporary first-team coach Graham Arnold believes up to 12 players from the World Cup squad could announce their retirements and that a whole new group of players will be involved in qualifying for next year's Asian Cup.

Kennedy clearly isn’t part of the departures and at 23 represents the immediate future of the Socceroos forward line along with A-League based strikers Archie Thompson and Alex Brosque, Motherwell's Scott McDonald and Brett Holman who plies his trade at Dutch club Excelsior Rotterdam.

But whether he will be involved in Australia's August 16 clash with Kuwait in Sydney remains to be seen.

The Asian Cup qualifier is scheduled on a FIFA-sanctioned matchday but also clashes with a time Europe's top-flight clubs will be reluctant to have their stars journeying long distance.

You have to think that Melbourne's Thompson, who travelled to Germany but played no part, and Sydney FC's Brosque are hot favourites to lead the line in the Socceroos' next outing, but that doesn’t put Kennedy off his long-term aim of spearheading the Aussie attack.
"That's definitely been my goal," Kennedy says. "It is my goal to one day have that starting position.

"But as long as Mark Viduka is there, I can definitely learn a lot of things from him, so I'm in no rush for him to stop playing international football because it makes me a better player as well.

"But hopefully in the future I'll be ready to take over that role."

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

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