Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Thompson Departs For Europe

After protracted negotiations between Melbourne Victory and PSV, Socceroo striker Archie Thompson has joined the Dutch champions on a six-month loan deal. Despite some public spats between the player and his former employers over the move, Melbourne refused to be bullied into accepting PSV's first proposal, ultimately negotiating a deal that appears to suit all parties. Thompson will now link up with international boss Guus Hiddink at the Eindhoven club for the rest of the Eredivisie season after which they will decide whether to make the transfer permanent.

There were a number of facets which complicated Thompson's move from Melbourne. Foremost was the 27-year-old's desire to maintain fitness ahead of the World Cup in June. With the A-League season ending in early March (and with Melbourne's likely participation in the finals series diminishing), Thompson risked losing his World Cup berth to a European-based rival. As the only regular member of Hiddink's Socceroos squad based at home, he was clearly the most at risk.

Melbourne understood and a six-month loan deal with PSV was quickly agreed. Hiddink convinced club officials that Thompson was being drafted for his versatility and work rate at a time PSV were aiming to regain the Dutch championship and make the latter stages of the Champions League. The reality that the transfer benefited Hiddink's international employers as much as his domestic bosses never appeared a sticking point.

What was causing consternation was Melbourne's insistence that the transfer fee for a permanent switch be negotiated at the end of the initial six-month deal. PSV wanted a specific (and possibly lowly amount) written into the terms of the loan agreement. Melbourne, eventually, got their way and now must hope that Thompson's efforts for club and country reward their belief in his ability.

During the wrangling on the details of the transfer fee, Thompson's dream move almost capitulated. The player blamed Melbourne's management, particularly chairman Geoff Lord who maintained the club would not be "pushed around and bullied into taking the first offer that came our way".

He unwisely made public his angst during a media-covered Victory training session. In his outburst, for which he immediately apologised to Melbourne fans, the striker implied that should the deal fail to go through, he would have to seriously reconsider his future at the A-League club.

"It's just been so emotional, frustrating and stressful," Thompson said. "It's just such a huge opportunity, the World Cup, I don't want to throw it away and I feel that they are … they are the ones that are holding this deal back.

"I won't want to play. It will be hard to be motivated. They are just going to have to pay my wages and I am just going to turn up and go through the motions.

"I have done everything right for the club. I have had a good hand in promoting football in Melbourne, especially in the A-League. They will reap the rewards in the end … what more can you ask for than to be playing under a national coach leading into a World Cup?"

Fortunately PSV bowed and the deal was signed. Thompson and his young family headed for Holland the day after the striker had scored the winner at Queensland to keep Melbourne in finals hunt. He departed as the A-League's leading scorer and unquestionably one of its star performers. The domestic scene - especially Melbourne Victory - has had its lights dimmed as a consequence.

Thompson - the player who had only just signed a four-year contract with his hometown club in the close season - has much to thank Hiddink for. He admitted to being "flabbergasted" that a club of the stature of PSV Eindhoven even showed an interest. Without Hiddink's recent relationship with Australian football, they almost certainly never would have. "I'm still living a dream at the moment - I can't believe I'm actually here playing for PSV," Thompson told the club's own TV station upon his arrival.

That dream has the potential to turn sour if the Australian fails to force his way into the starting line-up on a regular basis. He joins a hungry group of forwards at PSV who - like him - are fighting for their own World Cup tickets, notably Dutch striker Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink and Ivory Coast's Arouna Kone. If Thompson was ever coasting in the A-League, the next three months will be toughest of his career.

Hyundai A-League Summary Round 19

Adelaide United (42 points) sealed the premiership with three rounds to play after beating Perth Glory and watching closest rivals Sydney FC only draw with the Central Coast Mariners. The chase for the remaining finals places has gained intensity in tandem with Sydney's form slump since the Club World Championships. The Newcastle Jets are now second (32 points), Sydney third (30) and the Mariners fourth (28) but only seventh-placed Melbourne are completely out of the running.

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