Form on football field can be a fickle friend

DANNY HAY
Last updated 11:13 06/01/2013

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OPINION: While there is no better job, life in the professional football world can be far from smooth sailing at times.

Take Ricki Herbert for example. Twelve to 18 months ago he was untouchable in the media or public arena. He was seen as the messiah, someone totally infallible.

It would be fair to say that today, that view has probably changed somewhat.

The same applies to players. A change of environment, coach, playing position or tactical approach can have far reaching effects for some.

Few if any, would have picked Marco Rojas to have been the player of the season in the A-League to date. His impact last season (Rojas' first at Melbourne Victory after his move from the Phoenix) was far from awe-inspiring as he struggled to fit in around a team who struggled on the pitch under two different coaches and the influence of Australian legend Harry Kewell.

With Kewell gone and Brisbane Roar's back-to-back A-League champion coach Ange Postecoglou brought in to right the ship, things have changed very quickly for Rojas at the Victory. Postecoglou's unwavering tactical approach and belief in the young Kiwi has brought the very best out in him.

There is no doubt that Rojas has always had the ability, but it is Postecoglou's philosophy of a possession-based game (achieved through movement off the ball and an accurate short passing game) that has found the right fit for Rojas' strengths as a player.

As Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger have shown over the years, the best coaches sign and develop players who will work best to their style of play, rather than just bringing together a mix of very good players and hoping by chance that their different strengths gel.

It may have been a "chance" union, but Rojas' ability with Postecoglou's tactical approach is a marriage made in heaven. I truly believe that this season, neither would be as successful if it wasn't for the other.

Success can be a very fine line and can change very quickly though.

Perth Glory's marquee man and All Whites striker Shane Smeltz has been the polar opposite of Rojas, in that he's doing it tough. As I've been told on numerous occasions during my three weeks here in Perth by those in-the-know and those not so, Smeltz is on A$750,000 (NZ$945,000) a season. And with big wages comes even bigger expectation. Things simply haven't been going Smeltz's way. At the Glory games I've attended I've heard the punters comment that he looks "disinterested" or "happy to just cruise though games".

Smeltz has not become a bad player overnight. The issue for Smeltz as far as I can see is that the tactical approach from the Glory simply doesn't suit him.

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Many of Smeltz's numerous A-League goals for both the Phoenix and now defunct Gold Coast were as a result of getting the ball wide and delivering it into the box. Perth Glory do not play like that.

Smeltz may be getting a tough rap from the fans (and potentially he could be doing more to help himself) but goal-scorers of a certain ilk need the right sort of service.

I have no doubt that things will turn around for Smeltz, but as Rojas has shown, the perfect fit between a coach's tactical approach and the player's ability, is sometimes worth far more than money.

Danny Hay is a former All White

- © Fairfax NZ News

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