EDITORIAL: Is Jason Culina talking his way out of the Australia team?
Culina's claims, that his move to Gold Coast United will not affect his international chances, may sit well with the elites in the soccer media, but how does his rivals for a place in Pim Verbeek's midfield take such comments? Indeed, does the coach himself accept such a boast?
There's no doubt at present the PSV Eindhoven midfielder is among Australia's top 20 footballers. But a first-choice? If Verbeek was to employ the diamond midfield he did so successfully at the beginning of this World Cup qualifying campaign - and with everyone fit - where would you select Culina? Vince Grella, now with Blackburn Rovers, wouldn't be dislodged from his defensive role, Everton's Tim Cahill would sit behind the strikers, with Harry Kewell, of Galatasaray, and Grella's teammate Brett Emerton hugging the wings. And if Grella was to breakdown, the growing claims of Grosseto midfielder Carl Valeri surely cannot be cast side.
The next 18 months could be career-defining for Valeri. He enjoys an excellent reputation in Italy and is now being coveted by several mid-table Serie A clubs.
Brought to Italy by Inter Milan, Valeri spent almost four years outside the top two divisions learning his craft. While his peers would have pulled up stumps and returned home, Valeri stuck it out and now is on the verge of reaping the rewards with a potential summer move to Italy's top-flight and a place in Australia's World Cup squad.
Should we just expect Valeri to simply duff his cap to Culina and meekly stand aside? Unlike the new Gold Coast signing, Valeri has had to work hard for every scrap of recognition he's received in the local press. There's been no media campaign to get him selected for the national team. Indeed, for his international debut two years ago against China, those close to Valeri tell me he wasn't even on the original standby list! It was only after so many withdrawals that Valeri was given his chance - and he hasn't looked back since.
The exciting thing about Verbeek is that Australia's squads, for the first time in years, has no whiff of favourites or cliques. He won't be swayed by outside media pressure and so Culina's decision to return to Australia can only be good news for Valeri - and even Brett Holman, who will be playing Champions League football next season with AZ Alkmaar.
Make no mistake, there will be tears before the final squad is selected for South Africa. Culina is the soccer clique's cause celebre and they will revel in piling the pressure on Verbeek to select him.
It won't matter if Valeri is running around in the stadiums of Rome and Turin next season, or Holman is scoring goals across Europe, they will demand Culina be selected.
And if Culina does tumble out of Verbeek's first XI, it won't be because of the form and sacrifice of those selected ahead of him. It will be because Verbeek has no time for the A-League nor it's local talent. It will be all manufactured, of course, by an ex-players' brigade still struggling to come to grips with a national coach who refuses to be cosied up to like a 'Viddie', a 'Kossie' or an 'Arnie'.
And that's why Culina will have it all to do in the coming A-League season. He can talk about his place "not being in jeopardy" and that will be lapped up by the local media, but Verbeek has shown he's prepared to make unpopular calls if it means Australia continue winning.
Like never before, there is an opportunity for a Valeri or Holman, by simply playing well (who would have thought it?), of earning themselves a start at next year's World Cup.