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You're in Josh, says Pim

1 Oct 2009(Thu)

September 29, 2009: “One Josh Kennedy, there’s only one Josh Kennedy…”

No, it wasn’t the Nagoya Grampus fans singing that little ditty after another Kennedy goal; it was Pim Verbeek, national coach of Australia, on a recent trip to Japan.

(Okay, he wasn’t exactly singing the song itself; more like singing the praises of his big target man.)

With 40 Australian players in Europe and several candidates in Australia challenging for a place in Pim’s 23-strong squad for South Africa, competition is fierce in all areas of the team – except for one, according to Pim.

“We don’t have a second Josh Kennedy,” Pim said. “If Josh is fit he will be in the selection.”

Reassuring words indeed some nine months out from the next World Cup for Kennedy, who is proving to be a great signing for Grampus and for Japan in general, with his height and aerial ability really testing the Japanese defenders.

It’s rare for managers to give such a vote of confidence to an individual player. Usually they will come out with a platitude -- “no player is guaranteed a place in the squad” or “everyone must fight for a place on merit, not on past form” – but with Kennedy it is easy to see why.

As he proves week in week out for Grampus, his very presence unsettles defenders and creates space for his teammates to exploit.

Timmy Cahill is the master of this when they are together with Australia, timing his runs to perfection to arrive in his shadow and hit the target with a thundering header.  This is why I was really surprised that Pim played so conservatively against Japan in their World Cup qualifier at Yokohama, leaving Kennedy on the bench and starting with only Cahill – a makeshift striker for Everton at the time due to an injury crisis – up front, at the top of the 4-3-2-1 Christmas tree formation.

In the few minutes Kennedy was on towards the end, Japan’s defence had more problems than in the previous 85 minutes or so.

I still think Pim paid too much respect to Japan on that evening, but the pragmatic Dutchman will answer that the ends justified the means – a point on the road to South Africa, where at least Josh Kennedy knows he will be playing next summer.


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