EXCLUSIVE: Anything but Oardinary – Tommy Oar believes Australia can spring surprises in the World Cup
FC Utrecht’s 22-year-old Tommy Oar is a player who is constantly making strides forward. The youngster moved to the Eredivisie club from Brisbane Roar at just 18-years-old along with teammates Adam Sarota and Michael Zullo. Three and a half years later, he has blossomed into a key player for the Dutch side and is now a regular with the Australian national team. With his pace, skill and technical ability, he is consistently improving and learning as a player and his hard work looks set to pay off as he is in with a great chance of making the trip to Brazil for the World Cup this summer.
“I’m confident [of making the squad],” Oar says. “If I look at the qualifiers, I played a lot of minutes and on a couple of occasions I was quite important for the team. For me, the main thing now is to get as many minutes as I can, keep my match fitness high and give myself every chance to go.
“It would be a fantastic experience. It’s all down to the coach but hopefully I’ll be there.”
He has every reason to be confident, despite his obvious talent and the fact he has played all but two of Utrecht’s league games this season, he knows current Australia coach Ange Postecoglu very well. The 48-year-old coach gave Oar his chance in the Brisbane Roar team and also called him up for the game against Costa Rica last November. His belief in the player paid off as he came on to set up Tim Cahill for the winning goal. Oar is happy with the current boss and is sure he is the right man to take the country to South America later this year.
“If you see what kind of coach he is, he really gets the best out of his players. He only came in three or four months ago, but it was a difficult time for the national team after some heavy defeats so it was really refreshing to have a new trainer. He got the team to play better football than we have in the last few years.”
The heavy defeats Oar speaks of are the 6-0 defeats to Brazil and France. Although crushing, the friendlies were a great chance for the Australians to get a glimpse of the level of competition they will face this summer and he believes they will be better prepared when the tournament kicks off.
“Obviously the games didn’t go the way we would have liked, but I think when it comes to the World Cup we’ll be in much better shape than we were then. It’s nice to know what kind of level you have to reach if you want to compete.
“At the time they were [damaging to our confidence], but in the game against Costa Rica we kind of turned it around and I think that’s largely down to the new coach as well. Hopefully we can continue going in that direction.”
They simply must keep improving if they are to avoid humiliation in the tournament. Drawn in Group B alongside current World and European champions Spain, 2010 runners-up the Netherlands and dynamic South Americans Chile, Australia have a remarkably tough task ahead of them if they are to make any impression on the tournament. However, Oar feels the Socceroos could cause a few upsets on the big stage.
“We got a very difficult draw with Spain, the Netherlands and Chile. It’s probably one of the toughest draws and I guess you could say we were unlucky with it, but we don’t really look at it like that because it’s a challenge for us. When you go to the World Cup you want to play against the best players.
“I think we could surprise a lot of people because we’re definitely going to be the underdog in the group.”
With Spain and the Netherlands the favourites to go through, the winger admits Australia’s opening game against Chile is the crucial fixture for the Aussies.
“That’s probably the most important game. They’re a very difficult opponent if you look at the South American qualifiers and the players they have. There’s definitely no easy game, but if we want to advance, we have to beat them.”
With the likes of Oar, Sarota and Heracles left-back Jason Davidson having played in the Eredivisie for the last few years, some members of the Australian team know a huge contingent of their Dutch counterparts very well. Oar for one has studied his Oranje opponents and he is sure the strengths of the Australian side will allow them to really test Louis van Gaal’s men when they meet in the tournament.
“They have their own distinct style and now I’m very familiar with it. I know the players’ strengths very well because I’ve played against them for years now.
“We also know which ways we can trouble them. Australians are quite strong, physical and good in the air and I don’t think Netherlands like to play against teams with those qualities, so I think we’re capable of surprising them.”
If Australia are to threaten the Dutch, Oar could be a critical part of the team with his speed, skill and crossing ability. The Netherlands may have inadvertently moulded one of the biggest threats they will have to deal with in their second game of the competition.
Oar has improved a great deal since he joined Utrecht as a teenager and is now much more mature and consistent as a player. He has the ideal attitude for such a young talent as he is a player very much focused on developing in the right way and the Eredivisie is a league which allows him to do so.
“I think if you look at young Australian players coming through, a lot more are coming to Holland now, whereas a lot used to go to English Premier League clubs, but some end up on loan to third tier clubs and their career never hits the heights they would have hoped.
“For me this is the perfect move because it’s a bit of a stepping stone, so hopefully I can take the next step. I don’t know when or where that will be, I guess we’ll see!”
While he is as ambitious as any player and is set on reaching the elite of European football, he is hesitant to look towards his next move as he understands that a move to a bigger league and a bigger team too early could potentially be detrimental to his career.
“Everybody aspires to playing in one of the best leagues in the world be it Spain, England or Germany, and I’m no different.
“Growing up in Australia I always followed the Premier League, I watched it every week so it was always my dream to play there. If I had the luxury of choosing a league, the Premier League would be the one I’d go for.
“When I moved here I learned more about [the Bundesliga and La Liga]. In Australia you don’t get much coverage of them, I knew the big teams but I didn’t know much else about it. They’re fantastic, but it’s always been an aspiration for me to play in the English Premier League.
“Who knows what will happen, you can always change your mind, however I’m not in a rush because I know it’s so competitive there, if I go at the wrong time it could be quite detrimental. I think timing is key.”
Standing at 5’7”, there is an apprehension that a young player of his stature may struggle to adapt to the physical nature of the Premier League, however the winger himself believes football is beginning to favour technical ability and intelligence over power and height, which suits him perfectly.
“If you look at Chelsea, the likes of Oscar and Hazard are good enough to avoid the physical aspect of the game. I think that’s the direction all of football is heading.
“I have no problem with my height and physicality, I just play to my strengths. In choosing a team the type of football they play would be important for me to consider, but [the physical aspect] is not something that’s going to scare me away.”
Before such a move materialises, though, Oar knows he has to keep developing and he feels he is still improving some vital aspects of his game. The Eredivisie is looked upon as a fantastic developing league. The academies of Ajax and Feyenoord are lauded across the world and have produced some remarkable, technically gifted players. However, the league in general provides young players with the chance to further hone their skills and technique through the attacking playing styles of most teams and the first-team opportunities provided to young players.
“I think if you go to a huge club like in England, then there are so many young talented players that you’re just one of many,” Oar says on the matter. “Whereas here they really focus on the technical aspect of the game, not only the fighting spirit and results. Especially when you’re 15 or 16 they really concentrate on keeping possession.
“I think it’s fantastic to learn these skills, growing up in Australia you don’t really learn that aspect of the game. It’s more like the English or Scottish mentality where it’s more about the fighting spirit and that kind of thing, so it’s good to have a different perspective.”
Oar has definitely benefited from the coaching and the game time he has received in the Netherlands. The young Australian international has developed immensely during his time in the country. Joining as a left winger from Brisbane Roar in July 2010, he has since become a more versatile and well-rounded midfielder. While he is generally used in his natural position, Oar has also had to get used to playing deeper on the left side of the midfield diamond and has also proved to be adept at taking up the central attacking midfield role. The changes to his position have seen him take on different responsibilities and have allowed to develop in several ways.
“When I first came here I was only a left winger, I would always aim to take on a defender and try to put the ball into the box.
“I think now I’m more comfortable on the ball in receiving in the middle of the pitch as well. There’s a bit more variety, I’m not so predictable, so I’ve rounded my game off a lot more. Now I can play more centrally quite comfortably, it’s good to have more strings in your bow I guess.”
One area it has seen him improve in is his defensive capabilities. The famous attacking mentality of Dutch teams means a player like Oar has to do a lot of work for the team and track back to help deal with attacking wingers and overlapping full-backs.
“I think that’s the area on which I need to improve the most but I think I’ve improved a lot with my defending and positioning.
“With the way we play, in a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield with the wide midfielders, it’s a lot of running. You have to do a lot of unseen work for the team just to make sure the defending is good and they can’t counter attack and run straight through the middle of the field. It’s a lot more defending but it’s nice to play an important role for the team.”
Working for the team is of the utmost importance at the moment. Last season was an extremely bright one for Utrecht as they climbed to fifth place and won the playoffs to gain a place in the Europa League qualifying phase. This term, however, they have really struggled. While quite strong at home, they are horrendous away, having picked up only five points from 12 matches on the road. Their inconsistency has left them in a dangerous position. After 24 games they sit just two points above the last relegation playoff place, however, they are just six behind the Europa League playoff spots.
“We always seem to play well against the big teams but when we play the smaller teams we find it difficult to take the game to the opposition.
“At home we perform well in front of the fans, they make a big difference for us, I think it’s more of a coincidence this year. There’s been a few games away from home in which we’ve been quite unlucky and should have scored more.”
Oar admits though that the team is not as settled this season as it was in the previous campaign. Utrecht have had to deal with the summer departures of centre-backs Mike van der Hoorn and Jan Wuytens, while Nana Asare and Anouar Kali also left. Furthermore, the long-term injuries of Jacob Mulenga, Cedric van der Gun and Edouard Duplan has left them thin in attacking areas.
“Last year we had 11 or 12 players who played for the whole season and we had a really good understanding. We were difficult to break down but dangerous on attack too. But we lost our centre-backs, our holding midfielder and one of our strikers has been injured for most of the year.
“When you lose the spine of the team like that it’s always going to take a lot of restructuring and reshaping and I think for the first half of the season everyone was still trying to get an understanding with each other.
“We are quite close to the European playoffs, but we’re also close to the relegation spots. Every point is crucial.
“We know we have enough quality not to be in that end of the table.
“We know that if we play to our capabilities we can be much higher in the table and be in the playoffs. It’s just a matter of performing.”
They simply have to before they fall further behind the Europa League playoff spots and perhaps even fall into the relegation places. They have collected two points from their last eight league games and have difficult matches against Groningen, Twente and PSV coming up. But with the likes of Robbin Ruiter, Jens Toornstra, Steve de Ridder, Yassin Ayoub, Adam Sarota, new striker Juan Agudelo and Oar himself, there’s a belief that the club shouldn’t be in such a position at this point in the season.
The team may not be performing as well as it should be, but it seems Oar isn’t too disheartened and he is in no hurry whatsoever to flee the unstable ship. Despite their poor form, Utrecht and the Eredivisie is very much the perfect environment for Oar as he looks to blossom and further improve as a player before he makes the step up to the next level.