October 16, 2009
FOOTBALL Federation Australia has gone into damage control to play down any suggestion that the pitchside bust-up between Socceroos team manager Gary Moretti and Oman coach Claude Le Roy could have a negative impact on the return match in Muscat in a month's time or for Australia's World Cup bid.
In an unprecedented move, Le Roy, a voluble Frenchman with 30 years' experience coaching in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, launched a bitter attack on Moretti, saying that in all his time in the game he had not been as insulted as he had been by the Australian team official.
The FFA apologised unreservedly to the Oman boss minutes after Le Roy had gone public with his claim that Moretti had accused Oman of cheating. And yesterday the FFA continued to say sorry amid questions as to whether the row would have any damaging implications for Australia's World Cup bid, in which it must win the support of nations from the Middle East, who form part of FIFA's Asian Football Confederation.
''I am not going to comment on that,'' said John Boultbee, the head of national teams and Moretti's boss, when asked if the disagreement would sully Australia's image in a part of the world where it is trying to garner World Cup support.
He revealed he had gone to the Oman players' hotel and spoken to Le Roy after the game. ''I saw Claude last night and personally apologised on behalf of Gary, with his agreement, and on behalf of the FFA.
''I have already had discussions with Gary about it. He was immediately apologetic. I gave him some advice, and that's where we are.''
Le Roy was upset that his team had lost narrowly against better credentialled opposition, and was adamant that the Australians had prejudged his team and expected them to waste time. Twice in the first half Oman players went to ground and a stretcher was called, but Le Roy insisted he kept telling them to get up and play, not run the clock down.
''It seems that there was a prior concept of our behaviour, like we were losing [wasting] time,'' Le Roy said. ''I didn't think that we were trying to lose time. I think we were always trying to play. You have to respect other cultures … it seems that starting from the beginning they decide that we were going to cheat, to waste time. I never ask that of my players, I always say play, play, play …''
The FFA's spokeswoman, Bonita Mersiades, is in Egypt with FFA chief executive Ben Buckley lobbying for World Cup bid support at the under-20s World Cup.
She said that Australian soccer was aware of cultural sensitivities and did not set out to offend opponents.
''Gary is a highly experienced team manager and a professional who may have said things in the heat of the moment that he regrets, but he has apologised and we also have apologised unreservedly,'' she said.
Moretti is en route to Nigeria, where he will be acting as a FIFA co-ordinator for the under-17 World Cup.