Former Socceroo striker Archie Thompson believes A-League Men players on the fringes of the Australian men's national team would be well-served by following in his footsteps and exploring a short-term loan move to maximise their opportunities to impress ahead of the 2022 World Cup.
League CEO Danny Townsend, however, has told ESPN he doesn't believe domestically-based players will find themselves at a disadvantage when it comes to Graham Arnold's squad, despite their league starting a number of months after its European equivalents.
Former Melbourne Victory defender Jason Davidson became the latest in a string of previously domestic-based Socceroos who have taken advantage of their ALM exploits to make the leap to Europe when he inked a two-year deal with Belgian top-division side KAS Eupen on Wednesday.
It comes after the early June confirmation that Socceroo defender Kye Rowles would depart Central Coast Mariners for Scottish Premiership side Hearts, himself following in the footsteps of wing-back Nathaniel Atkinson, who signed for the Edinburgh club in January. Atkinson's former Melbourne City teammate Connor Metcalfe joined Jackson Irvine at second-tier German side St. Pauli in recent weeks, while former Sydney FC defender Joel King joined Danish club Odense BK in January.
As a result of all this movement, of the Socceroo side that defeated Peru to secure a place at the World Cup, just a single starter -- Melbourne City's Mat Leckie -- will enter the 2022-23 season signed to an ALM side. Only four players on the bench, City's Jamie Maclaren and Marco Tilio, Melbourne Victory's Nicholas D'Agostino -- who recently underwent shoulder surgery -- and penalty shootout hero Andrew Redmayne are currently attached to domestic sides.
With Arnold expected to remain largely consistent with his squad selection for the World Cup, rewarding the players that delivered qualification and have bought into the spirit of camaraderie the 58-year-old has fostered in the dressing room, Redmayne's, Leckie's and Maclaren's spots would ostensibly appear to be secure.
However, for the more fringe players such as Tilio, whose lack of starts at City has already been raised as a concern by former Socceroos John Aloisi and Mark Schwarzer, any shortfall of games presents a conundrum. His campaign, as well as those of potential bolters such as Newcastle's Reno Piscopo, Western United's Lachlan Wales, or Central Coast's Jason Cummings are seemingly less about finding fitness and more about securing the few slots still up for grabs in Arnold's squad.
"We're probably a little bit hampered as a league, with the European leagues starting a little bit earlier," Thompson told ESPN. "The Socceroos that are based in Europe will have that head start on a lot of the players here in the A-Leagues.
"I think if the opportunity was there for a player, I would look to do it.
"I'd like to believe that the A-League clubs, having the national team in mind, would allow these players to be able to look at an opportunity if it was to keep them in contention for making a World Cup team."
Compared to these domestic-based hopefuls whose season will likely start in early October, potential overseas candidates such as Hearts midfielder Cameron Devlin, Accrington Stanley defender Jay Rich-Baghuelou and Hull City left-back Callum Elder will start their domestic campaigns in late July.
Normally this wouldn't be an issue, with the World Cup traditionally taking place in the Northern hemisphere's summer when both leagues would be in their offseason. But due to the scorching summer temperatures in Qatar, this year's tournament will be the first and, for now, only one that is staged from November to December.
In such circumstances, Victory legend Thompson acknowledged that while it wouldn't be a disaster if they couldn't, ALM players on the fringes should at least look at the possibilities of a short-term loan move ahead of the World Cup, maximising their chances of earning some playing time and potentially opening the doors for future moves abroad.
Thompson pursued a similar loan move to PSV Eindhoven ahead of the 2006 World Cup, going so far as to threaten to quit Victory as talks ground on, although he stressed that the league's offseason was significantly longer back then.
"You want to be playing football," he explained.
"But I guess on the flip side, you've got the players match-fit. They're going to have a good pre-season, they're going to have a few games leading into the selection of the squad.
"So it's a bit different from my PSV experience, but I'd love to see clubs give players opportunities -- considering it's only really a month [that they'd be missing on short-term loans]."
For his part, Townsend welcomed Australian players striking out abroad, stating that he saw such moves as creating a new opportunity for another local player to step up. But, citing the significant changes that Thompson noted between modern offseasons and those from his playing days, Townsend said there will be plenty of football before the World Cup commences to find fitness and form.
"I think so," the executive told ESPN. "We're working with Football Australia to make the ALM's start as early as we possibly can with respect to the Australia Cup fixtures and the international window in September. There will be at least six or seven, if not eight, opportunities for players to demonstrate their worth to the national team coach prior to the World Cup.
"You've got an international window which is from the 19th to the 27th and then you've got quarterfinals, semifinals and finals of the Australia Cup. So all those fixtures have to be taken into consideration. And they're competitive fixtures that our Australia-based players will be playing in and able to demonstrate their capability to the national team coach.
"We've got a four or five-month pre-season that will be populated with meaningful opportunities for players to demonstrate their capability."
And regardless of who ends up being picked in the Socceroos squad for the World Cup -- the announcement is expected to come on Nov. 10 -- Townsend said that the Socceroos qualification would only serve to boost the local game.
"It's given us a nice bit of momentum for football in this country," he said. "It was a really important achievement to qualify. I think it's underestimated how difficult it is to qualify for a World Cup, particularly in the conditions they've gone through.
"It was a huge boost for the A-Leagues and I think it's a very unique opportunity. A World Cup in the middle of an A-Leagues season and a home Women's World Cup on the back end of one - that's a once-in-a-generation opportunity to really leverage."