If I could relive one month of my life it would be June 2006. Hands down.
Early-20s. Having hair (more than this late-30s abomination, anyway). A metabolism that could handle more than seven calories. COVID? CO-what? Happy hour at the local club and its $2.50 cans of Jimmy (drink responsibly, people).
Above all that, though?
It's the Socceroos, baby. Those magnificent men in green and gold putting Australia on the map on the world stage - in the world's biggest sporting show at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany - in a matter not seen before or, sadly, since.
What an amazing time to be alive. And hirsute.
So it bloody pains me to say this: I hope the Socceroos miss the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
It could - and must be - the kick up the arse the sport badly needs in this country.
It's a distinct possibility given Australia's recent 2-2 draw with those renowned football titans Oman. The Socceroos now have to beat big guns Japan and Saudia Arabia - the two top teams in Group B of their Asian Football Confederation qualifying group - in their final two group games while hoping other results also go their way to avoid a dreaded two-legged playoff with the fifth best South American team.
For the younger generation of fans at home, missing the World Cup is unthinkable. The Socceroos joining the Asian Football Confederation in 2006 has been a virtual guarantee of a free ride to the greatest show on Earth in the 16 years since.
For the 30-somethings and older - who if you're like me were only able to bin off voodoo dolls of Peter Hore and Dario Silva on November 16, 2005 - well, we've been here before.
There's a plethora of reasons why football in Australia has not been able to capitalise on the run of the Socceroos' golden generation in Germany 2006.
From Tim Cahill has done it again (seriously. Can you watch this 16 years later and not think of heading to the ER to say, 'Doc, is it possible to die of goosebumps'?) against Japan to Harry Kewell's equaliser against Croatia, this was peak living, folks.
So where has it all gone so wrong?
The Socceroos have made every World Cup since - but to what end? Even the most ardent Australian football fan knows we've barely been making up the numbers since Aussie Guus's 2006 heroics.
You'd need a few novels to really get into the reasons why Australian football has fallen off a cliff over the past decade-and-a-half. They can't all be addressed on one page.
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But here's some right here and now.
The decline of the Australian Institute of Sport's Centre of Excellence, which eventually led to its demise in 2017, is arguably the biggest factor.
A huge portion of our 2006 team - including Mark Viduka, Vinnie Grella, Mark Bresciano, Lucas Neill, Craig Moore and John Aloisi - came through the Canberra institution.
In April 2020 at the start of the pandemic (remember the good old days back then when the entire world hadn't given up hope? Ah, memories) Optus Sport hosted a fascinating discussion between Aloisi, Viduka, Grella, Moore, Josip Skoko and Mark Schwarzer - all members of the class of 2006 - about the decline of Australian football.
One of the saddest aspects is this discussion could have taken place at any point over the past 10 years, so its takeaways are still more than relevant nearly two years later.
The players speak of their experiences as teenagers at the AIS with reverence.
Viduka, arguably the country's greatest ever Socceroo, says: "The AIS basically made me as a player. I came in there from being a Melbourne Croatia junior. I was still training two, three times a week max and playing on the weekend. When I went to the AIS [at 16], we had a proper professional environment ... I came out of the AIS a different player than I did coming in there in terms of weights, food.
"Before the AIS I didn't know how to play football. In terms of where to run, what sort of runs to make as a striker. How to receive the ball. [Coaches] Ron Smith and Rocky (Steve O'Connor), they taught us how to play; how to actually play our specific positions. In our clubs we were trained by our parents, who gave 100 per cent of what they knew. But they didn't know these things."
Scrapping the AIS program saved Football Australia just under $2 million annually. But the longer-term ramifications of that decision and other funding shortcomings at all levels of the game could prove more costly than that.
It's hard to see how another golden generation of Australian footballers can emerge again without a similar program being resurrected.
"The program needs to somehow be born again. I think it was the foundation for the success of the majority of the players that went on and played at the top level," Grella says.
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The development of Australian players post-2006 began to focus on the Dutch 4-3-3 playing style under Football Australia's former technical director Han Berger.
That in and of itself isn't a reason for Australian football's decline. But the strict rigidity of that technical approach - whereby young rep players emerging through the football curriculum were essentially not allowed to learn other styles of play - is.
Other factors like prohibitive playing fees (anywhere between $1500 and $3000 a season if you get any good as a teenager in NPL pathways) play a role. "It's becoming an elitist sport," Schwarzer says.
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In an ironic way, I've always felt the emergence of the A-League from the ashes of the old NSL in the mid-2000s was detrimental to the Socceroos, too.
It's a get-out-of-jail-free card. When Australia's past generation of players headed to Europe as teenagers, coming back to Australia only meant one thing: failure.
You had to be bloody tough because what were all the sacrifices you - and no doubt your parents - made for if you pulled up stumps when the going got rough? And it did. Players have spoken openly about calling their parents in the middle of cold European nights, in tears, unable to speak the local language. Wanting to come home. They knew there was nothing for them in the NSL. You had to be bloody tough. They were tough. They stuck it out and had magnificent careers.
Young Australian players don't have to do that now. The A-League is now a decent enough living. Other subpar leagues in the Middle East and Asia are an even better living.
I would never begrudge any athlete earning money while they can. In football one bad tackle can take that potential away in an instant. But football-wise, it's a disastrous recipe for the Socceroos.
Sixteen years ago nearly everyone in the national team was playing in an elite European league. Now only Socceroos captain Mat Ryan is. He's the keeper. He's played three games for Real Sociedad in La Liga this season.
Are the current generation of Socceroos too soft?
It's too harsh to say that. Of course they care. They're doing they're best. They're hurting. Look at Jackson Irvine in that photo after the Oman debacle. Don't tell me these players don't care.
Australia's current generation of players have been let down by systems built on quicksand.
Will missing the World Cup create enough concern at Football Australia for them to throw in a rope?
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