It only seems like it was yesterday when the A-League was the shiny new toy of Australian sport, We had Del Piero, David Villa, Shinji Ono, Harry Kewell. There were failed ventures with the Fury and Gold Coast, but we then had the Wanderers with a dream start to their life and the most passionate fans in the league. I am writing this article hearing we have gone that far back, that Central Coast Mariners are giving Usain Bolt a realistic trial. A guy who is a star, but made a living out of running super fast. How far we have regressed as a league, we are going after a media circus, rather than quality. We may give a limited spot on an A-league list to a guy who is in his 30’s having not been a professional footballer before. But this is not the result, this is part of the cause of the A-League’s issue, which is then compounded with bad management.
Where is the youth?
At the moment A-League clubs are allowed five foreign players, on a list of 20 – 23 players; a quarter of the squad can be from overseas. This means, generally, there are less spots for the talented youngsters, who are pushed out to the the national Youth League (or the state leagues). Yes there are exceptions (as there always is), we have seen Jacob Italiano (16), Daniel Arzani (19) and Nathan Atkinson (18) all got a decent run over the last year. There is also another handful of talented under 20’s getting a run. The fact remains, the majority of the next generation of youngsters are not getting a run in the seniors and are languishing in lower leagues. They are not gaining the necessary exposure playing in a professional league, with men. To make matters worse, it was only a year ago when FFA closed the Centre of Excellence (AIS) in order to save money. You could argue this centre may have been responsible for some of the Socceroos recent stars (Frank Farina, Ned Zelic, Mark Viduka, Lucas Neill, Mark Bresciano, Craig Moore, Brett Emerton, Mark Milligan and, most recently, Daniel Arzani). If you don’t think this is a problem, our under 23’s and 20’s have failed to qualify for a number of world tournaments over the past 4 o 8 years. This means, as well as not playing in a professional league, against men, they are also not getting any sort of exposure on an international level.
To put some figures on it. With nine A-League clubs in Australia (there are no other professional ones), we then take figures that some experts are saying play the game, that means there is well over 600 people per senior contract. If we take someone like Iceland as an example, Their top flight professional league has 12 teams, there are five divisions and they have 1 tenth the amount of registered players as NSW. A-League teams just do not want to hand out starts to the the youth, if they can help it. They revert back to imports and the tried and tested players that float from team to team.
What can we do?
One school of though to try counter this issue is to cap the amount of players a team can import, maybe make it 3 instead of 5. Allows teams to “rookie” list a certain amount of youth players that do not add to their salary cap and have a fixed amount. Stop taking money out of the game. Yes the Socceroos and Matildas are the endgame for Australian soccer, but we can not continually take money from grassroots, youth leagues, development centres and our professional league to fund them. We need to expand, we need to give the young players better opportunity. The fact is, when 14 -16 year olds need to sit down and choose between sports, they will look at AFL, Cricket, NRL and Basketball and see much bigger and better pathways. They will see sports where they can excel and have multiple ways of getting to their end goal. At the moment with Soccer, it is still seen as a who you know and luck of the draw. If our professional leagues are not looking at the youth, The youth league is getting cut down and the International youth sides are barley playing games, they just can’t compete.
Why not incentivise our A-league clubs to start you players? Why not incentives outr a-league clubs to get their players capped by the Socceroos? If supporters know their team has not chance in winning the final or finishing with the premiers plate, one thing that will keep them involved through the year is future hope. You don’t get a glimpse to the future watching 30 somethings run around, trying their best but not being up to it. Fans want to see the youth, who they can hang their hat on for the next decade. They want to see an exciting future. Other leagues around the world, although they are on a different scale with the amount of money, pump a lot of resources into their academies. They get kids in early, they get them acclimated to professional football and they get them learning from the best.
If we do not invest in youth, we will forever be a retirement league, our youth teams will always suffer and the Socceroos will never improve.
12:00AM January 13, 2018
Ray Gatt – Sports Reporter
13 July 2018 — 10:30pm