The Returning Path.

July 1, 2013 at 7:22 pm 1 comment

There are many fans of Australian football who will remember SBS’s Craig Foster attack Ange Postecoglou when he was Australia’s under 20’s coach and they failed to qualify for that age groups World Cup finals. Postecoglou lost his position soon after, but his complaint that the team did not have enough competitive games leading up to the qualifiers did not fall on deaf ears, as subsequent coaches have been able to have far better warm up games than he did.

However apart from that has Australian football progressed that far?

Since the Football Federation of Australia came into existence in 2004 much has changed. There are now deliberate pathways where talented players are earmarked at an early age and vast amounts of time and resources are spent on ensuring that they have the best chance of making it to the highest level.

Interesting the very week that Australia was knocked out of the under 20 World Cup in Turkey without winning a game, some sports in Europe were stating that they were reviewing the elite pathway system, as they felt that too many talented players slip through the net with such a system.

Nothing will change in Australia for the time being. Craig Foster is unlikely to go as hard on coach Paul Okon, or “Paolo” as he continually referred to him during the broadcasts, as the two are close friends. In the interview with Postecoglou he interestingly said it has nothing to do with being friends, but as more of his contemporaries and good friends taking up coaching roles, it will be interesting to monitor his objectivity.

That is by the by, the question is was Australia’s performance at the Youth World Cup what it should have been? In the opening game against Colombia they looked impressive, but after that they looked unable to adapt their game when the opposition found ways to negate their attacks. Could this be the result off too rigid a coaching/playing structure?

All Australia had to do was finish in the top two in their group to progress, even if they did not manage that four of the best placed teams who came third in the six groups progressed. Australia was unable to achieve this.

If we look at Australia’s record they have not won a game at the last four finals, and when you throw in they failed to qualify in 2007, it is an extremely disappointing record; the finals are held every two years. Is this a reflection on the pathway being successful, or is it enough to just qualify. Or maybe too many players have been called up, 49 were used in the last 12 months including the 21 who traveled to Turkey.

In fact the last time they progressed to the second round was in 2003 before the FFA existed and the team was made up of players who became the first signings in the Hyundai A League. All of these players playing before the elite pathways existed, the likes of Alex Brosque, Matt Mckay, Scott Macdonald, Carl Valeri, Mile Jedinak, Nathan Coe, Jobe Wheelhouse, Vince Lia, Massimo Murdocca and Steve Pantelidis to name just some of the squad.

In ’97 Australia also made the second round, in ’95 they made teh quarter finals at a time when there were only 16 teams in the tournament; there are now 24. That team had names like Mark Viduka, Josip Skoko, Clint Bolton, Mark Rudan, Paul Bilokapic, Ufak Talay and Robert Enes. in ’93 as they had in ’91 they came fourth in the tournament with the likes of Vince Matassa, Craig Moore, Ante Juric, Marc Wingell, Kevin Muscat, Anthony Carbone, Paul Agostino and Ante Milicic.

No one will argue that the game worldwide has improved, neither will they disagree that many nations have lifted their game to be competitive on the world stage, but it would appear that since the FFA created their elite pathways and regimented coaching structures it has not enhanced the game as much as we would like to believe. All of the players we have mentioned came through local football and through local clubs and many carved out impressive careers from the game.

The debate will rage on, but if in two years time Australia does not progress to the second round, when it is easier to do so than previously with more teams in the competition, questions need to be asked.


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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Stephen  |  July 5, 2013 at 7:04 pm

    Great piece Ashley! Proves the NTC and all these systems that have been the Dutch creating long term jobs in Australia and the likes of Glory’s new coach making sure his team mates are employed in the game. The NPL will not help this any more than clubs have supported the game at the highest level for years, in fact the NPL will send some clubs broke so well do all you pathway advocates! While you and your mates have jobs, clubs will go broke and Australia will continue to underachieve.


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