Learning From Others

December 8, 2014 at 6:57 pm Leave a comment

Ever since the dawn of the A-League there have been calls for Australia’s talented footballers to stay at home rather than head overseas and make a name for themselves. You will find many in favour of such a view, many holding the opposite opinion. The truth lies somewhere in-between.

It was interesting in the recent FFA survey that this was in fact one of the questions; did fans want to see Australia’s best players playing in Australia in ten years time?

We have seen of late a very large number of talented youngsters return to the A-League in the prime of their careers; this is not good for Australian football at international level. Some have returned as they have struggled to find regular first team football. Some have claimed they have returned because they want to put themselves in front of the national coach. The latter reason raises a very different issue, that of the national coaching staff following the Australian players adequately.

There is no doubt that many of the young players who have returned, and those who will return in the near future have been poorly represented by their managers. Whereas a top flight club and a big salary may be a massive carrot and good for one’s ego, it may not in fact be the best move for a young player who needs games under his belt. Many having failed to break into the first team head home rather than drop to a lower division and gain experience, and much needed game time.

Scotland have just taken a look at their development programs as they too find their best players heading across the border to England and abroad to play for better teams in better leagues and improve as players. Australia will always suffer the same fate. The A-League, no matter how much hype, will take a long time to match the top leagues in Europe, if indeed it ever does.

Scottish football highlighted that many teenagers are leaving to join academies at clubs in other European leagues because the coaching is of a higher standard than they would receive at home. This is a similar issue in Australia. The FFA have failed to invest adequately in Youth development. Their National Training Centre program is on its last legs. The reason being the money has dried up to support it. If they cannot support their own development programs, what chance is there of them underpinning the NPL clubs programs?

That being the case, if overseas clubs wish to invest money and coaching staff why would you turn them away? Surely this way there is a better chance of keeping that talent in Australia a little bit longer.

So what are the options that Scottish Football unveiled. The first was that more clubs could make youth development their central, over-riding priority. The idea being that  players will be convinced that their game will improve by staying in Scotland into their early 20’s instead of leaving in their late teens. Australia should seek the same goal. However the A-League clubs should not be linked to the NTC youth teams but should have to invest as a club in such programs; after all these are private businesses. It will in fact be interesting to see how this pans out if the FFA do shut down the NTC programs in all states rather than a few, and if the A-league clubs will pick up the cost.

The money on offer in England and Europe will always be greater, and compensation fees for the development hours clubs put in; hence why it is vital the FFA pass on these fees within the timeframe outlined in the FIFA Guidelines. If the FFA offered a financial incentive on top of the FIFA compensation fees to clubs who develop top-flight players, (subject to appearances in Europe), then again clubs may hold onto players and ensure that they are ready for the next step before sending them overseas too young. Scotland has identified that there might be ways to encourage or reward Scottish clubs for buying home-grown talent.

Scottish football has acknowledged that it “needs to be creative to take advantage of the opportunities that circumstances have brought.” Gone are the days of being bold and brash in the transfer market, – Sydney FC in Australia are proof of that –  clubs must realise the economic benefits of developing young players, a path Alistair Edwards advocated at Perth Glory, but which was abandoned in search of instant success within six months. Young local players playing for their local club re-energises the bond between fans and their teams. Scottish football has recognised that and is working towards that goal.

Australian football is naive, and needs to learn from others, here is a great chance to watch what Scotland does and learn and adapt to suit our needs. There will be a benefit in keeping our young talent in the country a little longer, -providing coaching is of a high enough standard – then we will have the players form a link with a local club before heading overseas and making a name for themselves. However the FFA must invest in the NPL clubs and let the A-League clubs run their own youth programs, monitored by the FFA.



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