From a commercial aspect football in Australia is looking to be in a healthy position if we are to believe what we are told. Participation rates are up, A-League viewing figures are up, and A-League attendances are up. The icing on the cake will be another World Cup qualification, which will hopefully be achieved in 2013.
Wherever there is success however danger lurks close behind. That danger can come in many forms, often its most obvious form is complacency. Complacency often results in nothing being done to build on the success that has been achieved, so that the hard-won success continues. It would appear that football may not be suffering from complacency but more a lack of finances to support the continued growth of the game, with the large percentage of monies brought into the game being directed to the elite and high performance programs.
There is some merit in this, as the more talented players Australia produces, the better the standard of the A-League, the more players Australia will have playing in the top leagues around the world, the better the Socceroos and Matildas will perform on the World stage. This will in turn drive more people through the turnstiles, to switch on Fox or SBS to watch the games and hopefully participate by playing or refereeing.
However there appears to be a problem in the current production line, which seems to be being ignored. Young talent is being produced around Australia, via various state development programs, the pathway for that talent whether they like it or not is through the National Youth League or the AIS. Some young players have been signed by A-League clubs purely to fill their youth player quote with the coach having very little intention of giving that player a chance. Other clubs have seen genuine talent and have worked hard to develop it. The fact is though the now defunct Gold Coast United had the best Youth set up in the Australian league and more of their players ended up with full A League contracts than any other club. One has to wonder if the club had survived two more seasons whether they would have, through this system, developed a dynasty that would have dominated Australian football. We will never know.
The concern however is how many young players are being given a one year deal, and having been given no opportunity in the first team are released at the end of their contract. Some are fortunate to pick up another one year deal at another A-League club only to be released again at the end of the following season. Then where do these players go?
Some head to lesser leagues in places like Indonesia to develop, however despite the money most will find it will not have helped their game a great deal apart from playing regular football.
Australia needs to look after these players and not be so quick to discard them. They have been identified as having talent, many may simply not quite be ready to make the step up at that point in time. The trouble is there is not the money at an A League club to spend on nurturing a player over two to three years, hence they are thrown into the wilderness. Many of these players are good enough to make it as professional players, but they need proper coaching to help them develop their weaknesses and some simply require patience or time to grow.
Why can’t a scholarship program be introduced for these players? A scholarship where these discarded players can still focus on their football and work with an A League club in order to develop. They could even attend the AIS for camps throughout the year, all the time being monitored and working on the weaknesses that saw them released from the A-League.
There is no doubt that Australia needs to do something to avoid losing these players. We need to do something to stop them dropping down to State league level and allowing their own standards to drop to that level; time has shown that they will only maintain their own level for so long. Football needs to do all it can to help these players make it, as this will ultimtately help drive the game to the next level. Abandoning them and forgetting about them, will ultimately be fare more costly.