We all know that marketers are the masters of changing facts to sell a product.
There has been an advertisement airing featuring four of the Socceroos promoting the A-League sponsor and the league itself. The name of the advertisement and the tag-line is “Made in the A-League.”
The four players featured in the advertisement are Mark Milligan, Tomi Juric, Jamie Maclaren and Dylan McGowan.
Now as any follower of the A-League will know only recently, since 2013, have the A-league clubs had junior sides playing in their local National Premier Leagues competition. So few can lay claim to having nurtured and developed talent.
If we look at the Individual players in the advertisement it is hard to believe that these players, despite their words were ‘made’ in the true sense of the word in the A-League. However by playing in the A-League they certainly used it as a shop window to showcase their talent and force themselves into the reckoning for a Socceroos cap. Yet did the A-League really make these players into the players that they are?
It is unlikely that they are going to say otherwise as it would not be in their interests or those of their employer the Football Federation of Australia.
To make something usually implies the creation of that thing. That creation is shaped into what the final product is.
If we look at Mark Milligan, here is a player who spent time at the Australian Institute of Sport in 2002. He was part of the Northern Spirit side in the old National Soccer League, and when this competition shut down went to play for Blacktown City. When the A-League commenced in 2005 the nineteen year old signed for Sydney FC. Despite being a part of the Australian 2007 Asia Cup squad and also the 2006 World Cup squad in 2007 he sought a move abroad. He signed a guest contract with the Newcastle Jets before moving to China aged 24. He returned to Australia and Melbourne Victory in January 2012 aged 26, and age when most coaches will tell you a player is established in terms of his style and habits.
Tomi Juric is younger than Milligan. He came up through what was then the New South Wales State League. He started at Hurstville Zagreb before moving onto Sydney Olympic and Sydney United. In 2008 at seventeen he moved to Croatia to try his luck with NK Trnje in Zagreb.He continued his youth development with another Zagreb club, NK Croatia Sesvete, before signing with NK Lokomotiva Zagreb, a team that had close ties with Dinamo Zagreb. In 2012 he signed for NK Inter Zaprešić, just north of Zagreb. Age 22 he returned to Australia to sign a short term contract for Adelaide United in the A-League, and scored on debut. In May 2013 he became Western Sydney Wanderers first signing and again scored on debut. After two years he returned to Europe.
Jamie Maclaren was born in Melbourne, and started playing for Sunbury United at around four or five years of age. At ten years of age he moved to Green Gully who were at the time a Victorian State League club. Age 15 he was invited to trial with Blackburn Rovers in England for their under 16’s team. After impressing he was offered a contract and stayed at the club for four years playing regularly in their under 21 team before he was released in 2013. Then then 20 year old returned to Australia and signed with Perth Glory. He did not take long to start scoring but opted to leave the club following the salary cap scandal in 2014-15 and opted to move to Brisbane Roar. Once again he showcased his talent with 40 goals in 53 games, which led to a move to Germany in 2017 just prior to his 24th birthday.
The final player in the advertisement is Adelaide-born Dylan McGowan. He played his junior football with the Para Hills club before being signed by Heart of Midlothian in Scotland as a teenager. He was part of their youth set up for two years before signing a senior contract. He went on to play 64 games for the first team and was also loaned out to East Fife. Unfortunately when the club went into administration he was released after having been a regular in the first team. McGowan also had a season long loan spell with Gold Coast United in 2011. When released by Hearts in 2014 he returned to play for his hometown side Adelaide United and made his debut the day before his 23rd birthday. After two seasons in the A-League he moved back to Europe signing with Portuguese side Paços Ferreira.
So were these players really made in the Hyundai A-league? Or were they in fact made at their junior state clubs in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney? Did not these clubs give them the foundations and in three of the four players cases their talent was polished by clubs in Europe. The only exception being Mark Milligan, who some would say was polished at Northern Spirit and Blacktown.
In another edition of the advertisement we see Perth Glory favourite Josh Risdon featured alongside another former Glory player Nikita Rukavytsya.
Risdon burst on the scene at Perth Glory when Ian Ferguson signed him ahead of Ryan Pearson. He was just 18 years old when he was given his A-League debut. He became a regular in defence for Perth Glory as well as a crowd favourite before moving to Western Sydney Wanderers. There is no doubt that the A-League was where Risdon shone and developed, but was it really where he was ‘made?’ Risdon was a player with a dream and a determination from a young age and moved to Perth from Bunbury on his own at 16 years of age in order to gain more footballing experience. He had been involved with ECU Joondalup, a club that can definitely claim to have made A-League players, since he was 14 years old. In 2016 Perth Glory had seven players who had come through the ECU Joondalup ranks in their squad, and acknowledged how this club developed these players. In fact Risdon acknowledged the contribution the club made when he said “I learned a lot about the sport from my coaches and my time there really helped shape my football.”
Risdon then joined the National Training Centre program and from there the Perth Glory Youth before signing a senior contract.
Rukavytsya moved to Australia with his family when he was 14 years old. Not surprisingly being from the Ukraine he joined Inglewood United as a junior, as they are a club with Ukrainian roots. At the age of 16 he moved to Perth SC before being offered a scholarship at the Australian Institute of Sport. Aged 19 he was signed as a short term injury replacement, and played three games. He signed a senior contract in March 2007, but unfortunately the coach that signed him, Ron Smith, parted company with the club at the start of his first season. David Mitchell, a striker took over as coach and Rukavystya thrived. Scoring on Mitchell’s debut as coach gave him the boost he needed and by the end of the season had six goals to his name, and was second highest scorer at the club behind Jamie Harnwell. At the end of the following season he was transferred to FC Twente. He did not play in the A-League again for another five years returning for a season with Western Sydney Wanderers aged 26.
There is no doubt the Hyundai A- League gave all of these players the opportunity to showcase their ability and gain moves overseas. However to claim that they “made them” into the players they are is a long stretch of the bow. Most of the players today are made at their junior clubs where they develop the basic skills and learn to play a role in a team. It will be a number if years before A-League clubs can genuinely claim that they ‘made’ players.