As is so often the case, the situation in one sport is similar to that in another, or the problems faced and successes mirror those in another country. That is why it is always wise to look around and learn from the mistakes of others, and also from their victories.
This morning having been made aware of Falkirk boss Steven Pressley’s open letter in the Daily Record it was interesting to read the problems he believes face Scottish football. It was however more interesting to read his comments and look at how they fit in Australia, especially those about development.
He started out by stating “There must be a direct correlation between the philosophy adopted at grassroots and academy level and the style of play at the top end of our game.” Something the Dutch coaches employed by the FFA stressed. Has it been implemented effectively? It is probably still to early to tell, but has definitely reaped rewards for some players.
He followed up by saying that first-team football needs to ‘evolve into a style with a greater emphasis on tactics and technique,’ and then warned that ‘the supporters, must embrace and truly start to understand the need for a change in our style of play.’ For this to truly work, the media must educate and explain what is happening on the pitch, a failure to do so will result in fans being dis-engaged and those not tactically astute – which can be more than people want to admit – lost.
Pressley accepts that academies play a crucial part in players’ development but states that the clubs need to make a bigger investment in this area. This is true in Australia.
Currently the A League clubs invest little into the future Australian players, except for having to commit to a National Youth League team, something many do begrudgingly. The development is left to the state league clubs around the country, along with independent academies. An area of the game the FFA has said that they wish to have more control over, yet they will find this gets increasingly harder as each year goes by.
The National Competition Review saw the FFA put an even bigger onus on the State League clubs by making it a non-negotiable requirement that they employ a technical director, yet as the Head of High Performance John Boultbee said on “Not The Footy Show” no funding will be coming from the FFA to support this.
Without funding from those running the game or the right to charge A League clubs a far sized transfer fee as compensation for developing a player, the game in Australia is going to struggle to keep up globally. The current development fee when it is received by the clubs is an insult to the time and money some clubs have invested in young players. So often the state league clubs do what is best for the young player, not standing in his way when a professional club in Australia comes knocking, and on occasion some have received no financial compensation. This is a situation that will ultimately hamper the game as a whole. The effects will not be seen now but in five years time.
As Pressley spoke about the game in Scotland his words are equally true in Australia, ‘They – (The SFA) – must work harder to help clubs and support them financially to employ good ex-pros at grassroots and academy level. This is vital and will take the correct degree of investment. This is the most important part of a player’s development and equally the development of our game in this country.’
So far only Adelaide United coach John Kosmina has voiced such an opinion, having witnessed first hand when he went back to coach in the state league the gulf that currently exists and is getting wider.
The State bodies are charged with improving the game, so why are the CEO’s not putting more pressure on the FFA to filter funding down to this level and below?
There is talk that the end-goal is that the State Leagues around the country become purely development leagues from which the A League clubs can cherry pick, and that is why certain policies are being pushed. This is an extremely dangerous pathway to take. Young players need to play alongside experienced older players, that is how they learn. One part of that learning is the physicality of the game, and playing alongside men once they have developed the desired skills and technique is the best way to learn.
As one A League coach, who requested to remain nameless stated “If they go ahead and make the state leagues development leagues, A League clubs will have to sign kids on 3-4 year contracts, as that is how long it will take to get many of them up to that level. As it is it takes most 2 years, only the very good ones establish themselves in an A league team in their first season.”
The next few years will undoubtedly shape Australian football; By that time the A League will be ten years old. It is crucial that those running the game make the right decisions now, and equally important that those with concerns raise them, as once we set sail in one direction it will be very hard to change back or adopt a new one.
The future needs investment and if the future is to be delivered, as it would currently appear, by the State League clubs then it is time they received financial support for their efforts.