There is an accusation levelled at the youth of today, that they want all of the trimmings of success without having to put in the hard work. This may be a fair comment to some, and regarded as harsh by others.
Recently a meeting with a young man in his late teens possibly illustrated this point, or maybe showed how people are happy to distort the truth if it makes them appear better; This is in spite of the fact that today it is very easy to check the validity of such claims as the youth should know. Saying that as we have shown not even sporting organisations carry out due diligence with their appointments.(Who’s Hiring?)
The young man in question, during a conversation proudly stated that he was a former Perth Glory player. Now to most people who follow sport when such a statement is made by an athlete referring to a professional sporting club, it means that they had a professional contract with the said club. It transpired that this individual had played for one of Perth Glory’s youth sides, and had not progressed even as far as the National Youth League side, let alone a professional contract.
He was of course telling the truth. Others will claim that he was distorting the truth.
Which brings into question professional clubs having youth teams that play in competitions away from a National set up.
In Europe many of the professional sporting clubs have junior sides that play against their senior opposition in a league that mirrors the senior competition, albeit based along more regional lines. Australia, being such a vast country means that such a proposition here would be very difficult and expensive. As we have seen with the National Youth League, this has now had to be watered down, and all the teams participating no longer play each other throughout the season.
Is it healthy to have A-League sides having youth teams across a number of age groups playing in the colours of the A-League side and carrying their name?
Does having a set up such as this have players, and their parents, believing that they have already “arrived” a long time before they have? Do some players not put in as much effort because they now believe they are on the pathway to being a professional footballer?
In Europe in the past there were clubs who were known to be the feeding clubs to the professional teams. The professional teams helped by supplying coaches and assisted in recruiting the players that they were interested in, who were invited to play for the feeder club. Not all players accepted such an invitation, and opted to stay with their existing clubs, but the door was not closed to them for making that decision.
Having the feeder clubs play in a meaningful competition allowed the coaching staff to blood these young boys against men. To see how they responded not only playing against grown men, but also playing alongside them and interacting with them at the club. Coaches learned a great deal about young players in this environment, and whether they had the character to succeed at the next level. They also managed to establish if they were team players or individuals.
It was a system that worked successfully for decades. Players that were asked to join these clubs knew it was an honour to be invited. They also knew that this was the team expected to achieve every season. Some of course found that expectation to be too big a burden.
So should we look at a similar system in Australia? Should the A-League clubs no longer have teams playing under their name and in their colours in local competition?
Should they look to local clubs as feeder clubs and establish relationships with two or three clubs within different catchment areas, assist with the coaching and recruiting to pull in the players that they feel may have the potential to play professionally, if they continue to develop?
Wouldn’t such a system ensure that the A-League clubs established scouting networks across the country where they could then identify talent, rather than holding trials and hoping that talent will come to them? It is clear that the identification of real footballing talent has been neglected in recent years, if it hadn’t we would not be witnessing the recycling of mediocre players within the A-League.
It would also establish a bond between the A-League clubs and local clubs that in some areas of the country seems to have weakened in recent times as the A-League clubs poach young players, and in some cases when they sign the player, fail to pay development fees that the club is entitled to.
For the time being something clearly needs to be done to differentiate between players who reach the A-League and play professionally, and those who try to allude to the fact, as the young teenager mentioned did.
These young players selected to play for the various age groups still have a long way to go before they have “made it.” There is still a great deal of work to be done before they can lay claim to having played for a professional football club. It is important that we do not blur the lines, as it undermines the achievements of the small percentage who manage to make it to the top. Who not only had the talent, but also had the drive and the desire to work hard and make sacrifices to earn a professional contract.
It is important that the privilege and honour of wearing a club’s shirt as a professional athlete is never diminished. It is something that should always have to be earned, and not be given away easily. Ask any top player how they felt when they pulled on their club’s shirt, or the national team shirt for the first time, and almost every single one will tell you how special it was, how inspiring, how scary, and how much responsibility it carried.
If young players from the age of twelve or younger are allowed to wear the shirt and play in a team that carries the same name as a great club, what do they possibly have to aspire to? There will be many players who represent the club at junior level but there will be very few who will have the talent to go on and carve a career as a professional. That achievement and honour should never be undermined.
If some players already think that they have arrived, and are already boasting that they play for the club, then the long-term future of these clubs is in jeopardy.