Pathway is really a Cul de Sac

On the East Coast of Australia they joke about how things take a little longer to get to Western Australia, but it would appear that in some areas the East Coast are a little slower than the West.

In 2011 John Kosmina having dropped back to coach in the South Australian State League publicly came out and demand that the FFA invest in this level of competition or it faced dying. Around the same time Not The Footy Show bemoaned the fact that A-League was simply recycling players released by other clubs and coaches were not prepared to take a punt on untried players.

Mike Cockerill – who went and worked for the FFA for a while – summed up the situation perfectly in the Sydney Morning Herald when he wrote “Truth is, in the boardroom of the FFA more time, money, and energy is being expended on keeping Tim Cahill happy than building a viable pathway for the 81 semi-pro clubs (excluding A-League reserve teams) who make up the eight NPL competitions stretching from Cairns to Hobart to Perth.”

It must be soul destroying for some of the young players who dream of a professional career in football to read that only three players from the 1620 NPL players in the country have managed to secure A-league contracts in the coming year. The three players are: Braedyn Crowley (Northcote City to Melbourne City), Adam Parkhouse (Manly United to Wellington Phoenix) and Nikola Mileusnic (Adelaide City to Adelaide United). If there wasn’t pressure already making the step up from the NPL to the A-league, now that will be even greater as every single player in the NPL needs these players to do well to give them a chance.

As NTFS also stated previously there is also an issue in relation to coaches. The FFA are forcing aspiring coaches to obtain their A and Pro licences but there is no path to the top flight. As Cockerill pointed out only four former NPL coaches will start the new season on the backroom staff of an A-League club. There has also so far never been a coach appointed from the State League/NPL to an A-League position.

Yet in most countries, as with players, it is in the second tier where coaches learn their trade. Yet in Australia it means nothing, as the NPL was only ever created to meet a need for Australia to remain a part of the AFC as far as the FFA are concerned.

Interestingly three days after Cockerill’s piece Michael Lynch wrote in The Age of South Melbourne’s NPL Victoria championship winning coach Chris Taylor taking a swipe at the A-League owners for being timid and too keen on recycling failed players. He also, the article claimed, criticised the FFA for continuing to ignore the need for promotion and relegation. Understandably Taylor is frustrated as he has won two of the last three NPL Victoria titles with South Melbourne. Where else can he or his players go in terms of setting and achieving goals?

There are some who claim the gap between the full time professional players in the A-League and those playing in the NPL is not too great. What is great is the difference between training full time and training part time. Any player with aspirations to play in the A-league needs to be training six days a week and have a structured training program given to them by a proper strength and conditioning coach. Too many players have been told they need to bulk up, and go to the gym and pump iron. They come out with an impressive physique, but have lost a yard of pace because they have done the wrong kinds of exercise.

There are those who claim the gap is closing between the NPL and the A-League and back up their statement by saying look at the FFA Cup, and how Adelaide United and the Central Coast Mariners were eliminated this year by NPL sides. As good as this looks on the surface it has to be put into context. The Mariners only started pre-season training in the last week of June. Green Gully, the victors in this tie were in week 23 of their regular NPL season. The same applies to Redlands United who defeated Adelaide United they had played 19 NPL games. So in the early rounds NPL sides have a chance of catching an under prepared side treating the FFA Cup purely as a pre season tournament, by surprise. Come the end of the competition, the A-League sides are now playing and in full swing, while the NPL sides no longer have games and are simply training to stay fit for the FFA Cup tie. Hence why the the FFA Cup’s later stages should be put on hold until NPL sides are back in training in the new year. Then we will have a better idea as to where they are by comparison.

The other downside to A-League clubs not looking to recruit from NPL sides is that there is no money coming down into the NPL level of the game from transfer or development fees. With the FFA not giving any money either, survival suddenly becomes so much harder.

Some around the country are saying that as much as the A-League is under financial pressure so too are the NPL competitions in each state. Sponsorship monies that were promised by the FFA’s roadshows selling the concept have never eventuated. What can the clubs do? As always there are murmurings of breakaway leagues, but it will not happen as even when the NPL was being pushed through, when those who opposed the changes and saw the danger and stood up to be counted their fellow clubs were nowhere to be seen.

What will be interesting is how everything pans out in the next two years. The AFC stated that they wanted all competitions in its region to have promotion and relegation by 2017. This was pushed back until 2019. Quite how the FFA will engineer this will be fascinating, as they have pitched to the AFC that the NPL is the ‘second tier competition to the A-League.’

Sadly the National Youth League is dying a very slow and painful death. Interest in the competition is at an all time low from most clubs and the fixturing is tokenism at best. Had this competition survived as it was in its early days this may well have given teams promoted from the NPL an ideal pool of players to select from. The FFA could have given any new club coming up to the A-league the chance to sign any of the young players not on contract at the end of that season. This would then force clubs to look at signing and playing their talented young players and giving them opportunities.

One statistic that is not available, but would probably make very depressing reading would be how many of the three players under 20 signed to A-league clubs – this is compulsory – have been released once their contract has expired and not resurfaced. Players who at one stage were deemed to have the potential to play at that level, but then were cast aside because no opportunity came their way.

This pool of players again may well be the ideal one to call upon for a newly promoted side, as most would give everything that had to prove the previous coach wrong, and would appreciate given a very rare second chance.

One thing is clear the game needs some change. The A-league, no matter what the standard of play is on the pitch is stagnating. Fans are tired of seeing the same ten teams go around three times in a season, especially if one is as poor as the Mariners were last year. Equally players and coaches in the tier below want to know that there are opportunities if they excel.

Over in the West this realisation was reached almost five years ago. It would appear that the penny is finally beginning to drop on the East coast. Maybe not all wise men come from the East after all.

kosmina 2011

Pathway is really a Cul de Sac
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