At the recent A League, W League and Youth League awards dinner at the Westin Hotel in Sydney, many in attendance have commented how the one award for the Youth League player of the year was skated over and the winner Gold Coast United’s Steve Lustica ushered from the stage almost as if it was a hindrance.
The resultant feeling being that the Youth League will be consigned to the past come the start of the 2011/12 season.
Yet once again this need not be the case if the structure is revisited and the concept re-thought. Many clubs have cried foul of the cost of operating a youth team in the National Youth League, and to be fair many of those complaining have not actually structured their Youth league teams to assist the club or the first team.
The sad thing is the limited numbers who have progressed from the Youth league to the first team, numbers that give the argument to scrap the league merit.
Would it not be better to allocate some of the money spent on flights and accommodation to give say eight youth league players’ apprenticeships?
These players can train with the first team squad three or four times a week, the remaining seven players being younger players who will need to perform to show that they too deserve an apprenticeship in the years to come.
Those apprentices will benefit from training with the first team, seeing if they are up to first team football and will be tied to the club. Currently any A league club can ‘poach’ a player from any other youth league club, and there is nothing the A league club can do about it.
The youth team will then play a series of extended tournaments during the season around the country. Teams will fly to Sydney for example, and play two games in four days. A month later they will fly to Perth and do the same etcetera, until they have all played each other once or twice and we have a league winner. This will cut down on the flight and accommodation costs, especially if the Universities in each state host the tournaments and the players. A grand Final could be an option played prior to the W league Grand Final.
Why the W League Grand Final and not the A League Grand final? Because this did not work previously with very few fans bothering to watch two teams who were not in the A League Grand Final, most of the tickets having been allocated to those clubs.
Something has to be done to ease the financial burden of that there is no doubt. The league however should not be consigned to the rubbish bin. The First team coaches need to have suitable players to call upon from the Youth league and with the apprentices training with the first team they will have a far better idea as to who is up to it.
The youth are the future, and it is fine to admit mistakes have been made, and make the necessary changes to ensure we still have a pathway for young talent.