When the FFA announced that they intended to have all of their development sides playing in the top competitions of each state, we applauded the concept and were sure that this would ultimately benefit the game as a whole.
Now in its second year in Western Australia, we have grave doubts over the idea.
The lower age structure of the NTC should not be tampered with as it has proven that it is paying dividends with the Under Age sides from Western Australia performing superbly in national age-restricted competitions. This has been extremely positive and has also resulted in WA having more players considered for the Australian Institute of Sport program than previously; a Program that will hopefully improve under the guidance of Tony Vidmar, as it stalled under the control of Dutch coach Jan Versleijen.
The question that arises when it comes to the NTC side playing the in State Premier League is whether it is benefitting all concerned, and whether it is in fact making the players better players.
This season 14 games into the Premier League the NTC have not won a game. Last year was a similar story. If these players are ready for the next step these would not be the results. Losing every week cannot be good for any young player, and we have been advised that some have stated that they no longer are enjoying the game. Which is sad and ultimately could see a young talent walk away from the game, which surely defeats the object of the whole NTC program.
Once these boys reach 17 years of age would these players not be better off playing with grown men rather than against them? Imagine if Ryan Giggs have been held back in the youth team at Manchester United, along with David Beckham and Paul Scholes or Wayne Rooney at Everton, how would their games have progressed?
Pele and Norman Whiteside were playing in World Cup finals at 17. These two players may well be exceptions but it proves that if you are good enough, you’re old enough.
The NTC does serve a vital role in bringing through young talent, but at 17 that talent should be set free. If the A League clubs have spotted a player’s talent, and they should be looking at these boys from the time they are 13 or 14, then they should pick them up and continue their development – Although we believe you have to be 18 to sign for an A league club, but they could be signed to their youth set up.
If the boys have faith in their own abilities and are overlooked in Australia then they can head overseas and try their luck, and should they obtain a contract then the NTC has achieved another success.
Some players however will mature late, and some may never make it to the next level, so the highest they will ever play is in the State League, where they could undoubtedly shine.
By delaying their entry into a man’s world are we not in fact stunting these players development? By having them take the field each weekend and lose are we not destroying their enjoyment of the game? These and other questions need to be asked and considered seriously, before we lose these players to the game completely. It certainly would appear that what appeared to be a good idea is one that is in fact currently helping very few.