Currently wherever you look it appears that National Premier League clubs are holding trials for all of their junior sides. The aim is to try and find some uncut diamond that will bring them success, before possibly being poached by Perth Glory’s your sides.
For these trials clubs are having in some cases anything from 70-100 children turn up in the hope of being selected. As is the case in sport, most will go home disappointed. Some will try their luck with another club, some will go back to playing where they were before and some will sadly give up the game for another sport.
One cannot help feeling that these trials are the wrong way to be going about things. Yet the NPL was always going to create this issue.
First of all when in their early teens, many a child dreams of being the next Ronaldo or Messi. The truth is most are unlikely to ever get close to fulfilling that dream. The closest they will come is when they pretend they are their heroes when they play, and will enjoy taking on their mates who happen to be pretending to be another star of the day.
At this age playing football is about having fun, playing with your mates, developing with your friends and improving together and learning the subtleties of the game.
There comes a time when if one or two show talent they will be faced with the choice as to whether they should move on and see how far they can go in the game. When that time comes all around them will know that they are a step above them in talent and will understand and not begrudge them moving on. Some may opt to stay, as is their choice.
What the NPL is doing is it encouraging young players to leave their mates and the clubs that have developed them in the hope of better things. The NPL is teaching young boys and girls to put their own dreams ahead of everything and everyone else. That loyalty to your friends and your club mean absolutely nothing.
Clubs who nurture young players play a massive part in young player’s development, as not just footballers but also the type of human being they become. It is in these formative years that they learn that often life is about teamwork, that success will only be achieved if everyone does their job.
For example in Ireland one club makes all parents pay half of the season’s fees up front, and then each week they must pay a percentage of the amount owing. No pay, no play. One week one family could not afford the amount, the other parents all paid that week so that the team was not disrupted and that that little boy did not miss out. This is the bond that sport creates.
We all know that the NPL clubs are currently stretched to the max in terms of manpower and what is expected of them, but surely rather than having these trials and dashing the hopes of hundreds of young children, they should have a network of scouts who go and watch the games these children are playing in.Then if they see a player they rate, approach the club and the parents and invite them to move to their club.
Too many children in the current trial system are having their dreams shattered. Rejection can be hard at that age. In truth many of them should not even be attending the trials, as they are simply not yet good enough. This is the sad truth. Some boys grow up quicker than others, some fill out more than others, so a player who did not make it as a 13 year old may well still make it as an 18 year old. Paul Parker who was in Perth this week was not selected for any representative teams as a young player, yet he still won two English Premier League titles and played for England in a World Cup semi-final; and only 23 players can say that!
Sport has to keep hold of these talented players who are overlooked for whatever reason and ensure that they stay in the game. The current trial system is sadly having the opposite effect, and has in other sports too. Told they are not good enough many children opt out and go and play something else.
The current situation is unlikely to change, as now we have a system that suits the clubs, if not the young players. The players flock to the clubs, they weed out the ones they want and send the others packing without another thought. How many clubs actually sit these young players down and tell them what they need to work on if they want to be taken in at the club in a year’s time?
The clubs then work on developing these players and as soon as they hone one player’s talents Perth Glory take the player. The line used being that if they want to play at the highest level they must get “on the pathway” to do so. Yet how many players from the NTC and Perth Glory Youth team have been on this famous pathway, and how many have actually managed to secure a professional contract? Those statistics would make interesting reading.
One club in the past two weeks held trials, they asked all attending if they were also attending Perth Glory trials, no one said a word. The picked a squad. A week later seven players fail to turn up because they have gone to the Perth Glory trials. The NPL clubs will no doubt moan about the player having ‘no loyalty’ when they leave for Perth Glory. Yet some would say that the NPL club is the one who has destroyed that sense of loyalty by having trials to try and find young talent without actually going and watching players play week in week out.
It had been hoped that somewhere in the Football Federation of Australia’s mission statement there would be some statement about protecting young players, monitoring their development and encouraging more people to play football and discover the magic of the game and its appeal to millions globally. Sadly there is no such statement.
We publish their Mission Statement below, and it could well have been written about any manufacturing business. It is cold, hard and matter-of-fact. It is all about churning out the next Tim Cahill, the next Harry Kewell who will in turn help bring in money to their organisation. Ironically Cahill never went on an Australian development path to the top. At 16 he backed himself and went to the UK and earned a contract at Millwall. Massimo Luongo who is the new pin-up boy was also a man who made his own way to England and was signed as a 19 year old for Tottenham Hotspur. Tom Rogic was overlooked by all the pathway coaches in the ACT and only came to the fore through “The Chance” run by the Nike Football Academy.
The much talked about “Pathway” is far from being a guarantee for success. As the three players mentioned have shown, if you are good enough you can still make it without having to be a part of such a system.
Football in your teenage years should be fun, it should be a time when you learn the intricacies of the game and what being part of a team and a club is all about. Being spotted and fast-tracked to the top because you play for a certain club only happens to a very select few. The talent they possess is usually clear for all to see. So rather than having trials and dashing the hopes of hundreds of Children surely these trials should be phased out and clubs should be encouraged to set up a scouting system to find talent?
FFA’s mission statement is to be one of the top football nations, both on and off the field, within the Asia-Pacific region, by:
• preparing, presenting and leveraging national teams of which all Australians can be proud;
• managing a highly popular National Football Competition as a distinctive and innovative entertainment proposition for Australia;
• building a very inclusive, mutually valuable relationship between FFA and the Australian Football Community;
• delivering significant, mutually rewarding relationships between Football Australia and other Football bodies in our region;
• operating in a way that entrenches financial viability and stability for FFA and Australian Football;
• providing the leadership to foster a unifying new Football culture which embraces success, diversity, professionalism, integrity and the universal appeal of the Game.