Brad Maloney: From the class of 1991 to Joeys coach

Brad Moloney

Few supporters who witnessed the gallant deeds of the 1991 Australian World Youth Cup squad as they progressed to the semi finals of the tournament – only to be eliminated by the host nation Portugal via a Rui Costa piledriver – would question the squad’s claim to being our greatest ever youth side.

The names just rattle off the tongue with talent like Bosnich, Kalac, Popovic, Muscat, Okon, Seal, Stanton, Corica, Bingley, Sorras and Babic directed by the coaching supremo, Les Scheinflug.

Significantly, Brad Maloney, the current Joeys coach, shared that wonderful journey with his team-mates in the Class of ’91.

All those years may have past but Maloney still carries the tradition of the famous squad in his DNA and is looking forward with great confidence to the Joey’s first Asian Cup match against Saudi Arabia on June 16 in Thailand.

At stake in this series is a place in the World Cup later this year.

In this interview with Roger Sleeman, Brad Maloney discusses the squad’s preparation for the tournament and his expectations, the realities of Australian youth football and his commitment to the Australian game after his eight-year coaching stint in Malaysia.


Was it a hard decision to return to Australia after all those years in Malaysia and Asia?


I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Asia working with some great people and for eight years I was fortunate to work with national teams at all levels from youth teams to the senior squads.

To come home was a pleasant surprise for me as it’s always good to work in your home country and I really enjoy the task with these young players we have here at the moment.


Harking back to the 1991 World Youth team, what are the emotions which are evoked?


Great memories I’ll never forget and the team, camaraderie and spirit were unbelievable.

The quality of the players in the squad was fantastic and our achievements from humble backgrounds – going to Portugal and reaching the semi finals in front of 120,000 home supporters against the likes of Luis Figo, Rui Costa and Joao Pinto who all had magnificent careers, was unforgettable.

It would be nice to replicate such success with the current youth teams.


Is the 1991 success the benchmark which you would set for yourself in your current position?


Had a similar conversation with somebody the other day about previously reaching the semi finals of the u/20 competition in 1991 and Barcelona Olympics in 1992.

We’ve done it in the past and I would like to recapture that glory and perhaps go one better.


From the very outset when you were appointed to the role last August, what was your initial strategy to get things right?


I cut my stay in Malaysia and came back to Australia as soon as I could, scouting players and identifying even more talent. We had a monitoring list which had been put together but I knew I had to build on that and widen the net for talent which has happened in the last ten months or so.

Therefore, the squad we’ve assembled for this Asian Cup is competitive and with good preparation in the next few weeks and good acclimatisation, I believe we can achieve something.


Realistically, can you really be happy with only 16 days preparation?


A lot of other nations in Asia are already full-time at this age, even some from the age of 12 meaning by this tournament stage, they’ve been together full-time for 4-5 years.

We could do things differently but at the moment players are with their clubs.


Talking about preparation, do you think the players have had adequate development in their formative stages and up to now?


We’re relying on A-League and NPL academies to influence the player’s development and it would be great to have the best players playing together in a full-time environment against high-level opposition.

Unfortunately, at the moment a lot of these players aren’t playing at senior level or in first team football.


Are you happy with the technical level of our players?


Every country brings its own culture of playing styles and a number of the Asian countries are technically gifted, but I don’t think we’re too far off.

Physically we have a presence which we try to combine with technical aptitude.


Are you happy with your current coaching staff?


I am and they were in place when I took up the role – very knowledgeable, loyal and there is a great respect amongst us.

Moving forward we could add more expertise but at the moment we’re doing well.


Who are the key players in the squad, those who could make the difference?


Nestory Irankunda is a huge talent with all the headlines he’s made in the last few months and he was involved early in our qualification phase.

He’s now ready to be involved in a big way in these Asian Cup matches and the other key players are the Central Coast pair Miguel de Piccio and Anthony Pavlesic and Sydney F.C.’s Mitch Glassen.

Also, the core group we’ve had up to now know what to expect from me. Hopefully, the squad will jell in the lead up to the first game.


If you were Carl Veart would you have started with Irankunda in the return leg of the semi-final against the Mariners?


That’s the coach’s decision.

Obviously, Carl knows his capabilities and how to manage his abilities because he works with him every day and when he has come on the pitch he’s made a massive impact.


What do you know about your opponents in the Asian Cup and how good are they based on your advanced information?


The Saudis have played about a dozen friendly matches leading into the tournament and we expect them to be good quality and very tough.

We met China in the qualifiers, and though we got a result that day, we do expect improvement from them and another challenging match.

Tajikistan were actually in the finals last time when they met Japan and will also be hard to beat. Luckily, two viewings of their matches before playing us will be a big help for our chances.

The top two teams qualify for the quarter finals and our crossover group is Japan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and India. The winner of the quarter final will qualify for the World Cup.


Beyond this, what are your short term to medium term plans in coaching?


I love working in national team setups as I’m now familiar with the landscape, particularly in Australian space. My fervent aim is to achieve with this current group.


Would you return overseas?


I’d never say never and I’m still in contact with the people I worked with in South East Asia, but at the moment my focus is to achieve success with Australia.


Looking back to 91, so few of those players are involved in the game. How can we change that?


There’s not a lot of opportunity, illustrated by only Popovic,  Muscat, Okon, Corica and I working full-time in the game.

However, I’m definitely all for fast tracking Socceroos but you have to have the right people for the right job in the right environment.


Your opinion of the A-League?


I’ve seen many matches since I’ve been back in the country, including the Sydney derbies and the final series.

I believe the overall standard of football is high.


Your former team-mate Steve Corica has a wealth of young talent at Sydney F.C.

Isn’t it time he cleared the deck of older players and gave these youngsters their chance, just as he was given a break to play senior football at Marconi all those years ago?


Steve is a very experienced coach and I’m sure he’ll make the right calls.

Noddy: The Untold Story of Adrian Alston – a review of Philip Micallef’s book

When former Socceroo great, Adrian Alston, took a leap of faith and departed Preston in the north of England and ventured to Wollongong in January 1968, he could never have imagined how his life would change forever.

However, Jim Kelly, the former Blackpool and England B international, who had played with the late and great Sir Stanley Matthews, knew his man and was instrumental in the new life Alston forged for him and his family.

Kelly had become part of football folklore on the South Coast after South Coast United defeated favourites Apia Leichhardt 4-0 in the 1963 NSW Federation Grand Final in front of an Australian record club crowd of 30,500.

Consequently, when Kelly brought his prodigy to the South Coast of NSW, he unknowingly created a football pathway for Alston which he still reflects on with immense pride and gratitude.

There is a constant message in the book, written by Philip Micallef, that Alston never forgot the people who assisted him in rising to the highest level of football, fulfilled by playing all over the globe and representing his chosen country in 37 full internationals, including the World Cup Finals of 1974 in Germany.

When Alston was selected in his first international against Greece in 1969, he stated he was no longer a Pommie – but green and gold through and through.

Critically, he knew that Australia was now the place he would always call home and after travelling the world with the Socceroos, playing in the 1974 World Cup Finals  in Germany and  in the English 1st Division with Luton Town, rubbing shoulders with the greats of world football including Pele, Beckenbauer, Chinaglia, Rodney Marsh, George Best and Johan Cruyff in the North American Soccer League before a serious injury forced him to retire from playing at the tender age of thirty, this fact became more evident.

Ironically, when he returned to England after his playing career finished, Alston really couldn’t settle down  and when his young son, Adrian junior, asked when the family was returning to Australia, it was enough to influence Alston and his family to jet back to Wollongong.

Life after football can be very challenging for some but Alston took to coaching like a duck to water and the book documents in detail his coaching stints in the Illawarra during the 1980’s and 1990’s where he achieved considerable success.

However, his greatest loyalty was to the 1974 Socceroo squad and the last chapter of the book is devoted to his coach, the late Rale Rasic.

This book is just not about the footballer, Noddy Alston, but the man who took a chance in life to explore new surroundings when he came to Australia to begin the voyage of a lifetime.

There are a number of subplots in the book which make fascinating reading like Noddy’s procurement of Franz Beckenbauer’s shirt before the Socceroo’s World Cup match against West Germany in 1974.

The book will not only appeal  to people who followed Noddy’s career closely but to supporters of the game who admire determination and God given ability in professional footballers.

For those who don’t know Noddy’s story, particularly the younger generation and those who are the standard bearers of our game, it’s a must read.

Nike Pacific Brand Director Nick Atkinson: “We have so much equity and history to elevate women’s sport”

Nick Atkinson

Before becoming Brand Director of Nike Pacific – an organisation he’s been part of since 2015 – Nick Atkinson knew very early on that he’d be working in football.

Growing up in Wales of the UK, he was brought up through the school, college and university system that paved the way for his passion to come to life.

From starting off with his first training session at Wick Dynamos in West Sussex, football has been a consistent part of his life.

In this interview with Soccerscene, Nick discusses his role of Brand Director in more detail, Nike’s involvement with the Matildas, working with Sam Kerr and giving back to the grassroots level.

As Brand Director, can you outline your role in helping promote football?

Nick Atkinson: I’ve been involved with Nike since 2015 and even before becoming part of the swoosh family, football has very much been something I am deeply passionate about.

I remember during the final round of my job interview for Nike, I was asked why I wanted to join the team. I didn’t give a great answer, but I had said that I wanted to work on a brand that propelled the game of football and had close ties to the World Cup. And I feel that my love for the game really shined in that moment.

Since taking up the role I’ve been fortunate to be part of so many firsts – seeing how football can uniquely unite and inspire people and nations.

With Nike’s level of global impact, I am aware of the responsibility and part I play in shaping how our athletes are seen, and leading this work on home soil has been a dream.

The Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand for example, was a major project that I led. It was Nike Pacific’s most significant investment in a sporting moment yet – from unmissable out-of-home, a world-first tiktokumentory, football accelerator legacy programs to the first female football-led retail door – the Dream Arena.

I’m immensely proud of what we, as a team, achieved to build a better game for all. It makes all the work we do behind-the-scenes so satisfying when we know it means that the next-gen athletes will have new-found heroes to look up to.

On a local level, after personally playing eight to nine seasons in Victoria’s state and metro leagues, I knew I wanted to get Nike involved as there was so much potential for impact at that level.

Seeing so much success in the sport both at the domestic and international level is a true highlight.

Nike proudly sponsor the Matildas; how do you reflect on FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023?

Nick Atkinson: I’ve worked with both our national teams (Matildas and Socceroos) for many years and have had so many amazing moments – I even remember a free-kick competition with Brett Emerton and Mark Bresciano in 2016 on ANZ Stadium!

If you look at the Socceroos performance in 2022, you can say it’s the ‘greatest assist’ before the 2023 Women’s World Cup because they had set that benchmark for performance and awareness across the country and reignited football.

This year’s tournament has undeniably been a generational moment for sport and culture, having the global tournament on home soil and the home team of the Matildas was the moment to accelerate sport into the future – we know sport creates change, and this was the largest accelerator of women’s sport and culture for the next five years.

The Matildas post tournament are now household names and have shown the world the power of women’s sport. From record-breaking crowds, jersey sales and viewership – the Matildas continue to inspire us all with their captivating performances and genuine love for each other, their fellow athletes and the game.

It felt like it’s been a while coming, but we saw the nation finally galvanise and get behind our national teams – and without a doubt, we’ll look back on the 2020’s as the greatest decade of women’s sport.

Living and breathing football in both my professional and personal life, I can say that we’ve got such a unique Australian football identity. We’re in arguably the most dynamic period that Australian football has ever seen and we’ve opened the sport up to the most diverse audience, which is so exciting and refreshing.

What did you make of user/social media engagement throughout the World Cup – was there anything significant you or your team saw in relation to aspects like shirt sales?

Nick Atkinson: We started working on our plans almost the day after the bid win got announced, so we were 100% ready going into the Women’s World Cup.

We have so much equity and history to elevate women’s sport at Nike, so this wasn’t new for us and has been a journey we’ve been on for a very long time.

When you look at a Matildas match, it is so different compared to the Socceroos. For example, lots of school trips and big groups of young fans, so that is really amazing.

One of the things that we anticipated was going to happen, was the emergence of new voices wrapped around this game. We knew this moment would be successful because it opened opportunities to grow and nurture these new voices in the game. That was one of the rewarding elements, to see different sections of the media and social platforms emerging to give us a new and youthful perspective on the sport.

Our partnership with TikTok saw the creation of 1000 Victories – one of the most successful pieces of media that we worked on through the Women’s World Cup.

This was co-created with a young generation of fans who emerged with a point of view on football and women’s sport. That enriched the game and really took it to new heights, making it bigger and more diverse and gives people a bunch of ways to be involved.

Sam Kerr is hugely popular in Australia and overseas – what was it like building her brand campaign?

Nick Atkinson: It’s been amazing, this is something I’ve personally worked on for a really long time, I’ve enjoyed and am so proud of.

It’s not only Sam but the whole group that we’ve had a relationship with for so long now and that has allowed us to get to know who they are as individuals as well as athletes.

To build a brand plan, you do need to have that full understanding of a person or team to work out how to best approach it.

I placed Sam in her first brand campaign for Nike in 2017 for the launch of the Mercurial Superfly 360 boots. That was at a time where she had just came off winning a Golden Boot in the NWSL and we knew at that point, we had a superstar on the rise.

We featured her in the launch campaign for the boots using billboards and the like, as well as an athlete experience at Rebel. We had an incredible turnout, not only from supporters but across the entire community.

At that time, it was clear that Sam had that star power to take her even further which proved to be the case. Fast Forward and she’s shared a few Mercs with Cristiano Ronaldo and Kylian Mbappe.

I’ve had the privilege to get to know Sam over the many years of collaboration and it has helped us build a strong, authentic platform and brand around her journey.

There’s nothing that we believe in more at Nike than listening to the voice of the athlete and doing work that resonates with them – such as their values and beliefs, and what they stand for. An example of this is something we’ve always told Sam, “We’ll get it right on the pitch first and then build from there.”.

The journey has been amazing and to be part of that is truly special. Our goal is to support Sam and build her brand while she’s delivering ground-breaking performances on the pitch and creating an unbreakable connection with fans.

More broadly, at Nike we believe that it’s not a one-person team with the Matildas by any stretch.

We have an incredible roster of athletes across the Matildas such as Elle Carpenter, Steph Catley, Kyah Simon, Alanna Kennedy, Mackenzie Arnold, Hayley Raso and more, and we’re focused on supporting and elevating the whole roster.

Our brand investment in the Women’s World Cup was the single biggest investment we’ve ever made in this country to elevate the team. We were prepared, we started early and I believe played a critical part in connecting the fans and the team.

Matildas brand stories:

All For Tomorrow

Sam Kerr – Flip The Game

Show the World Your Victory

You are also supporting Fitzroy Lions Soccer Club – what is it like switching back to the grassroots level and giving back?

Nick Atkinson: Football would not happen without volunteers at the grassroots level – it’s an area of the game that we really believe in and want to have a positive impact.

I shared my story coming through the UK, starting out in grassroots football, and being one of those kids that had to hustle for rides from other people’s parents, or ride my bike to games with my brother, and wear my boots until they fell apart, I know what a huge enabler it can be for kids.  Getting involved in Fitzroy Lions has been a real personal love of mine.

We’ve been partnered with Fitzroy Lions Soccer Club since 2018 – they are an incredible organisation where many of the kids come from refugee families and football plays a critical role in uniting that community. It’s where you really feel the power of the world game.

Our relationship started simply, going down to training sessions to meet the team and see what they’re about – they are a rare team in Australia that offers a route into structured league football for kids whose parents can’t quite afford it normally, in a sport that can be quite expensive to play. Through the time spent with them, I really got to know the kids and their families.

It was so enriching and an awesome experience where the club simply provides the opportunity for everyone and eliminates those barriers that people face when looking to play.

So many of us at Nike live and work around those communities so it’s a great opportunity to directly support people related to what we do. We’re proud to be part of something like this and seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces when they’re playing on the field is a real highlight in my career.

Excitingly, like many other grassroots clubs, they have seen a 200% increase in girls participating this season which is so encouraging.

In addition, we’re in the fifth year of naming rights for the Nike FC Cup and recently announced the Nike FC Accelerator Program. This is a four-year commitment with Football Victoria to drive gender equity in the sport by increasing the number of female coaches and giving better access to football at The Home of Matildas.

Overall, we want to provide equal opportunities and this is the legacy that Nike wants to leave in the long run to drive the sport forward.

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