Con Boutsianis: “The nation is not going to get better by just playing more games”

South Melbourne icon Con Boutsianis is steadfast in his view that issues in Australian football’s much-debated talent pathways are rooted in a lack of specialised, skill-specific training, and that higher game loads will not act as the panacea some believe it could be.

As the gears slowly grind towards the development of a National Second Division, and the rebranded A-League Youth (formerly Y-League) competition prepares for its return post-Covid-19, there is a general sentiment that the improvement of the game in Australia depends on the procurement of more football and added opportunities.

This has been a focus of the Australian Professional Leagues ahead of the new A-League Women’s campaign, who in June announced that within two years the competition will run as a 22-round home and away season that offers the global standard of 1,980 match minutes (before finals) per season.

The increase has been welcomed by all and sundry given the relatively low base of the fourteen match season from which it’s risen. But in the men’s game, Boutsianis is wary that more time on the pitch would cause further neglect to skill-specific training. Put simply, he feels the game wants to run before it can walk; or as he puts it, writing literature without the ability to spell.

“I use the alphabet as an example: when you know the alphabet, spelling words becomes easier. We don’t have a curriculum or syllabus that would suggest there is an alphabet in football, because if there was, every single club and academy in the world would teach players how to kick properly with both feet,” Boutsianis told Soccerscene.

“That doesn’t happen, so we know the system is discordant in some way. It’s important we understand what the basics are and how we improve them. The philosophy is very simple: learn the basics well, be able to kick with both feet, run with the ball well, be a good athlete, eat well, and nail all the things that are required to be a top line athlete.”

Without these fundamental structures in place, or without a unified idea across the board of what these fundamentals are, Boutsianis is of the belief that those holes will become exposed on the pitch, and that the pitch is not the environment to improve. 

“Everyone’s talking about game load. I use Graham Arnold as an example, his solution to development is playing more games. Yes, you get some experience, but there are other fundamental things that need to be improved on,” he said.

“Whether it’s fitness, mechanics, goalscoring, the technical aspect of kicking the ball on both feet; if those things aren’t being addressed, and then you say ‘we need to play more games’, all it’s showing me is what you can’t currently do. The nation is not going to become better by playing more games.”

Boutsianis speaks about Australian football at breakneck pace, with his undeniable passion tinged with evident frustration at the direction it’s taken. He frequently diverts the conversation between sports – be it basketball, table tennis or golf – arguing their secrets to success are transferable, but are being wasted.

“Ray Allen was the three-point shooting specialist in the NBA; he’d taken a year off his contract to improve his shooting, especially from the three-point line. He said ‘I don’t have time to improve while playing, I need the time to improve and I’ll come back next year.’”

“From there, he went on to be the all-time shooting champion in the NBA. Someone who’s superseded him now is Steph Curry, he’s taken it to another level. He can shoot at the three-point line, and go one, two, three metres back from there.

“In my experience, the data on football shows most goals are scored close to goal. That’s true, but they’re only analysing what happens, not how they can make it better. Of course if you’re closer to goal it’s easier to score, and if you’re 20-30 metres away it’s harder, but you should be able to do both.

“A fine example of that is Ronald Koeman, who scored 256 goals from his sweeper centre-back position. Because he was able to strike the ball the way he should, he scored. Everyone should be able to hit the ball fluently on both feet, but we get coached in a way that says ‘you’re not allowed to shoot as a defender, you’re only allowed to do this or that.’”

Boutsianis argues that with time away from match play comes the freedom to pull apart and remodel individual skills, with a focus on biomechanical movements in the body central to his Football First coaching business.

His methods helped US Women’s legend Carli Lloyd reconstruct her shooting technique mid-way through a career that finished as a two-time World Cup winner (nine goals) and two-time Olympic gold medallist (eight).

“I haven’t spoken to her for a while, but I know she’s finished up and is running her own academy. She’s a fine example, she’s the all-time leading goalscorer at the Olympics, I just taught her to refine her technique to score goals and make sure she used both sides of her body.

“It’s down to the biomechanics, the mechanical action we use to perform these skills. Table tennis has certain movements, swimming has certain movements. When you go to kick a ball, our players are making enormous errors mechanically, so we have to identify how the muscles work in a certain way and start teaching kids how to perform those exercises.

“The probability of one team winning against another is based around skill sets. If your skills are higher than the others, and you have wider skillsets that you can use faster and for longer, your probability of winning is higher.”

Discussion around Australian youth development rarely lasts long before the inevitable yearning for the halcyon days of the AIS system begins. Having trained in the system as part of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics squad, Boutsianis credits its quality, but argues its success was not solely dependent on the concentration of talent under one roof.

“I trained there, great establishment, but you’ve got to realise most of the players that got picked to go were already pretty good. If you go round to every individual that went there, Paul Trimboli, Mark Viduka, Josip Šimunić… they all have one thing in common. They practised on their own, for many hours a day,” he said.

“When you put them all in an environment like the AIS – and Ron Smith knows his stuff – of course things start to happen, but that for me is not the solitary reason they became that good. They were already busting their arses on their own. When Viduka was there he was hitting the ball against the wall, everyone told him to shut up. And he would not stop.”

The Socceroos head to their fifth consecutive World Cup this November with a playing group widely considered of lesser ability than four years ago, and certainly below that of 2006-2010. If Graham Arnold’s side perform admirably against France, Tunisia and Denmark but fail to win a game, as was the case in Russia under Bert van Marwijk, Boutsianis will be the last to pat them on the back for effort.

“The great Ferenc Puskás was my coach at South Melbourne. He told me something very important when I was eighteen: ‘if you don’t shoot, you can’t score.’ Now, if you can’t putt, you can’t win golf tournaments. Tiger Woods is a classic for it. He’ll say ‘I didn’t hold my putts.’”

“He doesn’t say ‘I deserved to win, I had plenty of chances’, like we hear coaches say. Why didn’t you take your chances? It’s all about execution at the highest level, and if you can’t execute, you can’t win.

“So why is it that we spend such little time on finishing? I know golfers who spend hours a day practising their putting. I know table tennis players that are ten years old who do four hours. We do ninety minutes of training a day at A-League level and expect to play at the highest level, and produce players to win the World Cup? Forget about it.”

Coogee United: A club set to catapult through local grant

The Local NSW Grant has provided an important influx of funds for the success grant recipients enlisted, it will provide finances into specific areas of their respective clubs.

Upon the major list featured on the NSW Local Grant website, features a vast variety of football clubs across the state.

Coogee United is volunteer run community football club within the eastern region of NSW. Currently competing within the Eastern Suburbs Football Association, the club have entered their 21st season of operations having established foundations in 2003. As a staple amongst eastern suburb football within NSW, the club boast 25 teams, which 17 of those are male, and eight of those female.

The east side club where successful within the clubs application, Amy Singh lives and breathes football. Her involvement within Coogee United, echoes the all-important effect undertaken by those within her position across the nation.

As esteemed vice-president and representative of the Coogee United Board. She discussed the clubs ambitions in the wake of becoming recipients, of a much needed cash boost.

Singh talked about the impact the grant can have upon the club.

This grant will be game changing for our women’s program within Coogee United,” she said.

The newly encountered funds are all to be dedicated towards the women’s program at Coogee United. Primarily targeted towards high quality training grounds and adequate training equipment.

Additionally, funding will be provided towards women’s teams for new club apparel.

Amy Singh touched upon how the specific areas the grant finances are allocated towards, can attract new participants.

“When attracting women to a new sport it is key we break down barriers to participation. Safe, welcoming facilities, along with female specific, well fitting kit is key to ensuring participants are comfortable within the sporting environment. It takes courage to take up a new sport, so we want to make it as accessible as possible.”

The interest in which women’s football has experienced in over the last 5 to 6 years is described by Singh as “burgeoning.”

In the wake of the 2023 women’s world cup, there has been a spike of female participants over the age of 18 who are determined to become involved in football at an entry level.

Singh elaborated upon the importance of the two way relationship between female club participants and football.

“Being able to introduce women to football at any age is so important not only for the obvious health and wellbeing physical fitness aspects, but also as football (and many team sports) provides enormous mental health benefits, and a sense of belonging within our footballing club community,” she said.

We are committed to providing a high quality, but affordable football club experience to our members. We see football as a community first, and rely heavily on an army of volunteers to deliver our aims.”

Singh discussed the long-term aspirations for the club.

“Coogee United currently do not operate a youth system. Something in which club representatives are opting to change over the course of the upcoming seasons ahead,” she said.

“Long term, we would love to be able to re-start the junior arm to our club. We know football is growing in popularity amongst junior participants too.

“However to be able to do this we need to ensure we have the required funding, volunteers and available facilities to be able to deliver a well structured and managed junior football program.”

The NSW Community Grant funds regardless of the amount provided on behalf of the NSW Government, has the capacity to transcend football clubs in whom are success applicants.

Coogee United have made their aspirations concise. It is now of speculation as to how other successful applicants seek to prosper with a new influx of finances.

Venezia FC: cultivating a unique fashion and branding profile

The heritage, the charm, the biennales, the architecture, the art, the canals, the fashion and now football has been added to that list.

Venice boasts a wealth of cultural treasures, and for the first time in 19 years in 2021 the city had its own football team, Venezia FC, playing in the top division of Italian football.

Despite the city’s brilliance and beauty, Venezia FC’s path to the top has been far from conventional. Over the past couple of decades, the club has faced financial chaos, backroom turmoil, relegations, and takeovers. Yet, despite these sink-or-swim moments, the few years prior to being promoted to Serie A, have seen the club flourish on the world stage in a completely new way.

Despite players and fans needing to travel by boat to the 11,150-capacity Stadio Pier Luigi Penzo, the club has ascended with a clear Moneyball philosophy and a marketing team that has transformed them into a true powerhouse in style and with the highest level of craftmanship to the making of clothes.

The kits have been an undeniable success, generating the kind of buzz and headlines usually reserved for Nigeria and PSG releases. The home kit sold out on its first day of sale, and since then, 95% of online sales have come from outside Italy. Venezia FC has truly gone global.

Naturally, any marketer understands that successful brands don’t just provide products to purchase; they offer something to be a part of. While selling items is beneficial, selling a lifestyle is even more effective.

Before long, the website of Venezia FC began featuring poetic essays about the city and interviews with esteemed cultural figures like Cecilia Alemani, the artistic director of the Biennale. The post-match report adopted a passionate editorial tone that is rarely observed in the realm of football.

Ted Philipakos, the former Chief Marketing Officer of Venezia FC, is one of the key architects behind the club’s rapid success both on and off the field. As the club started to emerge from its depths, the former NYU sports marketing professor managed Venezia’s transition from Nike to Kappa – a change that has significantly transformed the club ever since.

Venezia’s fairytale return to prominence has been widely chronicled, but a lesser-known story is how the club swiftly transitioned from the verge of collapse to flourishing once more.

The club’s initial connection to the fashion world came through a scarf created in collaboration with the New York collective Nowhere F.C., produced in 2017 featuring in a photoshoot in NYC.

Under the art direction of Fly Nowhere, Venezia FC’s marketing, creative strategies, and merchandise were managed between New York and Venice, providing the club with global visibility through a stylistic perspective for the first time.

In February 2020, Duncan Niederauer, the former CEO of the New York Stock Exchange spearheaded an ownership restructuring and assumed the role of president, a time when the club was undergoing one of the most dramatic rebranding’s in recent football history. The club aimed to align its identity more closely with the city’s renowned classical art and architecture.

The Winged Lion, central to both the club’s logo and the iconic Piazza San Marco, received a redesign. The kits were revamped to emphasise the club’s signature green and orange colour scheme, enhanced with subtle gold features, creating one of the most visually striking combinations in world soccer. Suddenly, Venice boasted a soccer team as glamorous and stylish as the historic buildings lining its canals.

Venezia FC will be vying to be promoted once again to the Serie A in a two legged playoff against Cremonese over the next week, with avid enthusiast of football culture will be hoping to see more of what has been famously described as “football on water” being played at the Pier Luigi Penzo Stadium once again in the top division.

The Isuzu UTE A-League and Liberty A-League clubs can take learnings for some of the techniques and strategies that have worked so well at Venezia FC, whether that is partnerships, kit launches stylishly shot around the teams home city, or even if its to standout by not having a typical football club badge, Venezia FC has set the standard on how to market their merchandise through social media platforms as well as having an upmarket boutique store.

Philipakos noted a shift in the global football landscape he said via the esquire website:

“There was a technological evolution, a generational change and a psychographic shift, where this new generation had an entirely different relationship with football.”

It is important for teams around the country to understand that a club doesn’t need a top player or be playing in the top division for them to have a huge following on social media, understanding the marketing aspect will be enough.

Most Popular Topics

Editor Picks

Send this to a friend