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Con Boutsianis: We must fix youth development in Australian football

South Melbourne legend Con Boutsianis’ message is simple. As a nation, we are failing to produce enough players at the calibre of the Mark Vidukas and Harry Kewells of yesteryear.

In an interview with Soccerscene, the 48-year-old believes youth development across the board is suffering in Australia and the cautious approach that has been taken with talented young players is not beneficial.

“Mark Viduka at 17 played his first senior game,” Boutsianis said.

“At 17, I played my first National Soccer League game. Now, if a 17-year-old is good enough to play, we say ‘oh no we better not, he’s too young, he needs more time to develop.’

“It’s complete rubbish.”

Boutsianis concedes a national second division and connected football pyramid will be a positive for the game’s issues at a developmental level, but doesn’t think it is the panacea others in the game believe it will be.

“That’s not what the answer is,” he said.

“People are just shooting off the hip, of course it would be great to have a second division. Is it viable? We are struggling to get the A-League to be viable.

“Now, you want a second competition?

“It’s not working at the top level. We’re a mess at the moment. We don’t have any sponsorships, we don’t have any direction, we’ve spent one billion dollars in 15 years (on the A-League) and most of the teams don’t even have a home.”

In an effort to improve the youth footballing standards in Australia, after the conclusion of his playing career in the NSL, the former Socceroo has invested his time in creating a coaching business called Football First.

He uses his years of expertise and research to focus on the development of groups and individuals, coaching a range of players from beginners to professionals. Sessions are completed in person by him or online to those who are in other countries.

“Because I’m very analytical, I started to think (near the end of his career) ‘what is it that makes a soccer player? What do you actually have to do to become a professional player?’

“One thing that I realised, I was more a technical player and I was speaking about football with my friend Mickey Petersen who played for Ajax under Johan Cruyff.

“He said, ‘look, we are just born in the wrong country. They don’t value the technical players here (in Australia).’

“I said ‘yeah I know’; I can’t understand why they wouldn’t want to learn how to kick the ball properly and that technical skills are more important than physical initially.

“So, I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to teach these guys how to do it.’ I started off with a group of five kids, not getting paid a lot of money, but it wasn’t about the money.

“I said to myself ‘I’m going to start doing it’ and then from that I never realised where it’s going to go.

“20 years later and I’ve developed a really good coaching business that gives me the opportunity to travel around the world.”

With his years of experience, Boutsianis’ most important piece of advice for young players is to identify the real weaknesses and strengths they have as footballers and address them on a daily basis in a specified program.

His use of a grading system, which generates a tangible document for a player, similar to a school report, is important for the improvement of an individual.

“This is what the parents love, this is what the clubs love, this is what the kids love,” he said.

“It’s a grading system that says, here, you’re a beginner, this is your score for a beginner. You’re a semi-professional, these are your scores for a semi-professional.

“Unfortunately, in football, we generally don’t have a system that suggests this. It’s an opinion, your opinion against my opinion against that person’s opinion.

“You need something that you can physically see and understand. Is the passing good? Is it not good?”

Money should not be the overriding factor in whether a player coming through the ranks makes it as a professional, with the ex-Perth Glory player valuing commitment and hours spent instead.

“If you want to develop a player it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to spend millions and millions of dollars.

“What you need to get them to do is to start working at home on their own. Mark Viduka would be at the AIS and kick the ball against the wall for hours at night, no one told him to do it.

“Young players need to start understanding what it is they have to do to become a better footballer.”

According to Boutsianis, the perception is that to be better, we need to send youth players (who are not ready) overseas at a young age.

He believes this is a critical mistake.

“What’s the point of spending $10-50,000 on people who don’t really develop a player,” he said.

“We spend all that money to compete against the best overseas, when you haven’t done the work prior…you haven’t earned the right to go and play against the best.

“So, get your own backyard in order, make sure you are one of the best in your state, if not in the country, and then consider to go overseas. If you’re not one of the best here, how do you think you are going to be the best there?”

When quizzed on the possibility of becoming a coach of a side in the future, the man who scored the winner against Carlton in the 1998 NSL Grand Final claimed: “I will coach, no problem.

“But for me it’s not that important at the moment, I think developing people is more important than getting results and saying I won as a coach. Because, that’s not giving to the player, I’m more focused on making sure that player in the future becomes successful.”

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Philip Panas is a sports journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on football policy and industry matters, drawing on his knowledge and passion of the game.

A new year brings optimism for Australian football

Stadiums have been forced to adapt during the pandemic, introducing new procedures and innovations allowing fans to attend matches safely.

As always in Australian football, 2021 is set to be a big year.

After a year which was continually disrupted by a global pandemic, the game’s future seems to be much brighter in 2021. Here are some of the reasons why:

An Independent A-League and W-League

After years of infighting, the A-League and W-League were finally unbundled from Football Australia on the last day of 2020.

A new organisation of A-League club owners, under the moniker of Australian Professional Leagues (APL), will now take over the operational, commercial and marketing control of both leagues.

Essentially, the league’s power brokers will now have more incentive to invest and market the leagues as they now have the impetus to attract and organise their own business dealings.

Chair of APL and co-owner of the Western Sydney Wanderers, Paul Lederer, spoke of the importance of the deal: “This is an historic moment for the future of football in Australia – for the fan, for the player, for the whole game.

“It’s now time to earn and deliver the future our game deserves. The handbrake on the game is off; owners can finally invest in what they own and create value for the entire footballing ecosystem.

“Players can plan their careers in Australian football, fans can reconnect with the game that they love, and clubs can create meaningful moments for the whole Australian football family.”

Domestic Transfer System

One of Football Australia’s ‘XI Principles’ outlined the need to stimulate and grow the Australian football economy, with the establishment of a new and modern domestic transfer system mooted as a proposed measure.

Last week Football Australia released a Domestic Transfer System White Paper, which will set the wheels in motion to revamp the current model into one which falls in-line with the rest of the global game.

It’s an area where Australian football is falling behind, with FIFA reporting in 2019 that Australian clubs only received US$1.9 million in international transfer fees, compared to other Asian nations like Japan who garnered US$29.4 million.

Football Australia CEO James Johnson has placed significant importance on the issue and the implementation of a proper domestic transfer system will finally reward a broad range of clubs across the Australian football pyramid.

“The establishment of a modern Domestic Transfer System in 2021 by Football Australia will seek to remedy the ‘gap’ that has been created in the Australian football ecosystem by providing opportunities to progressive clubs at all levels of the sport to generate new revenue streams which can be deployed into the ongoing training and development of players, and the clubs themselves,” he said.

“We believe that the implementation of a fit-for-purpose system will have transformational benefits for football in Australia and particularly our professional and grassroots clubs by reconnecting the game and stimulating growth,” Johnson concluded.

National Second Division

The Australian Association of Football Clubs (AAFC) is set to release a report on the progress of their plans for a national second division in the coming days, in a move which should enthuse the Australian football public.

A national second division (eventually with promotion and relegation) will bring a range of benefits to the football system here and will be a unique identifier which separates the game from a range of other sports played on our shores.

There does seem to be some hesitance from A-League clubs however, to immediately green-light a national second division.

Chair of the APL, Paul Lederer, recently stated that a national second division wouldn’t eventuate within the next two years, claiming that expanding the A-League to 16 teams was a more urgent priority.

Speaking with Box2Box, AAFC Chairman Nick Galatas responded to Lederer’s comments. “It doesn’t really bother us much because I don’t think the issue will come down to Paul in the end. It’s not really about him”, he said.

“I was surprised to hear the comments, I’ve got to say, but equally had he said the opposite, it wouldn’t have mattered much either.

Ultimately, the decision will come down to Football Australia as the APL does not have the appropriate regulatory functions.

The current FA administration is much more willing than previous administrations to introduce a second tier, previously listing the need to continue the development of a framework for a national second division, in their ‘XI Principles’ document last year.

New Broadcast Deal

Fox Sports re-negotiated their TV deal with the A-League and other Australian football properties when the competition went into shutdown during the COVID pandemic.

The deal was reduced in both dollars and length, with Fox Sports paying just over $30 million for a one-year agreement which runs out in July of this year.

There is a possibility that Fox may pass on extending that deal, but that does present the game with opportunities to seek out a new broadcast partner or to take things into their own hands and build up their own streaming service.

The game’s TV deal with the ABC is also set to expire this year, with the need to find the right balance between free-to-air exposure and broadcast revenue becoming increasingly important.

New potential broadcasters that may be interested in striking an agreement include:

Optus Sport: Currently have the rights to competitions such as the English Premier League, UEFA Champions League, J-League and K-League,

Stan Sport: Recently entered the market by signing a deal with Rugby Union’s Super Rugby competition and are reportedly interested in securing the NBL rights in the future.

DAZN: Have started to dip their toes into the Australian landscape through other sports, after broadcasting football in multiple countries across the world.

Whatever the case, Australian football does seem to have options outside of Fox Sports, who have broadcasted the A-League for the past 16 seasons.

With many exciting possibilities to look forward to, the game should be in a stronger place by the end of 2021.

A-League, W-League and Y-League to be unbundled from Football Australia

Football Australia and the newly formed Australian Professional Leagues (APL) have announced that terms have been agreed to ‘unbundle’ the A-League, W-League and Y-League from Football Australia.

The unbundling of the leagues from the head governing body of the sport will bring the Australian football structure in line with global standards, separating Football Australia as the regulatory body from the operation of the professional leagues.

The APL will take over the commercial, marketing and operational practices of the professional leagues, as well as all revenue generation responsibilities.

APL will also retain the exclusive right to use the intellectual property rights associated with the E-League.

Football Australia will still retain some regulatory functions of the professional leagues, including matters relating to on-and-off-field disciplinary and integrity matters, the transfer system, the registrations of clubs, players and officials, as well as the domestic match calendar.

Alongside this, new club licensing framework for the professional leagues and control over access to the leagues (whether that is through expansion, promotion/relegation or contraction), the AFC Champions League, FFA Cup and all other domestic and international competitions will also fall under the regulatory functions of Football Australia.

The new model will be implemented through the course of the 2020/21 A-League and W-League football seasons.

Greg O’Rourke will serve as commissioner of the professional leagues for APL.

O’Rourke will report to an APL board consisting of five club directors, one member representing Football Australia and three independent directors, with one of them to be elected chair of the organisation.

James Johnson, CEO of Football Australia, said of the developments: “The unbundling of the professional leagues from Football Australia is a key milestone in the ongoing transformation of Australian football and fulfils our commitment outlined in Principle VIII of our XI Principles. It represents the culmination of a process, which ramped up following the completion of the A-League 2019/20 season, that ebbed and flowed over the course of what has been a difficult 2020.

“The new model respects the fundamental aspects of the global football pyramid and highlights the importance of strong governance principles as Football Australia retains its regulatory functions in respect of the A-League, Westfield W-League and Y-League and the APL takes control over the operational and commercial direction of the leagues, in turn triggering the ability for significant new investment in the quality and marketing of the leagues. Each constituent now has defined roles and responsibilities and the ability to make the right contribution to the growth of the professional game.

“We have been able to create a unique model which draws upon global best practice whilst allowing for local specificities. Significantly, the model establishes a framework for a strong partnership between Football Australia and the APL which recognises the value of a thriving domestic professional league to the ongoing growth of the game in Australia.” 

Paul Lederer, Chairman of APL, said: “This is an historic moment for the future of football in Australia – for the fan, for the player, for the whole game.

“It’s now time to earn and deliver the future our game deserves.

 “The handbrake on the game is off; owners can finally invest in what they own and create value for the entire footballing ecosystem.

 “Players can plan their careers in Australian football, fans can reconnect with the game that they love, and clubs can create meaningful moments for the whole Australian football family.”

A-League and W-League partner with Bunnings

The A-League and W-League have signed a partnership deal with Bunnings ahead of the football season beginning on December 27.

The partnership with the retailer will see the launch of the ‘Bunnings Ladder’ and the ‘Bunnings Team of the Week’, which will celebrate the best performing players in every round of the A-League and W-League.

Danny Townsend, CEO of Sydney FC, and commercial-lead of the Australian Professional Football Clubs Association (APFCA), the representative body of the A-League and Westfield W-League Clubs, said: “This is a partnership of perfectly aligned values – Bunnings’ team members are the heart and soul of their business, and our sport is all about teamwork.

“As we enter a new era for Australian football, with the soon to be independent professional leagues, we are delighted to have one of Australia’s most loved brands on the journey with us.”

Keith Murray, Bunnings’ General Manager of Marketing said: “The opportunity represented by football in Australia is huge – we know there is a highly engaged, diverse and culturally rich audience who love the game. We see our partnership with the A-League and Westfield W-League as a great fit for the Bunnings brand and we are excited to engage with a new audience.

“As a business, we value teamwork, and we are all excited to be part of the team when the A-League and Westfield W-League start on December 27,” Mr Murray concluded.

© 2020 Soccerscene Industry News. All Rights reserved. Reproduction is prohibited.

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