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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.”

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.

Football Queensland team up with Queensland University of Technology to deliver programs for players and coaches

Football Queensland have announced a partnership with the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), to deliver various coaching courses and social football programs for students.

FQ Women and Girls Participation Officer, Kate Lawson, stated that students completing their studies at QUT can register to undertake a free MiniRoos coaching course on Wednesday, 20 October at QUT Stadium.

“This MiniRoos coaching course is aimed at any QUT students – including international students – who want to begin their coach education journey,” she said.

“There are opportunities opening up for qualified coaches to work with Football Queensland to deliver programs for women and girls, multicultural communities and in schools.

“We know that Queensland universities are home to thousands of football enthusiasts, and we are keen to work with educational institutions across the state to support students and grow the game.

“Beginning next Wednesday, 27 October, students will be able to participate in an eight-week Connecting Through Sport Mixed Multicultural Social Football program.

“I encourage all students to come along and get involved in the MiniRoos coaching course or the social football program.”

Football Queensland’s partnership with the university has come off the back of an informal social football program that has been running at the college since August of last year.

QUT Sport Project Coordinator Michael Jordan said of the partnership: “QUT Sport is delighted to be partnering with Football Queensland to offer a range of social and coaching opportunities for QUT students.

“We are excited about the upcoming coaching course and the Connecting Through Sports program to encourage students to be active, meet new people and learn some new football skills.”

Is Australia ready for a two-year World Cup cycle?

Battle lines are being drawn between FIFA and key stakeholders, as it remains to be seen whether Australia will support the push for a two-year World Cup cycle.

FIFA’s minutes from the 71st Congress, where Saudi Arabia put forward the motion to study the viability of a two-year cycle, doesn’t include what member federations voted for in the motion.

Football Australia hasn’t stated publicly whether they were one of the 166 nations who voted for the motion, or whether they support the plans.

Football Australia is instead adopting a wait-and-see approach, to avoid taking a position before any proposal for changes are put forward after the viability study is completed.

Two-time A-League Coach of the Year Ernie Merrick believes the push from FIFA for a two-year World Cup cycle is because of business and money.

“It’s about profit and loss. It’s not about the people in the sport really, and FIFA are always competing with their confederations, of which there are six, and FIFA only have one event where they make substantial money from revenue and that’s every four years,” Merrick said.

“So in effect FIFA loses money for three years, and then the fourth year and makes massive profits mainly from broadcast, ticket sales, and sponsorship from a World Cup.”

The majority of FIFA’s $8.7 billion in revenue between 2015-2018 came from the 2018 Men’s tournament.

The commercial value of another World Cup every four years is incredibly attractive to the governing body as a way to boost its already full coffers.

Australian football will struggle to keep up with other countries if the World Cup is hosted every two years, according to Merrick.

“At the same time a lot of countries, including Asian countries, are spending an enormous amount of money on facilities and preparation setups for national competition. We all know of England’s setup, which is huge at St George’s Park, and here we don’t have a designated specific setup to prepare national teams,” he said.

“There’s a lot of infrastructure that will have to change to give Australia a chance to qualify on a regular basis. We certainly have good players and good coaches and we can compete with anyone regarding players, coaching and strategy but when it comes to the sort of money involved in preparing a national team, friendly games, and the amount of travel involved, Australia is really going to suffer.”

Michael Valkanis – former A-League coach, player and current Greece assistant coach – believes that without aligning with FIFA international dates, it means the A-League will struggle to adapt to a two-year World Cup cycle.

“We saw the effects of the Socceroos going away to play, and it always makes it difficult on A-League coaches and teams to support that.” Valkanis said.

“You can see the effects it can have on finals games, and we’ve been crying out for a long time that we become parallel with the rest of the world with international dates.”

Some of Australia’s biggest competitors in the AFC are showing ambivalence towards the concept.

“It would depend on how it would all be organised,” a Korean FA official told Deutsche Welle.

“If we want to have consistent success then we need to play as many competitive games against South American and European teams as possible. At the moment, we play one or two games every four years if we qualify. It’s not enough.”

While the viability of a two-year World Cup cycle is being studied, it is unclear how determined FIFA is to implement such a radical change to the football calendar against intense opposition from some of its members.

Merrick believes the end result could be FIFA demanding a portion of the confederation’s revenue.

“I think four years is probably a better situation at the moment – maybe three years down the track – but I think confederations will have to come to an arrangement with FIFA, and FIFA will want to take some of their revenue somehow through licensing,” Merrick said.

Those involved in international football already believe that the best model is the one we have currently, something that Valkanis is a strong fan of.

“I am a traditionalist. I think the World Cup is something special that stands out from any other competition in the world,” he said.

“The only other event that comes close is the Olympic Games, and to change the format so we see it every two years instead of four, I don’t think it leaves it the same. It is special the way it is.”

Football Australia CEO James Johnson will have a challenge on his hands navigating what a change in the World Cup’s schedule means for Australian football, as FIFA continues to push for increased revenue from the game.

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