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 Coaches Australia presents: The Modern Requirements of Midfield players

Football Coaches Australia (FCA), together with renowned UEFA Pro Licence Coach Martin Hunter, will host the online event: The Modern Requirements of Midfield players (Technically/Tactically/Physically/Mentally).

Held from 7:30pm AEST on Monday, May 20, the online event will focus on the essential skills and qualities needed for a midfielder to succeed in today’s game.

Split into four key elements that make up midfield play, attendees will learn about the technical skills needed to excel on the field, the tactical awareness required to control the game, the physical attributes necessary to dominate the midfield, and the mental toughness needed to thrive under pressure.

Martin is one of the best coach educators in the game, with his internationally acknowledged coaching and football management expertise that has helped to develop players, coaches and managers.

He is also vastly experienced at professional club and national governing body levels as Director of Coaching and National Coach – which has seen him develop coaching and scouting systems used in national and international models of excellence.

Martin has worked at Southampton FC in a variety of roles that included Technical Director, as well as Watford FC, Norwich FC and Stoke City as First Team Coach. He was involved in the English FA as a Coaching Mentor and a Regional Coach and has consulted widely throughout Europe.

This online session will contribute 1 hour of FA approved CPD and is free for FCA members.

This is an opportunity not to be missed to dominate the middle of the park.

You can register via the link here:

Graham Arnold speaks at AFC National Coaches Conference

Socceroos’ Head Coach Graham Arnold addressed the 3rd Asian Football Confederation (AFC) National Coaches Conference on Thursday, 9 May in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The three-day conference reflects on insights gained from the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023, while also considering the forthcoming expanded FIFA World Cup in 2026.

It gave Graham Arnold and other AFC associated coaches a chance to exchange ideas and share information in a bid to help improve and inspire each other as Round Three of World Cup Qualification approaches.

Arnold was selected by the AFC and spoke amongst other eminent coaches from across the Confederation including former Manchester City legend Yaya Toure.

After a memorable 2022 World Cup campaign and over three decades of coaching within the confederation, it’s no surprise that Graham Arnold is held in such high regard, and this represents a step forward for Football Australia.

Football Australia CEO, James Johnson spoke on how important it was for Graham Arnold to speak at such an event.

“Arnie’s record and reputation within international football speaks for itself, and his leadership of the Subway Socceroos has been exceptional over the last six years,” Johnson said in an statement for Football Australia.

“His contribution to Australian football as a player and coach extends almost three decades, and he possesses a wealth of knowledge that can help assist the development of our game throughout Asia.

“Arnie is held in high esteem not just here in Australia, but throughout the Confederation and we’re extremely proud to see him playing such a key role in a conference of this significance.”

Socceroos’ Head Coach, Graham Arnold spoke about how honoured he was to be involved in the AFC National Coaches Conference.

“It’s a privilege to be sharing the room with so many fantastic coaches and I’m looking forward to sharing some of my experience with the group,” Arnold said at the event.

“We’ve all taken different journeys into coaching and bring varied perspectives which I think can be really valuable to discuss in this type of environment.

“I’m sure we’ll all walk away with something to take back and share with our respective teams – it’s a great initiative from the AFC.”

It is always positive to see top Australian coaches share and learn critical ideas from other successful names within the Asian football space as the country continues to underscore is commitment to advancing coaching quality.

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