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.”